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Stop harping on the Red Sox early-season schedule

It’s really not something on which to focus

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the Red Sox season has been terrific, and based solely on wins and losses things really couldn’t have gone better. The team, as I write this, is 6-1, and they are one bullpen meltdown away from being a perfect 7-0 to start the year. That’s really good! Of course, that’s also not to say there aren’t any concerns at all with this team. The offense has been inconsistent at best and completely absent at worst. The bullpen has had its ups and down to put it kindly, and the late-inning arms beyond Craig Kimbrel are worrisome. All things considered, though, there’s certainly more good than bad. The starting pitching has been the highlight of the team as all seven starts for the Red Sox to start 2018 have been gems. Even the offense, while frustrating for too many stretches early in the year, has come through when it’s counted the most to help the team come out on top in a lot of close games. Overall, it’s really hard to be upset about what the Red Sox have done over the first week-plus of the regular season.

Of course, with it being Boston and just generally it being sports in the internet age, there will always be reasons brought up to temper your excitement. Even though we all acknowledge things have not been perfect, there is one emerging narrative that pins this team in a position in which its impossible to be happy about their performance so far. Specifically, people can’t help but mention the low level of competition this team has faced to start the year.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Miami Marlins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox are in the midst of their third series of the year, and all of them have been against South Florida teams. They opened up with four games in Tampa Bay before heading down to Miami for a pair, and now they are in Boston for the first time in 2018, once again taking on that same Rays team from the first series of the year. Anybody who is pointing out the weak level of competition with these teams has a really solid argument to make. If you were to poll most people who pay attention to baseball even a little bit, basically everyone would agree that these teams are not going to be playoff contenders in 2018. The Red Sox are yet to face a truly great team this year, and I suppose it’s fair to at least mention that fact. On the other hand, it’s not fair nor prudent to make that the focus for a team that has won six of seven games, with all of the victories coming consecutively.

There are really just a few short points I want to make in response to this narrative that is starting to spread through both the fanbase and certain sections of the media. The first is that we are going to see a lot of stretches like this during the season, and it doesn’t mean that we just throw away any such stretch as a meaningless period of baseball. This is the way the league is going, and it’s a trend that was fast-tracked this winter. After seeing the success of recent rebuilding efforts in Chicago and Houston, other teams are copying that strategy and putting poor products on the field in the hopes of being able to build something great in the farm, and eventually in the majors. Whatever you think of that strategy, the result is the lack of a middle class in baseball. Right now, save for a couple squads here and there, the league looks like a bunch of elite teams, a bunch of really bad teams, and not much in between.

In addition to the new way of MLB, there is that old saying about not being able to predict baseball. The fact is, while we all believe the Rays and Marlins are bad, we don’t really know. At the end of every season we can look back at the preseason predictions and find a couple teams on both ends of the spectrum on which the general public was incredibly wrong. In fact, the Rays being bad isn’t even a consensus, as PECOTA (the projection system used at Baseball Prospectus) projected Tampa to finish better than .500 in 2018. The Marlins, meanwhile, have looked tougher than expected early on against a couple of teams expected to contend this year in the Cubs and Red Sox. This is not me saying I think either or both teams are going to be good this year — I think they’ll both finish well outside of the playoff picture — but we have to at least acknowledge that we are wrong about this stuff all the time.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is the fact that using the best teams as true litmus tests for baseball teams isn’t really how this works. Of course teams want to perform well against everyone and there is something to be said about playing well against the best competition, but great teams generally become great because they beat up on bad teams. Particularly in this new-look league mentioned above with so many rebuilding clubs, the good teams can catapult themselves to the top of the standings by simply beating up on the rebuilding clubs. Just look at last season’s standings. The best record in baseball against teams above .500 was 27-22 from the Indians, a .551 winning percentage. That’s obviously good, but it’s not anything special. For what it’s worth, the Dodgers posted a .521 winning percentage against winning clubs and the Astros posted a .545 mark (in just 33 games!). Where you really saw teams separate themselves was against those bad teams. The Dodgers posted a 68-25 record against teams below .500, for a .731 winning percentage, the best in baseball. The Astros posted a .643 mark. Simply put, the best teams in baseball become the best teams in baseball because they beat up on the bad teams while being a little better than .500 against the good ones.

At the end of the day, it’s fair to acknowledge that the level of competition for the Red Sox hasn’t been great, but it’s not fair to allow that fact to take away from their early-season run. Boston has six wins to start the year, and those six wins aren’t going anywhere. They are banked for the entire season, which is important in an American League that looks to be very top-heavy. All they can do is play the schedule they’re given, and so far they are handling their schedule exceedingly well. Looking at it any other way just robs yourself the chance at excitement, instead leaving your only options as being neutral if the team does well or upset if they don’t. That’s not a fun way to approach watching the game.