Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff
I was wrong.
Maybe it’s too early to say that, but it damn sure doesn’t feel like it.
The Red Sox – just months removed from a 69-win 2012 season that had even the most passionate fans frustrated to the point of rooting against their favorite and wildly unfocused, dysfunctional team – have the best record in the majors.
Tell me it’s only one month. So was September 2011.
Tell me they haven’t played anyone, then go look at the standings and add up the combined records of the Yankees, Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, Indians, Royals, A’s and Astros. You know what, this being my first column, I’ll do it for you. Overall, those teams are 103-106. Take out their games against the Sox and they’re 95-88, good for a .519 winning percentage. That may not be playoff-worthy, but it doesn’t stink.
The bottom line is, regardless of their opponents, how long it’s lasted or whom they’ve relied upon, the pitch-perfect, offensively-prompt, baggage-free Red Sox of 2013 are getting the job done and setting up a season that virtually no one expected. And, somehow, they’re making a squad with a payroll north of $150M look like a bunch of blue-collar Trot Nixons, just like Larry Lucchino wanted when he called them “scrappy underdogs” and we tried not to do a spit-take.
When this Red Sox team was assembled, I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t impressed. The team hired a manager in John Farrell with as much success leading the Blue Jays as Seth Rogen has playing a superhero. Their approach in free agency seemed to be, “He’s a nice guy with a couple decent seasons! Let’s overpay to get him here!”
My gut feeling entering spring training: 80 wins. Maybe 85. If everything went right, 90. I’d bought into the Jays. Well, after 18 wins in April, I feel dumb.
The Red Sox matched their best April wins total in franchise history – also done in 1998 and 2003 – and came within a few outs of standing alone, just as they do at the top of the American League East today. In fact, the Sox have been first or tied for that spot since the season began, a feat they'd never before achieved at this stage of the year.
There are a number of different reasons for this team’s success on the field. They rank in baseball’s top 5 in runs (135, 4th), on-base percentage (.347, 3d), slugging percentage (.446, 3d), batting average (.271, 3d), walks (97, 3d) and – how about this! – stolen bases (22, 2d).
Their pitching has been the catalyst, led by Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester (let’s just go ahead and forget about last night), Ryan Dempster and a pretty reliably entertaining bullpen, no individual with more flair than Koji Uehara and his Borat-esque love for the high-five. As a staff, the arms have held opponents to a .221 average, best in the majors, struck out more players per 9 innings at 9.94 than any other club, and their starters have a 3.24 ERA, which ranks fifth. Very nice!
Put the two categories together, and Boston is first in the game with a +38 run differential. Sometimes certain stats just don’t match the eye test. This one, at least this year, does.
Admit it, when the Sox opened the season by taking 2 of 3 wins opposite their injury-riddled rival Yankees, then another 2 of 3 against the new cute girl in class from Toronto, you were hooked. It didn’t even bother you when they dropped a pair to the team Dan Duquette built. Fast-forward to that mid-month series with the Rays that featured a couple walk-off hits and a near no-no and, goodness, if you weren’t heading to AceTicket.
But, then, maybe most significantly, they were there for us when we needed a distraction. While the Celtics and Bruins were sputtering amidst the horror that overtook our city, the Red Sox were racking up wins while simultaneously inspiring a community. Four straight victories followed the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, capped by five words Ortiz should have trademarked and another unlikely home run from Daniel Nava, a guy the Sox once signed for $1. Moments like those gave fans relief, however brief, and brought us even closer to this mysterious group of familiar looking friends.
I could tell you that the last two times the Red Sox held baseballs best record at the end of April were 2004 and 2007, and I don’t think I’d need to finish that sentence. I’d also be getting way ahead of myself.
Maybe 2013’s first month of the season was just a pleasant aberration, a time for April flowers to bloom optimism before May showers the Red Sox with despair. Maybe the team will win 100 games, however unlikely that is. I don’t know if chemistry breeds winning, or the reverse, but neither word was synonymous with the 2012 team.
I do know this: it feels awfully good to be excited about the Sox again.
Am I right?
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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