The 2022 Boston Red Sox weren’t as horrible as we think
During Thursday’s end-of-season press conference, manager Alex Cora called this year’s Boston Red Sox the “best worst team in baseball.”
The comment captured the disappointment of falling well short of expectations while wisely pointing out that this roster isn’t nearly as bad as their spot at the bottom of their division suggests.
Since 2004, anything short of a championship is considered a failure in Boston. Realistic expectations are no longer our specialty; instead, missing the postseason is treated as a sign of the Apocalypse.
While we can certainly be disappointed by the end result, the perception that this team was a dumpster fire is a wild exaggeration. Based on the harsh criticism being spewed across social media over the last few months, you would think that the Sox were an unwatchable disaster contending for the crown of the worst team in recent memory. The minds behind those comments must have short memories. Did we forget the miserable COVID-shortened season when the Red Sox had the fourth-worst record in the majors? That was only two years ago.
The Red Sox deserve a little more credit in a disappointing year
The Red Sox finished the 2022 season with a 78-84 record. While that buried them at the bottom of the AL East, we should note that they finished last in baseball’s most loaded division. This is a division that set a major league record by producing four 90+ win teams last year. And when a young Baltimore Orioles team transformed from punching bag into dark-horse contender, their rise had to come at someone’s expense in the division.
Finishing last in this division doesn’t make the Red Sox one of the worst teams in baseball; they were closer to the middle of the pack. They finished with the same record as the Minnesota Twins, who finished third in the AL Central, and 12 teams had fewer wins this year.
So, why did the Sox finish last? Their somewhat-inexplicable ineptitude against divisional opponents doomed their season. The Sox eked out a winning record against the Orioles (9-8) but they were 26-50 overall against AL East teams.
The Red Sox went 18-15 against the AL Central and 25-8 against the AL West. Put them in either division and it undoubtedly changes the outlook of their season. Imagine if Boston swapped divisions with the last-place Royals in the Central. The Red Sox were 5-2 against Cleveland this season. Their success may not have been sustainable in that matchup over a larger sample but it’s fair to project they would have had a better record against the division-winning Guardians than they did against the Yankees (6-13). The Red Sox had losing records against the White Sox (2-4) and Twins (3-4) but there’s no way those teams would dominate them as much as the Blue Jays (3-16) and Rays (7-12) did. Boston would pad their win total with more games against the Tigers (5-1) instead of the Orioles.
We can make the same case if the Red Sox moved out West, even if it was in place of the lowly Oakland A’s. Boston would be due for some regression against the Astros (4-2) and Mariners (5-1) but their nine wins against those teams matched their total against the Yankees and Jays despite the much smaller sample. The Angels (4-3) and Rangers (6-1) are obviously easier opponents than the Rays and O’s.
Boston went 9-11 in inter-league play. Every National League division had two teams that finished worse than the Red Sox.
The Red Sox finished eight games out a Wild Card spot. You’re telling me they couldn’t make up eight games if their schedule was heavily weighted with teams from any other division instead of the loaded East?
The Red Sox held the top Wild Card spot in mid-July. They crumbled in the second half as their roster was ravaged by injuries. Prized free-agent acquisition Trevor Story appeared in only 13 games after the break, depriving the Red Sox of one of their top power bats and an elite defensive presence up the middle. The starting rotation was wrecked by injuries, forcing Boston to use four rookie starting pitchers at one point. Two of their best relievers finished the season on the injured list.
Injuries are a part of the game but the amount this team sustained bordered on ridiculous. Don’t even get me started on the snake-bitten Chris Sale, who barely saw the mound this season due to three separate injuries.
Yes, this team had holes even before accounting for the ones that opened when players landed on the IL. They spent most of the season without a viable solution in right field. First base was a mess until Triston Casas arrived, but the exciting young prospect wasn’t ready until it was too late. The bullpen had some dominant arms when healthy but clearly didn’t have enough depth.
Guess what? Every team has some holes. You can nitpick some of Chaim Bloom’s decisions and his desire to balance the present with the future. However, this roster had enough talent to be competitive if they had remained relatively healthy.
This just wasn’t our year. Tough injury luck and being stuck in a historically competitive division combined to derail the 2022 Red Sox. The good news is they shouldn’t suffer this many injuries every year. A more balanced schedule starting next season means fewer games against the AL East clubs the Red Sox struggled with this year.
It’s fair to be frustrated with falling short of expectations but this isn’t a lost franchise stumbling through a long rebuilding phase. Better days are ahead and the Red Sox should be back in the playoff hunt sooner rather than later.