No team in baseball history has played teams as good as the Red Sox have played this postseason. And they’re breezing through the playoffs anyway.
As I type this piece, the Boston Red Sox are sitting on a comfortable 3-1 lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2018 World Series. The Red Sox have been nothing short of remarkable this season. They won 108 games in the regular season – the fourth highest total for any team in a 162 game schedule. They’ve also rolled through the playoffs with a 10-3 record to date. But what’s stood out to me and many others isn’t that the Red Sox have dominated this postseason so far. What is shocking is the quality of the teams they’ve dominated.
The Yankees, Dodgers, and Astros finished 4th, 3rd, and 1st in run differential respectively this season. Boston was second. That means there literally does not exist a combination of teams in this league that the Sox could have played who have outscored their opponents by more runs than this trio has.
They have had to face countless superstars like Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Manny Machado, and Clayton Kershaw, just to name a few. What I set out to answer today is the following question: has any team since the start of the wild card in 1995 won the World Series while facing opponents as dangerous as these?
The team stats I have decided to look at for this study are wins, fWAR, and run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). Wins are wins, run differential is one of the best stats we have for predicting team wins and is used in methods like Pythagorean Expectation in calculating expected wins, and fWAR is probably the best catch-all stat we have to measure talent. For these reasons, these stats seemed like reasonable choices. Here’s how the Red Sox’s playoff opponents did in these areas:
|Division Series Opponent||Championship Series Opponent||World Series Opponent||Opponents’ totals|
|Team||Wins||Run Diff||Team fWAR||Team||Wins||Run Diff||Team fWAR||Team||Wins||Run Diff||Team fWAR||Wins||Run Diff||Team fWAR|
So they were pretty damn good. But for context, below are the same stats for all the playoff opponents of every World Series Champion since 1995. Note that I threw out the wild card game because almost all of these years didn’t have one and most champions were division winners anyway.
|World Series Champion||Division Series Opponent||Championship Series Opponent||World Series Opponent|
|Team||Year||Team||Wins||Run Diff||Team fWAR||Team||Wins||Run Diff||Team fWAR||Team||Wins||Run Diff||Team fWAR|
|White Sox||2005||Red Sox||95||105||41.5||Angels||95||118||41||Astros||89||84||40.7|
|Year||Wins||Run Diff||Team fWAR|
So some quick takeaways: Boston’s 2018 opponents’ ranked 2nd in total wins, first in fWAR, and first by a lot in run differential. By a lot, I mean by an absolutely insane amount. The Dodgers, Yankees, and Astros outscored their opponents by a combined total of 639 runs. The next highest total came by the Astros’ playoff opponents last year at 505 runs and no other trio broke 450. The 2018 Houston Astros alone outscored their opponents by more than the combined totals of all three of the champions’ playoff opponents in 1997, 1998, 2008, 2012, and 2014.
Discounting the Red Sox’s opponents this year, only 9 out of these 66 teams outscored their opponents by more than the 2018 Yankees did and the Yankees are the weakest link in this 2018 group. After the Yankees’ total of 182, the weakest link of these trios has never possessed a run differential of more than 117 and all three teams had a run differential over one hundred in only two other seasons.
All of this is to say that no team in the wild-card era has ever faced competition remotely as intense as the Red Sox have faced during these playoffs. They are one win away from defeating all of them and if they win tonight then they would do so with fewer playoff losses than all but three World Series’ champions of the wild-card era.
There is a legitimate case that this Red Sox team is one of the greatest teams in the history of baseball. But that’s a debate for another day. Today is Game Five.
Let’s go win a World Series!!!