The Boston Red Sox have learned some harsh lessons from first-round exits the last two postseasons but the experience has helped prepare them for this year.
The Boston Red Sox have been world beaters this season. They roll into the postseason having won their third consecutive AL East division title with a franchise record 108 wins. Boston owns the best record in baseball, earning them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. As dominant as this team has been all season, the players know the postseason won’t be a cakewalk. They’ve learned that lesson the hard way.
Two years ago, Boston marched into the postseason riding high. Following two dismal years where they sat at home in October, the Red Sox were back on top of their division. They had Cy Young winner Rick Porcello leading their rotation against a Cleveland Indians staff decimated by injuries. They felt they were the favorites despite starting the series on the road, only to be baffled by Terry Francona’s crafty bullpen management. A quick three-game sweep eliminated a team with championship aspirations.
Boston roared back into the postseason last year with a new ace in Chris Sale but found they didn’t have the bats to keep up with the Houston Astros. It only took four games for the eventual champions to dismantle the Red Sox in the ALDS.
This year’s team is better than the rosters the Red Sox took with them into either of the last two postseasons. This is arguably the best team in franchise history but that won’t give them a free pass to the next round. Whether they face the New York Yankees or Oakland A’s, Boston is in for a battle in the ALDS.
"“I know one thing, we have to have a sense of urgency from the get-go,” said Mookie Betts, via WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “It has happened the last two years. It can’t happen again. … I’m not sure we have to say it but I’m sure it will be said at some point.”"
Urgency seems appropriate for a team that fizzled out in the first round two years in a row. The Red Sox rallied to win Game 3 against the Astros last year following a team meeting where they stressed this sort of urgency. By then it was too little too late with their backs already against the wall. While they managed to avoid another humiliating sweep, it wasn’t enough to overcome the 0-2 hole they put themselves in.
This time they will enter the playoffs with a better idea of what it takes to win on this stage. They will ensure every member of the team is on the same page before the series begins and take the field with the swagger befitting of a champion.
"“We have kind of run into a very similar wall the last two years in the playoffs. In order to not leave no stone unturned, it’s going to be something we talk about before the series starts,” said Rick Porcello. “It’s a little different. AC (Alex Cora) has a great feel for what’s going on in here and it might be something he feels needs to be said. I can promise you we’re not going to allow that to be any kind of excuse or reason why we don’t do well.”"
There are reasons to believe that this newfound confidence is more than just talk. It starts at the top with manager Alex Cora delivering the message. He was in the other dugout last year as the bench coach for the Astros so he has some insight into what it takes to win in the postseason.
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Sure, John Farrell won a World Series in 2013 but that was with a roster loaded with veterans who didn’t need to lean on their manager. Farrell failed to reach a younger roster when this sense of urgency was needed the last two postseasons.
Now those young players have grown up a bit having learned from their experiences. Now they have a manager in Cora who has a reputation of connecting with his players.
It also helps that the series will begin at Fenway Park, a benefit they didn’t have the last two years. Boston was a major league-best 57-24 at home this season so the comforts of their own ballpark should help get them off to a strong start. The Yankees and A’s both owned identical 47-34 records on the road this season. Not bad, yet they pale in comparison to what the Red Sox did at home or on the road.
This team has many reasons to be confident heading into the postseason but they aren’t going to wait until they are facing elimination to get the wake-up call they need to spark a rally. They want to have that urgency from Game 1 to avoid that scenario. They want to be the ones pinning their opponent against the wall, sitting in the driver’s seat on their way to the next round. Boston wasn’t able to find that mentality soon enough in their previous postseason defeats. Now they know better.