BOSTON (WHDH) - The 2018 Boston Red Sox are returning to Earth. Boston has lost five of their last eight games and could have been swept by the surging but still lowly Rays were it not for an eighth-inning single by Sandy Leon on Sunday.
At the end of the weekend, the Sox stood at 20 and 7, with the Yankees trailing by just two games, having won nine straight. New York has made up 5.5 games in the standings in nine days. You didn’t think the division would be wrapped up by the All-Star break, did you?
Even with the regression, the team’s historic start has dramatically increased their playoff odds and their chances of winning the division. Now that it’s over, let’s look at Boston’s 17 and 2 start in context.
Boston became the seventh team in big league history (and first in 31 years) to win 17 of its first 19 games. Of the other six clubs, three made the playoffs and two (the 1955 Dodgers and 1984 Tigers) went on to win the World Series.
This year was the single best start to a season in club history. The second-best 19-game start belonged to the 1946 Red Sox, who went 16-3 en route to a 104-win season and an American League pennant.
Boston’s early-season pitching was superb, with the team posting a 2.69 ERA, the lowest through 19 games since 2001. The Sox struck out 196 hitters in 177 innings, second-most in team history and pitchers posted a win probability added (WPA) of 4.2. Essentially that means Sox hurlers added more than four wins to the opening 19 games by how well they pitched in key situations.
On offense, the club that was so power-deficient to start last season seemed to roar to life. Boston hit 26 home runs, tied for seventh most in team history through 19 games, along with four other teams including the vaunted 2003 Red Sox. Last year, it took the Sox 31 games to reach 26 home runs. Boston posted a slugging percentage of .497 this year through 19, second-highest in franchise history.
So yes, it’s been a great start but what does it really mean? A 17-2 start wasn’t enough for the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers, who stumbled to a third-place finish by following up their franchise-best start with a 5-and-19 stretch. (Quick digression: you’d be hard-pressed to find a weirder start to a season than the ’87 Brew Crew. They won their first 13 in a row, got to 20-and-3 on May 2nd, then promptly lost 12 straight. By the end of the month, they were in fifth place in the old A.L. East).
On April 20, when Boston reached its 17-2 peak, the club had increased its win projection by an insane eight games, according to Fangraphs. Their odds to win the division rose nearly 37% from preseason projections to 75.8 percent while their chances of making the playoffs were nearly guaranteed at 98.2 percent.
In the past week, the Red Sox playoff odds have come down slightly and their divisional odds dropped back down to just under 53 percent.
But there’s absolutely something to be said for the early-season wins the Sox have banked. Boston has the highest increase in odds to win the division, to make the playoff and to win the World Series of any American League team compared to preseason projects by Fangraphs.
There’s no disputing the age-old baseball axiom that you can’t win a pennant in April, but Boston’s scorching hot start means they have a much better chance to win it than they did when the season opened on March 29.
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