Baseball is, in my opinion, the most difficult sport to be a fan of. Or, at least, it’s the hardest sport of which to be a diehard fan. I will obviously acknowledge the bias in this statement considering I’m a baseball writer who watches baseball more than I do anything else. Everyone likes to think what they’re doing is difficult, so it’s likely fair to accuse me of overplaying my hand here. That being said, I still believe it’s true. Baseball season is just so long, and that alone makes it so different than other sports. Particularly football, but also to a lesser extent with basketball and hockey, every loss does matter. There aren’t enough games to make up for losing streaks, so one bad stretch can have a massive impact on the season. When you play 162 games, things are different. The old adage in baseball is that every team will win a third of its games and lose a third of its games, and the difference between great and awful teams is what happens in that final third. Unfortunately for us fans, no one tells us which losses are part of the third of the year that involves all the losses and which belong to the important third.
This makes it very easy to overreact to each loss. Staying level headed is not an easy thing to do with baseball, to say the least. Personally, one of the best moments of my life (not that I remember the actual moment, per se, but it had to have come at some point) was when I realized there’s no use in living and dying with each baseball game. There are just too many games to go on such a roller coaster of emotions for six months. Now, this isn’t me telling you how to fan. If you are the type of person to get emotionally invested in each game, I sure as hell am not put together well enough to tell you you’re doing it wrong. This is simply me explaining why I have a difficult time getting worked up over bad stretches of baseball.
And, clearly, the Red Sox are in the midst of a bad stretch of baseball right now. Starting with a bad Sale Day in Cleveland, Boston has lost eight of their last twelve games in a stretch that includes a sweep at Fenway at the hands of the Orioles. Fans are obviously starting to worry about the team, as this is not exactly the time of year for a team to be struggling. This is doubly so for a team in a tight playoff race with a Yankees team that is starting to heat up. On the other hand, the ebb and flow of baseball has a way of reversing itself in the blink of an eye. Sometimes, it needs a catalyst like a Rafael Devers or Eduardo Nuñez jump starting things, but we’ve seen this Red Sox team get hot and cold at the blink of an eye all year long. That’s not to say they are guaranteed to get out of this bind, but it’s fair to say that every team goes through these kind of stretches and while it’s hard to get over it it’s always important to focus on the bigger picture.
This brings us to the other reason baseball is so different from other sports: It’s hyper-localized. Obviously, every sport has diehard local fans, but baseball isn’t covered the same on a national level as sports like football and basketball. Fans of baseball more than any other sport — at least in my experience — are more likely to only focus on their own local team and not really the rest of the league. There’s obviously nothing wrong with this, but it makes it easy to not notice when other teams are struggling as well. The Indians are on a roll right now, but in early August if you asked an Indians fan how they felt about their playoff chances they’d sound a lot like Red Sox fans right now. Houston has been the team to beat in the American League all year, but they’ve been much less impressive lately and I’m sure their fans notice that. During the recent Red Sox-Yankees series, I checked out some Gamethreads at Pinstripe Alley (the Yankees SB Nation site) and many Yankee fans were longing for an offense like Boston’s. Of course, Red Sox fans would say the exact opposite. The grass is always greener and all that. Hell, even Dodgers fans who are rooting for the best team in recent memory are losing their minds over a recent stretch of poor play.
With all of that being said, I definitely want to make it clear that I recognize the reasons to worry. This is far from a perfect team, and there are reasons to see September going poorly. The offense has a tendency to shut down for long stretches at a time. The pitching, which has carried the team all year, is turning much more inconsistent in both the rotation and the bullpen. John Farrell, who I do believe gets more heat than he deserves, still makes plenty of decisions that makes me pull out my hair even as I try to mellow out. The criticisms of this team are almost entirely valid, and no one should feel bad for making them.
That being said, this isn’t 2011. The mere fact that anyone is calling for a collapse prevents this from being 2011. This team is not nearly as dominant as the one in 2011, and the pitching staff isn’t spontaneously combusting like it did that year. There are reasons to worry, but not reasons to believe they are about to repeat the most crushing collapse in team history. Even after this poor stretch, both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus give the team a 99.5 percent chance of making the playoffs. The former gives the team an 80.9 percent chance of winning the division, while the latter has the odds at 77.1 percent. Either way, they are in the driver’s seat whether we choose to believe it or not. Right now, the team is moving in the wrong direction, and in the moment it seems like it will never end. Zooming out, though, it’s probably (hopefully?) more likely that this is just an ebb in the wrong direction, and they’ll even themselves out soon. At least, that’s what I’m going to choose to believe, because the alternative sounds a lot more stressful, and I’m trying to mellow out over here.