OK, it’s been 24-plus hours. Time to pull the plug on the 108-win afterglow.
We get it, the regular season was a big, fat success for the Red Sox.
But as Eck would say, that’s history, pal.
Now the task at hand is to win 11 games in October. If they win 11, the Sox win the World Series, and, well, duck boats.
If they don’t, the coroner will truly earn his paycheck.
Exactly where should we draw the line when it comes to defining what a successful season means to the 2018 Red Sox?
Outside of winning the World Series, is there any other acceptable outcome? The answer is barely, but it all depends.
Follow along for your nuanced guide:
Losing in the ALDS
Analysis: A complete failure
This is the Red Sox’ worst nightmare, and there will not be enough sugarcane in the world for the Sox to coat this outcome.
The team made the mistake over the offseason of trumpeting its second American League East title in a row as if that would make us forget their swift exit from the first round of the playoffs for the second year in a row.
The firing of manager John Farrell was one reaction to the playoff loss, and the hiring of Alex Cora and signing of J.D. Martinez were two bordering on brilliant responses by the team. The result was the 108 wins and the best record in baseball. A third consecutive loss in the Division Series, for whatever reason, would be a devastating blow for a team with home-field advantage, the highest payroll in the game and coming off this regular season. They won’t cancel the 2019 season because of it, but it would place an enormous amount of pressure on Dave Dombrowski and baseball operations to fix what went wrong.
The mind reels to consider what could cost the Red Sox a ALDS victory. I’d be more willing to bet it’s a pitching flaw, starting and/or bullpen, than the lineup. Assuming it’s the arms, that could mean Chris Sale’s shoulder is hurt worse than suspected, that David Price flopped again as a postseason starter and/or the flaws of the bullpen bit the Sox in the rear end as so many expected they would.
With the window for winning closing next season — Craig Kimbrel’s a free agent in a month, while Sale, Martinez, Xander Bogaerts and Rick Porcello can be free agents after next season — imagining the deserved pressure that will close in on this club all winter long with another early exit is a chilling proposition.
Quick loss in ALCS
Analysis: Clear failure
Advancing into the ALCS will not be enough for the Red Sox. Being able to win zero or only one game against the Indians or Astros will confirm the worst fears that the Red Sox’ 3-4 regular-season record against each of those teams reflected the actual differences in quality.
Remember that the Astros boosted their rotation in the offseason by trading for Gerrit Cole and boosted their bullpen in July with Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly. The Indians made their splash with a late-season trade for Josh Donaldson, who looked very dangerous last week in Cleveland. In-season, the Sox made complementary moves: Steve Pearce, Ian Kinsler and Nathan Eovaldi. No relievers.
In a seven-game series, pitching depth, especially in the bullpen, factors in heavily. A swift loss to the Astros or Indians would likely mean that the Sox’ wishful thinking that Ryan Brasier and Steven Wright would be enough to bolster their bullpen turned out to be the wrong plan.
Deep loss in ALCS
Analysis: Time for nuance
It might be time to take our feet off the throats of the Red Sox if they win two to three games but still lose the ALCS. Especially in a seven-game series, it is true that the crapshoot component to the playoffs comes into effect even more than a shorter one. Even very good teams can catch bad breaks without doing anything drastically wrong. An opposing pitcher or player can become unstoppable, an umpire can blow a call or an injury occurs and the Red Sox get eliminated.
If that is clearly and unmistakably the case, then I can see cutting the Red Sox some slack. But don’t if they cause their own demise or somehow are culpable for a late-series meltdown. There are plenty of if’s involved in this scenario. If you can’t accept the gray areas in the definition of success, you probably didn’t read this far anyway.
Losing in World Series
Analysis: It’s OK, but not if they get swept or win only one game.
This should be self-explanatory. The National League looked quite weaker than the American League this season. If the Red Sox could not make this a competitive series with up to four games at Fenway Park, something pretty terrible or unexpected would have to happen.