By Don’s Early Light: What Goes Around, Comes Around for Boston
The standings don’t lie ... though they may be a tad misleading.
The truth is the Red Sox were good last year, but not as good as they looked. And, yes, they’re bad this year, but perhaps not as bad as they seem.
In fact, they are basically the same team. The team that no one picked to fulfill Ben Cherington’s dream last season fooled everyone. Rebounding from the horrors of Bobby Valentine’s 69-93 debacle, the Sox turned it around by 28 games — winning with slugging, pitching, walk-offs and, yes, beards.
Then, virtually returning intact — and with the usual rabid legion of devout believers under their spell — the Sox proceeded to fall out of the American League East race. Everybody’s darling had turned into a dog.
Just like that.
Oh, the screaming ... How did it happen? Who’s to blame, and on and on.
But the fact of the matter is, this is what baseball has become. Success, which turns out to be fleeting, followed by depressing defeat.
Don’t feel bad; it happens every spring. Yes, each year some team emerges to fool the experts, confound the opposition and make a drive for playoff heaven.
Last year it was the Red Sox’ turn. It’s really that simple.
A check of the standings this season will show just what I’m talking about. Just past the midway point of the year, there atop the NL Central sit the Milwaukee Brewers — a hefty 11 games over .500 and battling for a playoff berth — the first one since 2011. This, coming off a 2013 season when they finished 74-88, good for fourth place.
But it happens every season. In 2012, for example, it was Baltimore, rebounding from a 69-93 fifth-place finish the year before to finish second with a 24-game turnaround at 93-69. In 2011 it was the Arizona Diamondbacks, bouncing back from a 65-97 record a year earlier to go 94-68 and take the top spot in the NL West.
The most dramatic change in the past 12 years belonged to the Tampa Bay Rays, who bounced from a 66-96 record in 2007 to grab the AL East title and go all the way to the World Series after a 97-65 season — a 31-game difference.
Not all the changes are so dramatic, and not every rebounding team makes the playoffs, but every year we are treated to a special season by a team we never expected. It almost always involves some combination of nondescript guys having career years all at the same time — a superstar living up to the hype, the rookie playing like a grizzled vet, a manager making the right moves — and suddenly you’ve got destiny’s team writing the story of the year.
Looking back, it’s easy to spot the charmed team. The trick is to be able to see it before it happens.
The Sox, really, are an aberration in this grouping. First off, they have three World Series titles in the past 10 years, finishing second in the division six times and third three more times. They make good personnel decisions, put a quality product on the field day in and day out, and respect their fanatical following. It may be hard for a Yankee fan to admit, but they play the game the right way.
But this season, it looks like they’re headed for a visit to the AL East cellar. As I said, the team isn’t as bad as its play indicates, it’s just that last year’s group were such overachievers that the fan base began to believe the talk-radio hype heading into 2014.
But don’t despair. The last time they hit rock bottom, they rebounded with a World Series title. And with Thursday’s trades, it looks like they’re reloading.
So just like the old days ...Wait til next year.
Don Mahler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3225.