By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
"But what about the World Series, Dolloff!?"
Yes. Obviously, that's the ultimate goal. If the Red Sox can't close the deal on their 108-win regular season by hoisting the Commissioner's trophy while the Dodgers or Brewers have to watch, that would be a letdown. If they get past the defending champion Astros but come up short against what would be an inferior NL opponent on paper, that would be a disappointment.
But would it be a failure?
After the way the Red Sox whimpered out of the postseason in the past two Octobers, while the New York Yankees played on and generally looked like the better, tougher team, it would be hard to deem the 2018 version of this squad anything but a success. After steamrolling the Yankees in a four-game win in the American League Division Series - a series in which New York mostly looked outclassed and outmatched - the Red Sox' 108 wins are more than just a cute accomplishment. They're validated. The team has taken a major step forward from 2016-17, and maybe even flipped the proverbial switch they needed to conquer the Astros.
The final hurdle, lurking in the background amid a riveting rekindling of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, has always been to dethrone Houston. They've been the realistic favorite for the World Series all season. They won 103 games, not exactly far behind the Sox. They just absolutely waxed the Cleveland Indians in an ALDS sweep, winning by a combined score of 21-6. Their best young hitters (Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, George Springer, Carlos Correa) look as ready for the big stage as the Red Sox' hitters do. And unlike most of the Red Sox' roster, they've already tasted championship success.
Is there really any shame in losing to these guys? Could you seriously look at yourself in the mirror and call the Red Sox a "failure" if they can't defeat the defending champions, an absolute juggernaut that fulfilled a three-year prophecy with a World Series title last fall? A powerhouse built from the ground up, with superstars at several positions? A team that can blow you away with power both at the plate and on the mound, that edged out the Sox 4-3 in the regular season series?
The answer to that, for any sensible fan, is no.
But that doesn't mean that you should just accept defeat. There's still a best-of-seven series to play out. Like it just happened with the win over the Yankees, the discussion could change. If the Astros dispense of the Red Sox in four games like they just smacked around the Indians, that would be an even tougher pill to swallow than the Red Sox' postseason no-shows of the past two years. Now that this Red Sox team looks ready for prime time, a resounding defeat would be harder to take.
Still, the best you can ask for against a team like the Astros is a good, competitive series. The Red Sox are going to have to earn every bit of every win. You can't just expect victory over this team.
Victory was expected over the Yankees, and it should have been expected. The Astros have always been the team at the top of the mountain, but this season was more about passing the guys in pinstripes. The fact that it happened in the division series rather than the ALCS is simply how the standings played out among a trio of 100-win wagons. At the end of the day, there's not much of a difference between 108 wins and 103 or 100 from March to September.
October is where the real difference is made. After running over the Yankees on their home turf - and looking like the far better, smarter, tougher, more fundamentally sound team in the process - this Red Sox team is officially different. And the 2018 season is officially a success.
Next year will bring yet another different conversation, regardless of what happens from here on out. Going into the season, and even into October, the expectation was to simply win a series - something that this iteration of the Red Sox failed to do under John Farrell. Now, with Alex Cora transforming their identity, the expectation will be for the Red Sox to get to the World Series. Maybe that happens this year.
But if it doesn't, would you really be able to call this team a failure with a straight face? How badly can this team be ripped if they can't beat the Astros? Again, the answer is not much.
The Red Sox have completed a major hurdle in defeating their hated rival. The next is to reach the top of the game. It just can't be the difference between success and failure. Not this year, anyway.
Now that the absolute must-have win has been achieved, the 2018 Red Sox are officially in "Enjoy The Ride" mode. Not that everyone's going to do that. Still plenty of time for nitpicking, second-guessing, and scorching hot takes.
But failure? Keep that word out of your mouth. With the Yankees sitting at home after being embarrassed in their own lion's den, the Red Sox are much closer to the S-word than the F-word. It's OK to call it a success.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].