After watching this team cruise through one of the most thrilling regular-season campaigns in recent memory, we are all well aware of their ability to win. After all, they did it 108 TIMES this year, which is more than any other Red Sox team in history and just eight wins off the MLB record. And with three straight division titles, this team has proven that it can win in the regular season — not a problem. But when the Sox open up the postseason Friday, they will be in search of just their second playoff victory since 2013.
The individual October stat lines aren’t all that encouraging either, And that’s without even considering the stacked American League playoff picture. It’s also without considering the fact that the most seasoned playoff veterans on this roster are Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland. All together, it probably doesn’t exactly make you want to wear your “Cue the Duckboats” t-shirt to the bar for Game 1. I still find myself trying to hide what feels like irrational confidence going into the ALDS.
The trick is brainwashing yourself into making the best of the things that worry you most. I consider the lack of postseason success on this roster to be a pretty pressing concern — but I’ve chosen to look at things in a more positive light as of late. It feels like Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez are simply having too good a year to disappear in the playoffs. David Price seems to be on too hot of a stretch to continue his career-long playoff woes. And at some point, you just have to believe that Chris Sale is going to be able to do in October what he does the rest of the year and the rest of his career.
I certainly didn’t feel this good going into the last two division series, and that proved to be warranted. In 2016, Sandy Leon, Andrew Benintendi and Brock Holt were the only Sox to go deep in three straight losses to Cleveland. Betts managed just two hits in 12 plate appearances and the offense as a whole hit just .214/.278/.378. The rotation didn’t do them any favors with no starters managing to make it out of the fifth inning.
Last season was a little less frustrating and even featured a 10-3 win over the eventual champions, but it still left something to be desired. The Price bullpen experiment was probably one of the most exciting things to watch in what turned out to be a pretty lopsided series in Houston’s favor. Boston’s younger core gained some invaluable experience in losing to a team that was simply better — and it made me feel like maybe this team was just one piece away after all.
And then Martinez signed with Boston. All season long, it has felt like he was the piece the lineup has been missing since David Ortiz retired. You certainly can’t expect him to do what Ortiz did in the postseason — because that was just ridiculous and you can’t reasonably expect that from any mortal — but I think it’s fair to say that opposing pitchers are probably a little more fearful of the Red Sox lineup now than they were last year or even the year before that.
Martinez has played in just three postseason series during his eight-year career, but he was one of a few bright spots for the Diamondbacks last season in their NLDS loss to the Dodgers. And things have only gotten better for J.D. since then as he’s coming off the best statistical season of his career. He “slowed down” slightly by his standards over the last month of the season, but there’s really nothing easy about maintaining the 12.6 at bats per home run ratio he had from March 29 to August 31.
Great teams win this time of year — it’s as simple as that. Those teams are usually filled with great players who find ways to perform despite the pressure October brings. Some may think Boston is lacking the bravado to get it done based on recent postseason efforts, but I think the Red Sox absolutely have what it takes — they just need those guys to show up come Friday.