The Red Sox enter Wednesday with the third-most wins in the American League, two few than the division-leading Yankees and approximately a billion behind the Astros, who never lose. This should be a cause for optimism. This should make you happy.
Of course, the Sox have needed extra innings to beat the worst team in baseball over the last two days, so my rah-rah act might fall on some deaf ears. It also might not fall on deaf ears, because extra-inning games tend to get the blood flowing a little faster in fans, especially after two wins in a row.
From Last Night: Andrew Benintendi hits walkoff homer as Red Sox beat Phils 4-3 in 12 innings pic.twitter.com/InE5cTiykp— Savage Sports (@SavageSportsNet) June 14, 2017
If some fans have been unable to enjoy what has been by any measure a successful season so far, a couple walk-offs in a row is a nice solution, no matter who they’re against. You gotta win the games. You don’t have to win them in style, but people tend to notice when you do.
It’s crazy to think that less than 48 hours ago Red Sox fans were booing the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello as he gave up four first-inning runs. It’s also crazy to remember that as recently as last week the big story for this team was David Price’s silly verbal attack on a reporter and not anything this team did on the field.
Slowly, though, the team is showing what it’s made of in a way that should be palatable to everyone. They’re exposing an underlying fact about the organization that has been true since before the season even began: this team is too good to be bad. Sure, they’ll have some crappy games -- and they have, as has everyone outside of Houston -- but on the whole, they’re just too stocked with talent to get repeatedly trucked by the rest of the league.
It’s easy to overlook this basic tenet, especially when there’s a loud sucking sound at third base, where Pablo Sandoval’s futility is emblematic of the larger problems the Sox have had in filling the position. Okay, it’s a little big more than emblematic. Sandoval’s production in the field and at the plate, or lack thereof, has been tangibly bad in aggregate.
It’s nearing the point that Sandoval will likely be gone one way or another, from being traded to being cut to merely being stashed on the bench as the world’s most expensive pinch-hitter, which he is right now. It’s sad, but not tragic, that it has worked out this way. It’s just money, or, at least, it should be.
The problem is that Sandoval is sort of a reverse Batman; the Panda Signal inspires glee in his detractors and fear in his peers. He’s been a pariah around here for two years and counting and, unless he can somehow stick around and repeat his World Series magic for Boston, that’s likely how he’s going to be remembered. If he’s dispatched he won’t get the full Carl Crawford treatment, but it’ll be similar.
The difference between Crawford and Sandoval, though, is as wide as the difference in width of the players themselves. Crawford really was an albatross on the team, and he fought against his bad fit in Boston -- a place he chose to come -- during and after his stay here, past the point of reasonable and acceptable criticism. Sandoval doesn’t do this, at least not publicly, and in this way Crawford is a lot relatable to the underperforming, overpaid, grumbly Price than he is to the Panda.
Furthermore, the Red Sox were not great with Crawford on the team and are perfectly fine with Sandoval on the roster. He is paid handsomely, but the Sox have accepted his contract as a sunk cost, rather than a de facto dictum that he must play all the time, and they’ve been better for it. They’ve even been good.
And yet the feeling persists, as Jake Devereaux and I discussed on this week’s Red Seat postcast on BP Boston, that Sandoval has been holding back the team. I agree that I feel it too, but this is a case where feelings can be deceiving. Eight games over .500 in mid-June with the injuries to the pitching staff, partial-season slumps from Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Hanley Ramirez, and problems with damaged goods relievers for whom we gave up pretty pennies? I’ll take it.
You’ll take it too. The one thing indisputable fact of the baseball season is that you’ll retcon the majority of it to align with how you feel it went based on the team’s postseason finish. If the Red Sox so much as make the ALCS, this will probably all be seen as a successful process and easily explained away as such. Given that they’re more or less on pace to just that, I’m going to trust the process earlier rather than later so I can enjoy the games right now.
To be fair, I’d still be happier with a new third baseman, but I expect the Sox to trade for one and free everyone of the Panda’s shadow. The light will make everyone happier. But you too can bask in it now just by moving a few feet to your right or left, which, unlike Sandoval, you can do. I highly recommend it, because the sun really is shining on the Sox right now, no more so than after last night.