When the Red Sox awoke Thursday morning, and began preparing for a three-game series with the Twins that'll close out spring training -- and, more importantly, decide the winner of the coveted Chairman's Cup -- they did so with the distinction of owning the worst record (9-16-2) of any major league team during this exhibition season.
Of course, aside from the staking a claim to the title of Kings of Fort Myers, those results don't really count for much. If the Sox win on Monday in Baltimore, the Grapefruit League will be completely forgotten. If Jon Lester is sharp and shuts down the Orioles, there'll be those who'll consider it validation of his status as an ace. If Boston gives its fans any reason for optimism, the region will be flush with visions of a repeat -- after game one of 162.
But just because sentiments are subject to change so quickly, it won't change the fact that the Sox have generally endured an unimpressive spring. And since it's not going away, the question remains: Does it mean anything?
Let's take a look at the past decade to help decide, starting with a look at where those teams that left spring training with baseball's worst record wound up after April, and after the season in its entirety.
(Tied games were left out of the equation.)
The track record here doesn't bode particularly well for the Sox. Last year a highly touted Angels team left camp with the worst record in the game, proceeded to slump its way through the opening month, and finishing a disappointing six games under .500.
In doing so, Los Angeles became the eighth straight team that finished with a losing record after leaving camp as the worst of all major-league teams. The last team to finish with a winning mark after a bottom-of-the-barrel spring was the 2005 Marlins, which also happened to be the only team in this set that reached May 1 with a record better than two games above .500.
As you can see, not one of these teams made the playoffs.
Now, on the flip side, a terrific spring doesn't exactly guarantee success. Twice in the past three years the team with the best record of spring training parlayed that into a mediocre opening month, and ultimately wound up with a losing record.
However, there does seem to be a correlation between a really good spring and an at-least-respectable start to the regular season, as only two of the teams featured on the chart above finished the first month with a losing record. It's less telling in the big picture, though five of the 12 teams (twice there was a tie) since 2004 went on to win at least 92 games. Each of those clubs made the playoffs, while two others won at least 86 contests.
Of anything suggested by the evidence of the past decade, this might be the most damning of what the Sox' poor spring could mean for their chances of going back-to-back. Since 2004, only one eventual World Series champion finished spring training with a losing record. (The 2011 Cardinals, in all their improbability, were the lone exception.)
What's worth noting, though, is that in all 10 cases the clubs' pre-May 1 record was better than .500 -- and in half of them it was much better than .600. That suggests that all of those teams used the spring to effectively prepare themselves for the season, and so they were able to hit the ground running. Even if the results haven't been there, that's what Boston fans hope the next few weeks will prove that Boston, too, at least used the exhibition season in a similarly productive fashion.
Three times in this sampling the World Series champion has been the Red Sox, and in each of those years they've followed up a decent spring with an excellent opening month. In fact, 2004, '13, and '07, in that order, represent Boston's three best March/Aprils of the past decade.
More germane to understanding the implications of this year, though, may be the fours seasons in which struggled their way through Florida. Two of those came the year after the Sox won a title, so this will make a third instance for that pattern, and the other two came in seasons that the Sox ultimately missed the playoffs. In the more recent of those examples, a poor spring was scapegoated for the team's 0-6 start, while in 2006 the team followed an atrocious spring by winning six of its first seven before falling to obscurity late.
And finally, here's a look at John Farrell's track record as far as what its spring record could mean for its start -- his Jays were baseball's best in 2012 -- and ultimately its finish. It's a limited sample size, obviously.
So, what does it all mean? It means that nothing matters until the games count for real, and when the Red Sox are introduced to the crowd at Camden Yards on Monday afternoon, they'll be 0-0, just like the Orioles, and Rays, and Jays, and Yankees. There's a ton of factors that contribute to a spring record, particularly in a year when the team was admittedly slow-playing things with its starting rotation. Everything -- and everything they want to achieve -- is still ahead of them.
But they've got to turn things up when they turn things on.
And for the past eight years at least, that hasn't proven to be the easiest thing to do for the cellar dwellers of the spring.
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