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Alex Speier

What does the Red Sox’ start say about their playoff chances?

The Red Sox went above .500 with Sunday’s win at Oakland.AP

To date, the 2017 Red Sox have been a team that has been unable to define itself. They’ve staggered through fitful performances, winning no more than four straight this year and losing no more than three straight. They have been a team capable of following a two-game road sweep in St. Louis by dropping three straight in Oakland.

The inconsistency has been somewhere between puzzling and maddening to both observers and members of the team alike, a head-scratcher for a team expected to run away with the division. The team’s 22-21 record through 43 games hardly seems characteristic of a team worthy of such lofty expectations.

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After all, of the 11 Red Sox playoff teams since 1995, none got off to a start worse than 24-19. The first quarter (and change) of this season harbors more similarities to the recent three last-place finishes (21-22 through 43 games in 2012, 20-23 to open both the 2014 and 2015 seasons) than most of those playoff campaigns.

Yet conclusions about the team based on a quarter-season of evidence seem terribly premature. The meaning of the start of the season tends to be exaggerated by virtue of the fact that it can’t be examined against the broader context of a season.

What does a 43-game sample say Playoff teams based on 43-game starts, 2012-16.
Wins through 43 games Made playoffs Missed playoffs % making playoffs
30 0 1 0%
29 1 0 100%
28 2 1 67%
27 6 2 75%
26 10 2 83%
25 4 7 36%
24 7 8 47%
23 7 6 54%
22 4 7 36%
21 3 11 21%
20 3 17 15%
19 1 8 11%
18 2 8 20%
17 or fewer 0 22 0%
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference.com

The 2012 Dodgers, for instance, got off to a 30-13 record through 43 games, the best by any team in the five full seasons of the current playoff format. They finished the year with an 86-76 record (a 56-63 record over their last 119 games) and missed the playoffs.

One year later, the 2013 Dodgers got off to an 18-25 record through 43 games, a mark that placed them last in the NL West. They finished the year with a 92-70 record (a 74-45 record over their last 119 games), winning their division and reaching the NLCS.

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In the case of those two Dodgers teams, the first 43 games said very little about what would transpire going forward. That precedent somehow seems like a relevant one for a Red Sox team that features a considerable amount of high-end talent but enough limitations that it’s hard to know whether the team’s performance to date represents a low gear that precedes a down shift or if it is indicative of what the 2017 Red Sox will continue to be.


Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.