Opinion

Examining the Red Sox’ beginning of the season results from 2008-2017

A history lesson: how have the Boston Red Sox fared in the beginning  of the season over the past ten years?

Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (April 15, 2011 – Source: Jim Rogash/Getty Images North America) 

With a wild, extra-innings win in 13 innings, the Boston Red Sox advanced to 5-1 on the young season last night. After dropping the first game of the year in heartbreaking fashion, Boston has responded admirably, winning five consecutive games.

Yes, their opponents, the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins, have not been the fiercest of competitors. In fact, it is not even as if the Red Sox are dominating their adversaries right out of the gate. Three of their five victories have been one-run wins and another was an extra-inning affair. Only Monday’s 7-3 game against the Marlins was a relative testament of dominance and it was only a four-run difference.

Regardless of how Boston’s done it, the fact remains these early season results matter. Sure, it is very early in the year, but these are wins the Red Sox will have in spite of how the remaining 156 games play out. No one can take that away from them.

Via Fangraphs, they have year-round playoff odds that adjusts for every game teams play. On March 28th, when the 2018 season began, the Sox had an 83.6% chance of making the playoffs. As of today, their chances have increased to 87.2%. Over the course of less than a week, they have added close to four percent on their odds. That is pretty significant.

So, yeah, it is obviously ideal to make a good impression out of the gate. They are wins you do not have to chase later in the season. Then again, it is not even close to being the end-all, be-all. 156 games is a lot of time to change the early impression.

With sample sizes so small that they are almost entirely devoid of substance, there is not much meaningful to write about. As such, I  thought it would be interesting to look back at how Boston has fared through their first six games of the season over the last 10 years. Why 10, you ask? Truthfully, I do not know. Ten just seems like one of those practical, arbitrary numbers to stop at. Plus, anything more than that seems like a lot of writing. I probably do not want to write more than that.

Anyway, let’s get this show on the road. Starting with the 2008 season all the way to the 2017 season, let’s see how Boston has performed in the really early going.

2008 Season: 

  • Record through first six games: 3-3
  • Opening Day starter: Daisuke Matsuzaka
  • Final record: 95-67

The year after Boston’s second World Series in the 21st century, the Sox got off to a decent start to begin their 2008 campaign. This was the season they started in Tokyo, playing two games against the Oakland Athletics to begin the year. They split the two-game series in Japan and then traveled back to the States to play two more games. The Red Sox won both of those contests, riding a particularly strong performance from Daisuke Matsuzaka in the first one. He went 6 and 2/3 innings, allowing just one earned run while racking up nine strikeouts and zero walks.

Afterwards, they played the Toronto Blue Jays, losing both games. Through the six contests, David Ortiz had an abysmal .091 batting average. He ended up with a .264 average and 124 wRC+ on the year.

Boston ended up as a Wild Card team, conceding the AL East crown to the Tampa Bay Rays, who also ended up beating them in the ALCS. Dustin Pedroia took home the 2008 MVP.

2009 Season: 

  • Record through first six games: 2-4
  • Opening Day starter: Josh Beckett
  • Final record: 95-67

The Red Sox started the season off against the team who knocked them out of the playoffs the year before. Losing two of three to the Rays, Boston then headed to Los Angeles to take on the Angels. Like the Rays, the Angels also beat the boys from Beantown in two of three contests.

While there were no awe-inspiring pitching performances to speak of, the Red Sox had two very torrid early offensive performers, Jason Bay (1.324 OPS) and Kevin Youklis (1.316 OPS) through six games.

In 2009, the team was yet again a Wild Card, finishing second to the 103-win New York Yankees. Boston was swept in the ALDS by the Los Angeles Angels, who they played early in the season. Things come around full circle.

2010 Season: 

  • Record through first six games: 3-3
  • Opening Day starter: Josh Beckett
  • Final record: 89-73

Starting the season against the Bronx Bombers, the Red Sox lost two of three to the division rivals. They did, however, reign victorious on the Opening Day game, beating the Yankees 9-7 in a slugfest. After that, they took on the Kansas City Royals, who they were able to pick up two wins from. In their two victories over K.C., they scored eight runs. It was an offensive-laden start to the 2010 season.

Following a weak 2009 season, David Ortiz was actually hitting out of the five-hole to begin the year. This was a period in time when the masses were predicting he was in the midst of an inevitable decline (LOL). He responded to the down-year by mashing 32 homers and accumulating an impressive 134 wRC+.

For the first time since 2006, the Sox did not manage to make the postseason, finishing third in the division. This year did mark the revitalization of Adrian Beltre‘s career, though. He led the majors with 49 doubles. Could you imagine if the Sox decided to keep him? What would that world look like? Peaches and cream, probably.

2011 Season: 

  • Record through first six games: 0-6
  • Opening Day starter: Jon Lester
  • Final Record 90-72

Honestly, I just want to stop here. This was the most devastating season I have ever endured as a Sox fan. After acquiring star free-agent Carl Crawford and acquiring star first basemen Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres (for Anthony Rizzo) in the offseason, pundits were anointing this ensemble of players as one of the “best teams in history.”

They got off to a crippling slow start, getting swept and destroyed by the Texas Rangers in the first series of the season. They did not fare any better against the Cleveland Indians, losing all three games in that series, too. The first six games saw Crawford bat a meager .174, while Gonzalez started off relatively well (.882 OPS). With so many powerful bats, Ortiz was actually in the sixth-hole to begin the campaign.

The Red Sox went on to have the most memorable September collapse of all-time (yes, that is an arbitrary but passioned assessment), missing a playoff spot on game 162. Jacoby Ellsbury had an outstanding year, putting up 9.4 fWAR and narrowly missing the 2011 AL MVP award.

2012 Season: 

  • Record through first six games: 1-5
  • Opening Day starter: Jon Lester
  • Final Record: 69-93

Like the year before, 2012 did not begin very well. The Red Sox were tasked with playing a tough Detroit Tigers team to commence the season and they were promptly swept. The series was defined by a 13-12 loss in the last game of the series, which saw Detroit winning in the 11th inning. Mark Melancon blew the save in Red Sox Mark Melancon fashion. He became a pretty damn good pitcher.

Anyway, they then went to Toronto and did pick up a victory in the first game of the series. No one produced great numbers in the early going, succumbing to the Black Plague that was Bobby Valentine‘s thankfully short tenure with the team.

Boston finished last in the division but managed to shed the enormous contracts of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett in what was a franchise-altering salary dump to the new, partially-owned Magic Johnson Los Angeles Dodgers. The early season hiccups were warning signs of a pitiful year to come.

2013 Season: 

  • Record through first six games: 4-2
  • Opening Day starter: Jon Lester
  • Final Record: 97-65

A team with middling expectations, the Red Sox started off 2013 with a bang, defeating the New York Yankees 8-2 on Opening Day. They managed to procure a second win in the three-game series. The team then headed to Toronto to play their other AL East opponents and also scooped up two of three. The third game of the Blue Jays series highlighted the eventual success of the entire season.

Boston annihilated Toronto with a 13-0 soul-crushing victory. Jon Lester picked up his second win on the year, throwing seven shutout innings while retiring six by way of the K. Meanwhile, Will Middlebrooks demolished three homeruns in the game.

The Sox went onto win the AL East and, more importantly, the World Series. The beginning of the John Farrell-tenure was a smashing success and the early results pointed in that direction.

2014 Season: 

  • Record through first six games: 2-4
  • Opening Day starter: Jon Lester
  • Final Record: 71-91

The first series, against the Baltimore Orioles in Camden Yards, instilled hope into the defending World Series champs. They lost Opening Day to the O’s but were victorious the next two games. Jon Lester, John Lackey and Felix Doubront (holy shit, remember him?) all put together quality starts to initiate 2014.

Bringing baseball to their home turf in the next series, they were trampled by the Milwaukee Brewers, with a clean sweep. The only silver lining was a quick start from young, touted shortstop Xander Bogaerts (.956 OPS). The rest of the season did not progress well for the Aruba-native, finishing with a measly 81 wRC+ and 0.3 fWAR. He’s pretty good now, though!

Anyway, Boston returned to their cellar-dweller ways. They failed to replicate the success of 2013 in a disappointing style.

2015 Season: 

  • Record through first six games: 4-2
  • Opening Day starter: Clay Buchholz
  • Final Record: 78-84

With an 8-0 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Opening Day, which saw Dustin Pedroia hit two bombs and Clay Buchholz throw 7+ scoreless frames, the Red Sox were off the an auspicious start.

Lucrative newcomers Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez were expected to make an enormous impact on an underachieving offense. This expectation was more or less met for the first six games of the year. Ramirez was crushing the ball, with admittedly suspect defense in left field, and Sandoval was not the worst thing to happen to Boston since 1986 World Series Bill Buckner yet.

The Red Sox cruised to a 4-2 start, led by, get this, an outfield that was labeled as “an embarrassment of riches.”

Funny how the world works. The Sox ended up at the bottom of the barrel again and saw the conclusion of the Ben Cherington-era in Boston. Meanwhile, Mookie Betts became a thing in ’15, so it was not a loss by all means.

2016 Season: 

  • Record through first six games: 3-3
  • Opening Day starter: David Price
  • Final Record: 93-69

The return to competitive relevance, the Red Sox got off to a decent start to 2016, winning three of the first four games against the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays. David Price was successful in his first Opening Day start, throwing six commanding innings where he fanned 10 batters.

Middle of the order bats David Ortiz (1.102 OPS) and Hanley Ramirez (1.069) got off to scorching starts, while the new-wave of  Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts were comfortably featured at the top of the lineup.

Boston finished with the A.L .East crown, making the Red Sox faithful forget about the miserable past two years. They were, however, briskly swept by Cleveland and old friend Terry Francona in the ALDS.

2017 Season: 

  • Record through first six games: 3-3
  • Opening Day starter: Rick Porcello
  • Final Record: 93-69

A two-game series in Fenway Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates to begin the year proved very successful for the Sox. They were triumphant in both games, highlighted by a Sandy Leon walk-off homerun in the 12th inning of the second game in the series. Chris Sale in a Red Sox uniform became a thing in the same contest, going seven strong innings of no runs allowed pitching.

The next series was a four-game one against the Detroit Tigers and it was not as fruitful of an experience. The Red Sox lost three of four in Comerica Park to a fairly horrible Tigers team. Mitch Moreland, however, hit a crap ton of doubles for the post-David Ortiz Red Sox.

The Red Sox went onto narrowly win the AL East for the second consecutive year. Similar to ’16, they were booted from the ALDS but this time in four, not three, games. The 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros were the team to give them the boot.

Back to the Present

Well, that was fun. I felt like I went through a time capsule of the Boston Red Sox I have known and loved, taking me back into the various engrossing storylines of the past ten seasons.

Because the Sox are such a big part of my life, it almost felt as if I was experiencing different versions of myself as I went through the years. Nostalgic stuff.

Anyway, is there anything to extrapolate from this ten-year window of time besides the anecdotal? No, probably not. It is six games, kids. Six of 162. Purely, this was a fun exercise, looking back at the team’s ten-year run.

I will leave this, here, though: the Boston Red Sox have gotten off to a better start (5-1) than they have in the past ten years. Go Red Sox!

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