My last post painted a pretty bleak picture for the 2015 Red Sox. When I set out to investigate their poor start of 13-15 ( at the end of the last home stand), I discovered the Sox had had nearly identical starts every year since 2010, expect for the one year in this decade that they won the World Series.
Since that research I have been looking at the Red Sox current situation from any and all sides looking for an escape from this self imposed trap the Sox have placed themselves into.
One variable (and there are others, for example the 2015 team has a different set of players than some past years) that may be the most important is the competition the Red Sox will have to beat out to win the AL East. Brandon, also mentioned this in his comment about the bad start.
So I took a look at the previous five seasons and the AL East standings for each year. There may be a pattern that could give some hope to Boston (or any other AL East team).
1. Tampa Bay 96-66
2. New York 95-67
3. Boston 89-73
4. Toronto 85-77
5. Baltimore 66-96
A few 2010 notes: both the Rays and Yankees went to the postseason, the AL East champs Rays lost in the ALDS and the wild card Yanks swept the Twins in the ALDS and lost the ALCS to Texas.
The Red Sox after a 14-14 start (one game better than this year) went on to win 89...would 89 win it this year?
The division broke down into a pattern of three 90 win or near 90 win teams, with the fourth place finisher lagging somewhat behind and the last place team way, way out of it. You could call it a pattern of three contending teams, and two outside looking in. It would not be out of bounds to consider Toronto in it as well. But we will call the pattern of the five teams:
1. New York 97-65
2. Tampa Bay 91-71
3. Boston 90-72
4. Toronto 81-81
5. Baltimore 69-93
Notes for 2011: The Yankees and Rays each went to the post season again, in reversed roles. However, both teams lost in the ALDS.
The Sox started 13-15, the same as this year, and went on to win 90 games. Their 7-19 September toasted this Sox squad not their start.
For the year the AL East did break down into three 90 or more win teams, and the other two lagging behind(one at .500 and the O's way behind again). Again the pattern could be called 3-2, but we will again go with:
1. New York 95-67
2. Baltimore 93-69
3. Tampa Bay 90-72
4. Toronto 73-89
5. Boston 69-93
2012 again had two AL East teams in the post season, this time the Yankees( who have not appeared since then) and the upstart Orioles. Baltimore won the first ever AL Wild Card playoff game over Texas, and then lost to the Yankees in the ALDS. The New Yorkers were then swept by Detroit in the ALCS, and have I mentioned New York has not appeared in the post season since....oh I did, well it's true.
The Red Sox started 12-16 and then collapsed in the basement of the AL East.
The pattern of the division was very much like the previous two seasons, only with Baltimore and Boston changing roles and Toronto slipping back even further. For the third year of this decade the AL East had three teams with 89 wins of more, and the second straight year of three teams of 90 wins or more. 2012's pattern was a definite:
1. Boston 97-65
2. Tampa Bay 92-71
3. Baltimore 85-77
3. New York 85-77
5. Toronto 74-88
The AL East again had two postseason teams, but by the slimmest of margins. In the second year of the second wild card team, the Rays tied for that spot with the Rangers. Tampa Bay won the one game play in over Texas, and then won the actual Wild Card playoff game over Cleveland. The Rays lost the ALDS to the Sox. For the first (and so far only) time in this decade the World Champion came for the AL East after the Red Sox beat Detroit in the ALCS and St. Louis in the Fall Classic.
The Red Sox started '13 with their only good beginning to a campaign in the 2010's: 20-8 and you can see where it led.
2013 was the first year that going into the season many pundits predicted the AL East would bunched up, perhaps from top to bottom. The pattern from the previous three seasons did change, but the final standings were not close from top to bottom. Only two teams won over 90 games, two were in the middle with good but not great seasons, and the Blue Jays finished 23 games out of first by essentially duplicating their 2012 season.
1. Baltimore 96-66
2. New York 84-78
3. Toronto 83-79
4. Tampa Bay 77-85
5. Boston 71-91
Except for the prognosticators who called for a Boston repeat as World Champs (poor pick), nearly everyone else was even more strongly calling for the bunched up AL East. It certainly was more so than previous 2010's seasons, and the pattern most definitely changed, but the division was not competitive from the top down. For the second year in a row one of the teams separated handily from the pack, this time Baltimore and their lead was about double of Boston's in 2013.
In another difference for the AL East, no wild card came from its members. Only the champ Orioles moved on, and they lost in the ALCS to the Royals.
The Red Sox started the same as this year and finished last for the second time in three seasons.
2014 came the closest to a perfect curve of 1-3-1 but the Rays really are more accurately lumped in the bottom with Boston:
So in conclusion is the AL East diminishing in talented teams and is it a shiny example of parity from top to bottom?
Our patterns certainly seem to show a weakened AL East. In 2010-2012 each year the division had three teams of ninety wins or more(if we fudge a bit and include the 2010 Red Sox with 89). Each second place finisher went on to the postseason as a wild card. And in two of the years an AL East team made it to the ALCS although none won it.
In 2013 the 90 win team total dropped to two, although it did include two post season teams, and Boston gave the division the only World Championship for the period of our investigation.
For 2014 there was only one 90 win team, Baltimore, who was also the only playoff team. No one else won more than 84 games.
There is no question of that pattern. Now as far as parity, for the last two campaigns when a tightly bunched division was called for, the same general outcome resulted: one team pulled away from the others, and one team sunk to the bottom (different teams in each direction each year). The three teams in the middle were bunched together as predicted.
So to our original question. Can the parity (or putridness) give the Red Sox a window to overcome their poor start? The answer of course is MAYBE. But if the pattern of 2013 and 2014 continue, it may harder than is seems. The unanswerable at this time is: will one of this year's AL East clubs pull away like the '13 Sox and '14 O's?
The team that is out in front now is New York, but they certainly have not separated with a 2 game lead over injury plagued Tampa Bay and 4 or 4.5 games over the other three. Many observers are still not sold on the Yanks' aging club being able to seal the deal all year long. If not, we may see the pattern of 90+ win clubs continue to drop from 3 to 2 to 1 and maybe in '15 zero.
That would allow the RedSox a path to recover from the 13-15 start and compete for the post season again.