There’s an old adage in baseball that you can’t lock down a playoff spot in April, but you can definitely lose one. The sentiment there is not entirely true, to be fair, as was proven by the Nationals just a couple of years ago, who looked dead in the water six weeks into the season and of course ended up winning a World Series. But more often than not, it is the case. It’s easier to dig yourself into a hole than dig yourself out of one. So I think there is at least some kernel of truth to that on an annual basis. And for the Red Sox this year, it feels even more true than normal.
We should start with a little bit of a recent history. This is not a scientific study or anything like that, but over the last decade or so the first month of the season has told a good story for what will happen with the Red Sox over the entire season. Going back to 2010, the only true outlier from April performance to the rest of the year was in 2015, when they played above .500 but finished in last in the division by the end of the season. The years that really stand out the most to me are, on the negative side, 2011 and 2019, and on the positive side, 2013 and 2018.
Of course there is a whole lot of confirmation bias here. The 2013 and 2018 teams were very good baseball teams, so of course they played well in April. A good team is more likely to play well over any given month. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do that math. But I think there is something to be said for setting expectations early. Baseball is a long, grueling sport. That’s part of what makes it great, but it’s also part of what makes it tough for players. I mean, think of last season. It was two months, but because they were playing so poorly, it felt like it was a full six-month grind.
If we feel that way on our collective couches watching from home, there’s no doubt that kind of sinking feeling enters a clubhouse too. When you get off to a slow start, the players don’t give up but there’s certainly some air being let out of the balloon. On the flip side, especially for a team that is already coming in with a “no one believes in us” attitude, getting off to a hot start only increases the energy. At the end of the day talent wins, but baseball is also often decided on the margins, and that extra energy is one of those things that translates on the margins.
And as we look even more specifically at the context of this Red Sox team, it matters all the more. Right now, the AL East appears to be a three-team race with Boston attempting to wiggle their way into the mix and make it four teams. Maybe one of those teams will fall out of it and play below expectations, but that still leaves two clubs to leapfrog, or at least with whom to keep pace. And that says nothing of teams like the Twins, White Sox, Astros, Angels, and Athletics who could be part of the wildcard picture as well. (Two of them will likely win a division, of course.)
I have predicted the Red Sox will go roughly .500 in April, which will keep them on the periphery of the race but probably won’t change a whole lot in terms of expectations. As is hit on in the linked post, though, there is a real opportunity here for this team to get off to that desired hot start. The most optimistic of Red Sox fans have pointed to 2013 when talking about this year’s team. Well, back in 2013 they defied expectations early with an 18-8 April. If the Red Sox can bring that kind of energy and add that kind of swag to their step after one month, they’re going to make a whole lot of people, myself included, look at them a bit differently. It’s only one month of baseball, but it sets a tone. The Red Sox need to set the right tone, starting this afternoon against the Orioles.