I count myself among the "glass is more than half" contingent of Red Sox Nation. Always have, always will. Despite my unwavering optimism, the 3-6 home stand just completed versus three AL East foes was upsetting. The Red Sox record after that nine game stand sits at 13-15 in fourth place, 4.5 games behind the first place New Yorkers in a bunched up division. But it is still early, right?
But the recent Red Sox seasons have been marred by poor beginnings, this much I know from memory. But just how have the starts to the recent seasons (and some not so recent campaigns) gone? I researched this question and the answer was extremely unsettling. For the purpose of this exercise we will consider a "start" to a season being the first 28 games. That is only because through yesterday, May 7 of this year, the Sox have played 28 games, and will allow us to compare 2015 to years gone by. Here is a list of the bad news that I discovered.
1. The 2015 start is almost identical to five of the last six seasons:
2015 13-15 4th place 4.5 GB
2014 13-15 4th place 3.0 GB
2013 20- 8 1st place 2.0 games ahead
2012 12-16 5th place 6.5 GB
2011 13-15 4th place 5.0 GB
2010 14-14 4th place 6.5 GB
So 2015 has the exact same W-L as last year and 2011, one game better than 2012 and one game worse than 2010. Of course the seasons of 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014 were all years the Red Sox failed to make the post season finishing third in '10 and '11 and last in the AL East in '12 and '14. Of course the outlier is 2013 when the Sox had a great beginning and went on the win another World Series.
In their two third place seasons the Sox finished seven games out of first place. Of course, in 2011 they had righted the ship from that 13-15 start to lead the AL East by a half game on September 1. Then came the great collapse which cost Terry Francona his job when the Sox went 7-19 in September. The only thing worse than a bad April is the combination of a bad April and worse September.
To recap in four of five seasons in this decade the Sox have started with basically an identical record as '15 and did not make any post seasons and only came close once.
2. During the Red Sox most dominant stretch since the 1910's the team started well every year.
From 2003 to 2009 the Red Sox made the post season six of seven years. Here were their starts to those seasons:
2003 19-9 Lost ALCS in seven games
2004 17-11 World Championship
2005 16-12 Lost in ALDS to eventual World Champ White Sox
2006 16-12 Missed post season
2007 19-9 World Championship
2008 16-12 Lost ALCS in seven games
2009 17-11 Lost ALDS to Angles
Not once in that stretch did the Sox have to come back from a start that put them in a hole. And only in '06 did they not go onto the postseason. Six of seven years including four where they went to Game Seven of the ALCS or better.
3. The better the start the bigger the prize is at the end.
In the twelve year span from 2003 to 2014 ( the last twelve seasons) the best starts were, to recap:
2013 20-8 World Championship
2007 19-9 World championship
2003 19-9 ALCS Game Seven ( and if not for Grady Little, Aaron Boone, who knows)
2004 17-11 World Championship
2009 17-11 The one exception, but they did make the ALCS.
4. Only one Red Sox team in forty years has overcome a .500 or worse start to have a "successful" campaign.
And it was a .500, not under. The 1999 Red Sox under Jimy Williams began 14-14 and then finished 94-68 and as the wild card and the AL East runner up to the Yankees to whom they lost to in the ALCS after beating Cleveland in the ALDS. Only one team in the same forty years has come back from a sub .500 start to a winning record for the season. The 1996 Sox under Kevin Kennedy started 9-19 but rebounded to finish 85-77. This allowed the Sox to finish third in the AL East, seven games behind, but still cost Kennedy his job.
Now on the bright side (sort of) one reason there have been no other recoveries other than the '11 squad mentioned above who recovered only to nosedive again in September is that for many of the seasons between the late 70's and through the first decade of the 2000's, with a small handful of exceptions, the Red Sox got off to good starts. Even the Morgan Magic team of 1988 which fired John McNamara in July and stormed into first when Walpole Joe took over began 16-12.
5. And now for a bit of good news.
Once upon a time the Red Sox had seasons in which they specialized in starting poorly and charging back for pennants or near pennants. The 1975 team, which was honored this week at Fenway, began their season 14-14. And this was after blowing a late season seven game AL East lead to Baltimore in 1974. The '75 Sox finished 95-65 and ran away with the East and you know the rest...seven game loss in the World Series to the Reds.
The 1972 team lost the AL East to the Tigers by a half game. This half game difference came about due to an early season players strike, and none of the games were made up leaving certain teams playing different amounts of games. That Sox team under Eddie Kasko started 10-18 before racing to a 85-70 record in the abbreviated season.
And finally the Impossible Dream Red Sox of 1967 began that magical season at 13-15 before going on to beat the Twins twice at Fenway in the season's last weekend to finish 92-70 and went to the seventh game of the World Series versus St. Louis.
Before that season the Red Sox had only been in the World Series once since the 1918 win, and that was 1946 when the Red Sox came roaring out of the gate.
So the Sox had three recoveries from a poor start in one nine year span from 1967 through 1975. The 1996 entry came back to have a winning season but no post season appearance ( as did the '10 and '11 teams). And the boys of Jimy in 1999 recovered from a start only one game better than this year to make the ALCS.
So these are the odds this 2015 Red Sox team are facing. Can it be done? It can, but it has not been done by this franchise in over a decade and a half. And the Red Sox have not recovered from this type of start to win a World Series for nearly a century, if ever.
Is it still early? Maybe, but April matters ( as does early May)!