I’m starting to get that bad feeling in the pit of my stomach again. Actually, if I’m being honest, it’s been there festering for a while. The Red Sox are not going to last long in this postseason.
I said this last year, and I was right. I don’t want to be right again, but I am, more often than not.
It comes down to a few issues, and they’re ones we’ve seen before: our pitching and timing. Going into our third straight year as division champs with the same exact problems doesn’t exactly spell ‘World Series,’ though you never know, third time could be the charm.
Neither our bullpen nor our starters are built for the postseason. It might seem crazy to say that about a rotation that includes Chris Sale, David Price, and 2016 Cy Young Rick Porcello, but guess what? Our pitchers are 0-19 in their postseason starts. There’s not a winner amongst them. And there’s no way around it: our bullpen is garbage. I tried to stay confident when Dave Dombrowski didn’t sign anyone this summer, but as the season dragged on, it became glaringly obvious that they are our biggest weakness. Our offense, as good as it is, will not be able to bail them out every time.
But to me, the overarching issue is the fact that this team has been so good this season that they clinched too early. I know, it sounds ridiculous, being so good that you win too quickly? But think about it: the Sox clinched a postseason berth on September 11, long before any other team. They won their 100th game of the season the following night, and clinched the division for the third straight year on September 20th. It’s now September 29th, and the Sox are 4-6 in their last 10, and 4 games under .500 against fellow American League playoff teams.
So with over a week left in the regular season, the Red Sox have been sitting around waiting on the rest of the league to finalize their postseason spots. Instead of fighting tooth and nail right down to the final buzzer, the Sox have spent the ten days since clinching the division losing to the Indians, Yankees, and Orioles. While Cora tinkers with the postseason roster, the boys are probably getting too much rest – yes, there is such a thing. This much ‘downtime’ coupled with losses to good teams and almost a full week without a game next week is a long time to wait for October baseball.
Heading into October the way they are definitely won’t make it better. Look at how the Yankees are playing this weekend: in the last two games, they’ve set a new MLB record for most home runs in a single season, claimed home-field advantage for the Wild Card game, and won their 100th game of the season. That’s a hell of a confidence-boost right when they need it most, and the Red Sox are experiencing the polar opposite.
Momentum matters. Confidence matters. Wins, no matter how unnecessary they are to your standings or against whom, matter. Ending your most-wins-in-franchise-history season by looking like a wet mop against your most-hated rivals is a bad look, and sets a bad tone for the postseason. Because your regular season record might not carry over, but bad vibes and complacency certainly can.
We’ve seen this the last two years, and we know how it ended up; going 1-6 over two ALDS with almost identical teams does not make me confident. Even JD Martinez can’t make me confident right now, because he’s not exactly owning Yankee pitchers this weekend, and unless Oakland can pull off a miracle, we’ll likely be seeing them again next week.
This season has been incredible in so many ways. And I don’t want to lose sight of that. But anyone who thinks a 107-54 record is a guarantee of anything in the postseason really doesn’t know much about baseball. Anything can happen. But this team will have to make it happen. They’re going to have to fight hard against teams that might actually be better than they are. The postseason is a completely different animal, and our 107 wins won’t save us from being devoured by it.