By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Given that it’s Masters week, let’s use a golf analogy: as the saying goes, you can’t win the tournament on the first day. But you can sure as hell lose it.
Which brings us to the 2019 Red Sox.
And so, as the Red Sox prepare to raise their championship banner and open Fenway Park for the season, let’s go purely by the numbers. We all agree the Sox have played poorly thus far. We can even disagree as to why. But the question is whether there is anything more specific to be drawn from it, specifically as to whether the Sox’ performance thus far is a harbinger of things to come.
The obvious answer, of course, is that we don’t know yet, but the Sox might have less time to turn things around than you think they do.
When it comes to baseball, I believe in fast starts and strong finishes. In 2004, for example, after losing a heartbreaking American League Championship Series the prior year, the Red Sox did not return with a hangover. Rather, they returned with a vengeance, going 15-6, a winning percentage of .714. In 2007, they went 16-8, a winning percentage of .667. And in 2013, they went 18-8, a winning percentage of .692.
Then came the historic 2018 season, which the Sox began with a 21-7 record (a whopping .750).
So you tell me: does April mean something or not?
Now, here is how the Sox fared in April the year following their last three championships – and where they ended up:
Does that tell you anything? Well, yes and no. Obviously it’s a small sample. And if you want to tell me that the 2005 Sox hardly got off to a fast start, fine. So I’ll tell you what. Let’s modify that part of it to say that you can’t start slow.
Now let’s look at baseball overall during the last 10 years, just because it’s a round number and decent sample. And let’s set a goal for this 2019 Red Sox team, which is to reach (and not necessarily win) the LCS. This collection of Sox players has made the playoffs three years in a row. In the first two, they were eliminated in the Division Series – which we deemed disappointing failures. Last year, they wiped out everyone and shut us up.
So, again, let’s set a reasonable goal for this team of reaching the LCS again. That feels fair.
Now, here is a look at how the “Final Four” in baseball – 40 teams – have fared through April over the last 10 years. Teams with losing records are highlighted, though we have distinguished between teams that were within a game of .500 (orange) and teams that were two or more games below .500 (yellow).
Here’s what the chart looks like:
OK, so let’s do the math. Of the 40 teams to have reached the LCS, 80 percent of them were .500 or better in April. Ninety percent were within a game of .500. And of the World Series winners, all of them played .545 or better before May 1.
If you want to defend the Red Sox thus far in 2019, fine. They’ve only played 11 games. But history suggests the Sox have some work to do in the final few weeks of April to dig themselves out of a hole, and don’t be so cavalier as to suggest that the Sox have plenty of time to dig themselves out.
By the way, the Masters starts on Thursday.