1981 Red Sox (30-26 first half, 29-23 second half)
The 1981 baseball strike was a result of the implementation of free agency just a few years prior. Owners were frustrated that teams weren’t being compensated for losing free agents, an issue that gained prominence when Dave Winfield left the Padres for the big-market Yankees. Without an agreement, the players went on strike on June 12 and stayed off the field until a settlement was finally reached on July 31. The two sides eventually agreed to allow teams that lost “premium” free agents to select from a pool of unprotected players, but 713 games were lost in the process.
Because of the unprecedented midseason strike, 1981 became baseball’s first “split season.” The winners of the pre-strike season would face the winners of the post-strike season. The Red Sox failed to win either half, coming in a distant fifth in the first half before finishing runner-up to the Brewers in the second half.
Like many Red Sox teams of this era, the 1981 BoSox had a potent lineup. They led the AL in runs, average, on-base percentage, slugging, and OPS. Dwight Evans had a breakout, MVP-caliber season, slashing .296/.415/.522 with a league-leading 22 home runs. Unsung infielder Carney Lansford batted .336, while Jim Rice posted a solid 117 OPS+. In all, seven members of the Red Sox lineup batted at least .284.
What doomed this team was, as usual, the pitching. Their 3.81 ERA was just ninth in the majors, offsetting their league-leading offense. Dennis Eckersley struggled through a down season, while Frank Tanana (4-10, 4.01 ERA) and John Tudor (4.58) were not up to snuff. Mike Torres provided some stability, but the Red Sox simply did not have enough capable arms to sneak into the postseason.