For years, fans have been waiting for the next great Red Sox team. But this quest for a dynasty is causing many to overlook a great era for Boston baseball.
In 2017, the Boston Red Sox won 93 games en route to a second straight American League East title. When was the last time the Red Sox won back-to-back division titles you might ask? Never.
It’s hard to believe that in the 48-year history of the American League East our home team has never before topped their division in consecutive seasons. For most of the last half-century, the Red Sox have played in the shadow of their rivals in the Bronx. Always close, but never a cigar became the Beantown way.
The Glory Days
In 2004, the lovable Idiots changed everything. 2004 was the year that the Red Sox vanquished their 86 year old demons and brought formerly unknown joy to generations of lifelong fans. For years, the Fenway faithful pleaded with the baseball gods for just one championship and if this marked the end of winning baseball teams in Boston few would have complained.
Instead, the curse-breaking title marked the start of a run of consistently excellent Red Sox teams. Over the next five seasons, the Red Sox would win 95 or more games four times and went on to capture another World Series victory in 2007. This was the golden age of baseball in Boston. Unfortunately, all great things must come to an end.
The fall from grace
As the core of those great teams began to fade, the Red Sox hastily tried to recapture the fleeting magic with a new business model. General Manager Theo Epstein abandoned his motto of building from within and doled out large contracts to players for past performance. The result was not pretty.
There was chicken and beer, there were hundreds of millions in sunk costs and a 7-20 September collapse. By the time the 2011 season concluded the Red Sox brass knew the jig was up. Theo and Co bolted for greener pastures, leaving behind a slew of albatross contracts and a decimated player development system in their wake.
The next great Red Sox team would have to be built from the bottom up. A few shrewd drafts, a large investment in international talent, and a deus ex machina like reset button courtesy of the Dodgers propelled the rebuilding effort. The Red Sox would return to glory with a lightning in a bottle 2013 World Series run; ultimately, however, the next great team was still a few years away.
In 2014 and 2015 we watched the Red Sox finish in the division cellar in consecutive seasons. But that was okay. In those years we saw glimpses of the homegrown contender that would bring Boston back to the top.
The next great Red Sox team
Over the last two seasons, we have seen the youth movement that was years in the making finally come full circle. The fingerprints of this rebuilding effort covered the roster in 2016. At the plate, All-Star seasons from homegrown stalwarts Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. propelled the Red Sox lineup. Meanwhile, Rick Porcello, David Price, and Craig Kimbrel led the pitching staff; while none of these pitchers were Sox farmhands, all of their acquisitions were made possible by the expendable cap space and prospects that the rebuild generated.
This group supplemented later in the season by rookie outfielder Andrew Benintendi and All-Star pitcher Drew Pomeranz, drove the Red Sox from worst to first in the AL East. And in 2017 the same young guns, with the help of bona fide ace Chris Sale and 20-year-old phenom Rafael Devers, would return to the top of the division.
Yes, both of these seasons were cut short in the ALDS. This has caused many of the Fenway faithful to become disenchanted with the current team; they feel like their patience has yet to be rewarded. However, the Red Sox are now coming off of their first consecutive division titles in team history and they’re doing it largely on the backs of players too young to rent a car.
No time like the present
With all the pessimism that’s surrounded Yawkey Way since October, it’s easy to forget how much talent is on the Red Sox roster. Almost every single player in their starting lineup and rotation has All-Star upside. And almost all of their top talent is controllable for at least the next two years.
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The Red Sox’ rebuilding effort has gifted them with two AL East crowns and one of baseball’s best young cores. It has been a successful stretch and it is far from over. For the next few seasons, the Red Sox are in a position to win a lot of baseball games. We can squander that time biting our collective fingernails, while constantly looking over our shoulder towards the Bronx. We can waste it complaining about how these Red Sox have achieved nothing in the playoffs. But I have a better idea.
This unit may not rival the run of success the Red Sox teams of the mid-2000’s achieved. Only time will tell if they can bring home a ring. But whether or not banners fly is not the only measure of success. Right now this group of kids is making baseball in Boston fun again. Years from now we can reflect on the successes and failures of this group as a whole; when April rolls around, however, I propose we all put up our feet, crack a cold one, and enjoy a great era in Red Sox baseball.
The great Andy Bernard once said, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” It’s the good old days right now my friends. Enjoy it.