Actually, let's take it back about nine months, when Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford were introduced to the Boston media as the Red Sox' newest members. Instantly, expectations for the team that finished in third place in the AL East in 2010 shot to the moon. Many foresaw the team would boast a historic offense and a formidable pitching staff, nearly every expert on the planet picked the Sox to win the World Series and Josh Beckett came out and said he thought his team had a chance to win 100 games.
In short, everything was coming up roses for the Red Sox. Then, April happened.
Loss. Loss. Loss.
Loss. Loss. Loss.
Win. Loss. Win.
Loss. Loss. Loss.
With the Red Sox now 31 games over .500 and a lock to make the playoffs, it's hard to think back on the feelings surrounding Boston's ballclub back in April. History was against them, as every day brought some new revelation. "No team has ever started 0-6 or 2-10 and made the playoffs" was the one that was most frightening.
"Just know," said Carl Crawford in mid-April, "that everything is the worst it can be right now. There is only one way to go now, it's up. I haven't talked to that many fans yet here in Boston. I've been kind of secluded right now. I won't even stop and get gas. But that's all I can say, things are at their worst right now and I think we can only go up from here."
The low feeling stretched far beyond April, though, as it was a point of celebration when the Sox finally reached .500 on May 15. That month, however, concluded with three straight losses, and June began with another, thus putting the Red Sox at 30-26.
Just as belief began to spread, doubt crept right back in before June came to an end. The Red Sox had three at home against the Padres … and lost two of them. They then took a quick trip to Pittsburgh for three with the Pirates … and again lost two of them. Then, in what was dubbed as a World Series preview, the Red Sox lost two of three in Philadelphia. They were 46-34, and they trailed the Yankees by 2 1/2 games in the AL East.
Maybe, after all that hype and all those expectations, the Red Sox were just a barely average baseball team. It'd take an optimist's optimist to think otherwise.
It's for that very reason that this season has been so remarkable. Sure, if someone had told you in January that the Red Sox would be 82-51 with a chance to win the division in late August, you'd probably not be all that surprised. But if you had learned of this fate sometime in late April, there's no chance you'd ever believe it.
"The preseason World Series champions are in real trouble," said Bleacher Report's MJ Kasprzak, mockingly, on April 21. "Boston would do well to dump David Ortiz before his obvious decline makes him no longer in demand, but they can unlikely get someone to adequately replace him in the lineup or upgrade the pitching staff at some point."
Go ahead and read that sentence again. Then look at Ortiz's .311 average (his best since '07), 27 homers (on pace for 33, which would also be his most since '07), 86 RBIs and, as important as anything else, his .345 batting average against lefties. By comparison, he hit .222 against lefties last year, .212 in '09 and .221 in '08.
Guess Ortiz has yet to hit that "obvious decline," eh?
Ortiz's story is perfectly indicative of the rest of the team. The "preseason champs" became a running joke among 29 MLB fan bases, and despite all that firepower, they were starting to be written off before summer even officially began.
"It can't be like this all season," Jon Lester said after the Sox fell to 2-9.
"The baseball's just not going our way right now," said Adrian Gonzalez that same night.
"We're playing better and we just have to push and find a way to win," Jason Varitek echoed.
They all sounded like stock, generic answers, but they turned out to be the truth.
Now, with an 82-51 record, .617 winning percentage and 29 games remaining, the Red Sox need to simply hold steady to finish the year 18-11. For the mathematically challenged, that comes out to 100-62.
The odds are even better, actually, considering since that flukish 2-10 start, the Sox' winning percentage is .661. That pace would give them 101 wins, thereby affording them some room for error.
Of course, despite the fact that the Sox haven't won 100 games since 1946, the 100-win mark may be the least important thing on the Red Sox' minds come the end of September. If Boston can capitalize on the six remaining head-to-head matchups with New York (beginning Tuesday night at Fenway) to seize control of the division, Terry Francona's priority list in the final 10 days or so of the season may look something like this:
It certainly didn't look like that could be the case when April turned to May, and it didn't look much better when May turned to June or June to July.
As August is about to turn to September, there's more than enough reason for optimism. Sure, there are no guarantees in baseball, and beating some combination of the Tigers, Rangers and Yankees in October won't be easy. So what?
In this day-in, day-out saga that is baseball in Boston, sometimes it's important just to step back for a minute and say, "Wow." The Red Sox are as good as we all thought they'd be.
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