The Red Sox just came home from their mini West Coast road trip, and it certainly could have gone better. To start, a 2-4 record against two decidedly inferior teams is never ideal. There always seems to be a heightened sense of scrutiny when it comes to these cross-country trips, which feels ironic given the time that these games are getting underway for a vast majority of the team’s fanbase. With that said, one less solo home run from Rick Porcello last Sunday, or one more strike from Doug Fister on Tuesday night, and the narrative gets turned upside down.
I’ve always had a hard time understanding why, in 2017, Red Sox fans continue to insist on pessimism. I’ve hate-watched my way through Fever Pitch enough times to understand why generations before would err on the side of panic, but there’s now a whole generation of Red Sox fans who have had it pretty good. Case in point: In 2003, when Aaron Boone walked the Sox off in Game 7, I was 11. In the 14 seasons since 2003, the Red Sox have won at least 90 games nine times. They’ve made the playoffs eight times in that span. They have three World Series titles and three division pennants. In 14 seasons, they’ve only finished last in their division three times. The team I – and a pretty significant portion of the team’s fanbase, I’d bet – know is a much more dependable one than it’s ever been in the past.
Being unlikeable is the greyscale of baseball adjectives – once you catch it, there’s no return.
Seeing as the Red Sox usually (2012 notwithstanding) get it together, it seems foolish to be writing the team’s obituary on July 27th. You would think at some point that three World Series titles, a mostly-competent front office, and one of the biggest payrolls in baseball would be enough to cut them some slack. If the bungled firing of a beloved play-by-play guy is one of the worst things that’s happened to the organization over the last two decades, things are probably going pretty well on the field.
This year continues to be no different, as a first-place team filled with homegrown talent and the probable AL Cy Young winner have been officially dubbed unlikeable. Being unlikeable is the greyscale of baseball adjectives – once you catch it, there’s no return (or maybe there is? Ask Sam Tarly.). When a team becomes unlikeable, they just have to spend the rest of their days as lepers – wasting away in Valyria, dieting on an endless buffet of fried chicken and light beer.
I took the liberty of Twitter-searching “Red Sox Unlikeable” and, if you can believe it, nothing good happened. I did learn that the 2017 Red Sox are, apparently, the most unlikeable team of anyone’s lifetime, in any sport, ever. Not only that, but they’ve been unlikeable since Septemeber of 2009. It could be longer than that, but I stopped scrolling. People have been consistently putting “Red Sox Unlikeable” into their Very Bad Tweets for close to eight years now. The Boston Globe was saying it in 2011. CBS Sports was saying it in 2012. @JoltinJesus was saying it in 2013. Generally speaking, the team will always be disliked on a national level for a variety of reasons, some of which are accurate and some of which aren’t. But let’s jot out some quick pros and cons to see how unlikeable this year’s team really is.
- Mookie Betts, the team’s 24-year old right fielder, is a top-10 player in all of baseball. Not only that, but he has become that type of player after spending a good chunk of his minor league career overlooked. It doesn’t get more fun than a little-known talent becoming a bonafide star. He’s a MVP candidate who’s still 2-3 years away from his prime.
- Jackie Bradley Jr, the team’s 27-year old center fielder, is the best defensive outfielder they’ve had in decades. His .269/.341/.453 stat line, combined with his otherworldly defense, combine for the 8th most valuable center fielder in baseball.
- Andrew Benintendi, the team’s 23-year old left fielder, is hitting a “disappointing” .266/.347/.412 so far. Not only that, but Benintendi’s numbers show someone who’s prime for a breakout; Benintendi has the sixth-best hard-hit percentage (35.3 percent) of any left fielder in baseball, but the 15th-best BABIP. Of the top-10 hardest-hitting left fielders in baseball, only Benintendi has a BABIP under .300. He’s going to get hot.
- Xander Bogaerts, the team’s 24-year old shortstop, is a top-10 shortstop in all of baseball. He’s hitting .167 with a .211 wOBA and three extra base hits over the last 30 days, and he’s still a top-10 offensive shortstop, slashing .284/.340/.416 this season.
- Dustin Pedroia, an all-time fan favorite and possible Hall-of-Famer, is in the midst of one of his best years. Like everyone else on the team, he’s not hitting for power; what he is doing, though, is hitting for average, getting on base, and cutting down on his strikeouts. He also continues to be one of the best two or three defensive second basemen in baseball, based on any number of defensive stats. He was going to have to age well in order to make any realistic run at the Hall of Fame, and so far, so good.
- Chris Sale, the probable AL Cy Young winner, pitches for the Red Sox every five days. This year alone, Sale’s been on pace to put up one of the all-time great seasons from a starting pitcher. He notched his 200th strikeout on July 21st, being just the 12th Red Sox pitcher ever to do so. Getting to 200 strikeouts in 20 starts or less put him in a category with Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to do so. He’s on pace to break Pedro’s single-season strikeout record (313). At this point, his starts are must-see TV.
- Rafael Devers, the team’s 20-year old third baseman, got called up a few days ago and crushed his first major league hit about 419 feet over the fence in Seattle.
- They’re still in first place.
- David Price and Dennis Eckersley got into a fight on the team plane. It was a bad look for a guy who has found himself looking bad on more than a few occasions during his Boston tenure, but like every single beat writer will tell you dozens of times, players and media members get in fights. It was absolutely handled the wrong way, and Price will need to do some work to win over the fans again. But who’s going to remember this if Price puts together another strong second half? My bet is that Red Sox fans will care a whole lot less about who’s yelling at who if you can pitch like an ace.
- They decided not to hit any home runs this year. I can’t really defend this one, since it sucks, and I long for the days when they were mashing.
Just to recap: The team’s de facto captain is having one of his best seasons. Five of their nine everyday players are young. They’re cultivating All-Star-caliber homegrown talents. This year’s probable Cy Young winner pitches for them. And last, but certainly not least: they’re in first place in the AL East. If this team isn’t likable, what type of team would you prefer?
Photo by Joe Nicholson – USA TODAY Sports