These Red Sox are starting to look like a championship team. The odds are forever against them, but with this playoff system, they’d be against the 1927 Yankees as well. There’s a good argument that they’re the best team in the American League East. There’s a decent argument that they’re the favorites to represent the American League in the World Series, but Rangers and Indians fans might have something to say about that.
You don’t have to listen to them. You might not even be able to, because when you’re riding a wave, you often can’t hear what’s going on around you. You can just hear the other waves crashing -- and so far, the Red Sox’s opponents are crashing with regularity.
Last night’s crash was spectacular, of course. When Hanley hit his mammoth game-winning home run off Dellin Freakin’ Betances, he may have single-handedly buried the Yankees for the year. That the Yankees were an undead force to begin with hardly matters: You’re happy if you kill Dracula when he’s chasing you, no matter how he got that way.
The Sox have 16 games left and the Yankees are five games back, while the Blue Jays and Orioles sit two back. Boston’s playoff odds sit at 92.5 percent, while the Yankees are down at just over 10 percent. Things are looking good. How did we get here?
Much like the 2013 season, which saw the Sox Do The Dang Thing, the results seem less like the result of a single breakout performance than of small-to-large improvements across the board. Every one of the Sox’s offensive starters has played better than they did in 2015, and while the breakouts of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Travis Shaw seem like ancient history, they at least occurred when the games still counted.
More importantly, Hanley has rebounded in-season from a near-complete inability to hit a baseball -- a particularly unfortunate Achilles heel for a purported power hitter. By calming his swing down, he pumped up his stat line… and in so doing, further made ridiculous the kneejerk calls for him to be traded last season.
Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval combined for 100 RBIs last year. They've combined for 100 this year, too.— Chad Finn (@GlobeChadFinn) September 16, 2016
Not even Hanley’s redemption story can match that of Porcello, though, who has turned himself into perhaps the AL’s worst starter into a prime candidate to finish third in the Cy Young race. That’s pretty good! He’s not the best pitcher on the staff, but he has been the most consistent, and has, on a rotation held together with Elmer’s glue, soaked up a huge number of innings at above-average production.
Perhaps more than anyone, Porcello’s line has a 2013 comparable. Once you subtract John Lackey’s chicken-and-beer scandal, Porcello’s 2016 looks a whole lot like Lackey’s 2013, both for his role in stabilizing the pitching staff and salvaging his reputation. It wouldn’t be fair to say it came out of nowhere, because he didn’t get a four-year, $80 million contract by accident, but it’s more than fair to say no one was expecting it.
Still, it happened, just as Hanley’s resurgence happened, and JBJ and Shaw and Steven Wright’s first-half surge happened, and the Big Four’s MVP-ish seasons happened, and here we all sit in the back half of September, facing down another potential miracle season. There’s a lot of work left to do, but the Sox look like they’re in perfect position to do it.
They have only their rivals left to face. It’s a straight shot through them to the playoffs, and to infinity and beyond. The buzz is growing loud enough to hear over the sound of other teams crashing. The surf is most definitely up, and the big-bat Sox are hanging 10 on team often enough to make you think this summer might really never end.