Red Sox Fans: Why aren’t you more excited about this team?

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 04: Eduardo Nunez #36 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates a win with teammates after a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 04: Eduardo Nunez #36 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates a win with teammates after a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox are on an historic pace, yet fan excitement seems to be lacking in intensity. What is driving the tempered reactions?

The Boston Red Sox are on pace for 108.6 wins. Let me type that again. The Boston Red Sox are on pace for 108.6 wins. That would beat the team’s all time record of 105 set in 1912, and would be just the fourth time they have ever won 100 or more. It would be their third highest winning percentage ever. They may be sending five players to the All Star Game. They have two legitimate MVP candidates and a legitimate Cy Young candidate. This team is stacked and is performing, so where is all the fanfare?

Instead of celebrating, there are questions and doubts. There is shrugging of shoulders. Whether it’s because the opponent doesn’t pose enough of a challenge, the farm system has been reduced to rubble, or that vilifying David Price is just too easy, people are finding excuses to hold back. It may seem bizarre, but here are some reasons that some fans may be lukewarm rather than hot for this incredibly good Red Sox team.

Well, there’s David Price.

He is the highest paid starter on the roster and with that contract comes the expectation of excellence. In his time in Boston, however, he has been mired in, well, not mediocrity, but rarely anything better than very good. He has also failed to come up big in big games. For a ravenous fanbase, that just isn’t going to cut it. Price has had one post season start for the Red Sox in which he gave up 5 ER in 3.1 IP. He pitched out of the bullpen in the 2017 ALDS and looked better, but that was after a season mostly lost to elbow soreness.

This season he is 9-6 with a 4.28 ERA and nearly identical FIP and xFIPs. In short, he’s been so-so this season despite some good stretches. And he is expected to be the number two starter behind Chris Sale this October.

And speaking of the playoffs.

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Despite two straight division titles, the Red Sox have looked lackluster in the playoffs both years being ousted in the first round each time. In 2016 the Cleveland Indians, on their way to a World Series appearance, swept the Red Sox in three games. The Red Sox scored just 7 runs in the series and all three starting pitchers were saddled with losses. Rick Porcello gave up 5 ER in 4.1 IP, David Price gave up 5 in 3.1 IP, and Clay Buchholz, in his final appearance in a Red Sox uniform, gave up just 2 over 4 innings, but it was enough.

The Red Sox showed a glimmer of life in last year’s ALDS, but weren’t really competitive in the series, losing 3-1. The one game they did win was a 10-3 blowout, but they were outscored 21-8 in the other three games. Chris Sale got shelled for 7 ER in 5 IP, Drew Pomeranz gave up 4 in 2 IP, before Rick Porcello and Chris Sale combined for 4 ER over 7.2 IP. When the pitching doesn’t hold up, it’s really hard to win in October. So, until they actually start winning there, it’s understandable if some fans are holding back a bit.

The team has the biggest payroll in baseball.

This isn’t 2004. The Red Sox aren’t the plucky underdogs (if they ever were). This Red Sox team is about $40M past the luxury tax threshold with the highest payroll in the sport. It might not be fair, but with that kind of spending come expectations of dominance. So while they have the most wins in baseball, many fans were expecting as much when the winter finally wound down. A roughly $237M payroll will do that.

And while they were third last season, they were less than $2M behind the Yankees on opening day. So the days of the Yankees leaving them in the dust for payroll are over. It was one thing when the 2013 Red Sox were the fourth highest payroll and still lagged behind New York by $78M. Or in 2007 when they were second and still spent more than $40M less. Even 2004 had a gap of more than $75M between them. The whole underdog thing just isn’t something Red Sox fans can convince themselves of anymore.

The Yankees are nipping at their heals.

Speaking of the Yankees, they have matched the Red Sox blow for blow pretty much all season. Currently, they sit a game behind in the standings, but have played four fewer games. That means that they are one up in the loss column. And their sitting in second is dependent entirely on them not winning out those four games. The good news it that the Yankees are that far back in games played mostly because of rain outs, which means doubleheaders. And doubleheaders are really hard to sweep.

That said, the Yankees are an extremely good and extremely exciting team in their own right. And they appear to have longer window of contention in front of them at the moment. That takes a little wind out of the sails of Boston fans who, until last season, were riding high on the incredible young core the Red Sox had developed internally. Now that the Bronx Bombers have done the same, the easy jab in the eye of the fans on the other side of the rivalry doesn’t really work anymore. Brian Cashman even slowed down Sox fans’ roll on the acquisition of J.D. Martinez by swooping in and trading for Giancarlo Stanton earlier in the winter. For a relative pittance, by the way.

There are still significant questions about the roster.

The Steve Pearce trade did a great job of filling out the bench. But the team still has some huge questions they need answered. Jackie Bradley Jr., despite hitting the ball hard lately, still isn’t producing. Joe Kelly has lost his groove. There aren’t really any relievers you’d like to see in the 8th inning of a close playoff game. Neither of the team’s two catchers is likely to be someone you want up in a crucial at bat in October. We don’t know if Dustin Pedroia will be back this year. And if not, Eduardo Nunez looks awful so far. And is there a starting pitcher we are confident using in the playoffs behind Chris Sale?

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That’s a lot of uncertainty despite a 59-29 record. It sort of makes the whole thing feel a bit like a house of cards. That’s probably unfair, but it’s likely not an uncommon feeling among the fans. Then again, how many great seasons really feel that way from the inside? The 2004 Red Sox played fairly mediocre ball for a good long stretch leaving fans wondering if they had what it would take to make a deep playoff run. The 2013 team, magical as that ride was, felt like they were playing over their heads the entire way. They may well have been.

Even the 2007 team, as dominant and efficient as they were, had their playoff run hinge on an unexpected J.D. Drew grand slam and an improbable comeback from a 3-1 deficit to the Cleveland Indians. It’s really tough for fans to feel like their team is the prohibitive favorite to win it all. Maybe because the playoffs are a bit of a crapshoot.

But forget all that. Seriously. Sit back and try to enjoy the ride.

Despite all the questions and all the developing stomach ulcers about the pitching staff in the playoffs, this team is doing something special. That’s because this team *is* something special. They have shown the ability to come back late and play well when its close. They are 14-8 in one run games so far. And they haven’t lost more than three games in a row all season, which they’ve only done once. In fact, that reminds me of the 2013 team which also never lost more than three in a row. They did it five times that season and had already done it three times by this point in the schedule.

Next: Schedule favors the Red Sox in the short term.

While the Yankees being exceptionally good may make it hard to appreciate, this Red Sox team is incredible. They may lose the division in the end, but may still be one of the greatest Red Sox teams ever in doing so. It may not be possible to pull yourself back from he heat of this race enough to fully appreciate what’s happening right now. But in time, we’ll likely look back at this season as a once in a lifetime division race. So try to let the worry go and just enjoy it a bit.