Red Sox are trampling playoff opponents in near-historic fashion
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. No teams — even great ones — are supposed to trample their opposition in October in the fashion that the 2018 Red Sox have.
The Yankees were a 100-win team in the regular season, exhibiting dominance through much of the schedule while outscoring opponents by 182 runs. The Astros were even better, going 103-59 with a mind-blowing 263-run differential that suggested the talent of a 109-win team.
And while the Dodgers had a more modest 92-71 record, they outscored opponents by 194 runs, suggesting the talent base of a 102-win club. The Red Sox faced a hard road through October that seemed likely to see multiple series get pushed to the limit.
Nothing of the sort has transpired. A 4-2 victory over the Dodgers in Game 2 of the World Series Wednesday continued a month in which the Red Sox have been an unstoppable force. It’s worth stepping back to provide context to just how good the team has been in a potentially historic playoff run. The series, of course, is far from over: Game 3 is Friday night at Los Angeles.
The Red Sox have rushed to a 9-2 record in the playoffs, with a chance to tie the 1998 Yankees — they of 125-win fame — for the third-best postseason record since the introduction of the third round in 1995. Only the 1999 Yankees and 2005 White Sox, each of whom went 11-1 in October, have had a less-interrupted march past three opponents.
The Red Sox have outscored their opponents by 27 runs in the postseason, tied for the 11th-largest differential in history. On average, they’re outscoring opponents by 2.45 runs per contest, the third-largest average since 1995. (The record in both categories is owned by the 2007 Red Sox, who outscored the Angels, Indians, and Rockies by a combined 53 runs and 3.79 per game en route to an 11-3 October record.)
The team’s remarkable offensive efficiency has been well-documented. The Red Sox have the highest batting average (.415), OBP (.564), and slugging percentage (.756) with runners in scoring position and two outs in postseason history. That explosion in pivotal situations has allowed the Sox to score 6.2 runs per game, the fourth-highest average ever by a World Series team since the introduction of the wild card.
“I don’t think anybody would expect those type of numbers but this team never quits,” said second baseman Ian Kinsler. “It doesn’t matter how many outs there are, one, two, none, we’re going to battle all the way up and down the lineup and we understand that with two outs, if you can keep the inning alive, anything can happen.”
The pitching staff has been similarly relentless when eyeing the possibility of late-innings victory. Unexpectedly, with bullpen cameos from Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello, and Chris Sale and strong work from Joe Kelly, Ryan Brasier, and Matt Barnes, the Boston relievers have locked down every late-innings lead they’ve had.
The Red Sox are 6 for 6 in converting save opportunities. In postseason history, only five other teams — the four Yankees champions from 1996-2000 and the Indians in 2016 — have ever gone through a postseason converting at least six save opportunities without blowing any.
This October, the Red Sox have seemed like a team that has outperformed opponents at every critical turn, with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts sounding a familiar refrain Wednesday night.
“They made pitches when they needed to,” he said. “When we stressed them, they made the pitch. And then when it flipped, they got the hit, and we didn’t.”
That pattern has recurred in game after game. The net result is that the Red Sox have simply blown past their opponents, who have yet to identify a way of throwing down so much as a pothole in their way. The uniforms of the Yankees, Astros, and (through two games) Dodgers have been redecorated with tire tracks.
As dominant as the Red Sox have been to this point in the playoffs, however, it’s worth noting the obvious disclaimers. Excellence through 11 playoff games is no guarantee of a championship. Of the seven previous teams to win at least nine of their first 11 playoff games, two lost in the World Series, with both Kansas City in 2014 and Cleveland in 2016 suffering their season’s demise in seven games.
Nonetheless, the Red Sox’ performance during the playoffs has represented a fitting continuation of a relentlessly methodical regular season. A team marked by incredible consistency — an underappreciated trait that former Red Sox catcher David Ross described this season as “the hardest thing to achieve in baseball.”
Now, that same consistency has appeared across 2½ rounds of the playoffs, bringing the Red Sox within two wins of a compelling case as the most dominant team in franchise history – a position that the team views as exciting and yet not satisfying.
“Their approach is very humble,’’ Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “They want to keep improving. That’s the cool thing about this group. They don’t get caught up in the whole thing — 108 wins, the Yankees, the Astros, it doesn’t matter. They’ve been very consistent since spring training. We still feel we can be better.”