The Bruins kick off the playoffs tonight at the Garden. The Celtics hope their season doesn’t kick the bucket tonight at MSG. Meanwhile, there’s nothing to see tonight up in Toronto as the Red Sox take the field with the best record in baseball, fresh off one of their most dominant Aprils in more than 100 years of existence.
Yes, sir. That just happened. We watched it happen. Over the course of 30 days, the Red Sox went from the most despised franchise in town, a team with a barely visible shot at making the wild card (never mind winning the division) to first place and 18-8, tied for most April wins in franchise history.
Naturally, here in Boston, April wins are about as inspiring as a Bill Belichick press conference — and they certainly don’t guarantee long-term success.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, since 1996, there have 102 division champions and only 53 of them were in first place on May 1. That’s 51 percent, which is better than half, but according to my math (hold on, just double checking), it’s not better by much. We’ve got a long way to go before a celebration of any kind is in order. (Unless you’re talking about another plaque unveiling over at Fenway. In that case, sign me up!)
But if we can’t relish in what these guys have accomplished over the first month of this season, then what the hell are we doing here? Why care about sports at all? I’m sure no one would take issue with tearing this team apart if they weren’t performing like we hoped, so why not give them credit for exceeding expectations — even if it’s only temporary.
Eighteen wins. First place. A roster filled players you can root without feeling the need to shower immediately afterwards.
How did they do it? The easy answer is starting pitching, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. So, let’s just say they’ve done everything better. They’ve hit better. Pitched better. Managed better. Loved better. Lived better. Dropped better F-bombs during solemn pregame ceremonies. They’ve been the total package. They’ve been so hot. Hansel.
Through 26 games, the Sox have scored the second most runs in the American League. They’ve given up the third fewest runs in the American League. Their +38 run differential is the best in baseball (a far cry from last season when they finished with a negative differential for only the second time in 15 years).
They’ve gone from having the world’s most pathetic and bulbous collection of starting pitchers to baseball’s most ruthless 1-2 combo. Save for injury, Buchholz and Lester provide this team with their greatest source of long-term hope; they’re two guys who have done this before, and done it under this current manager. As long as they can keep it going, there’s reason to believe that things will never get THAT bad.
Their bullpen is deeper and (thanks to the starters) better preserved. Last year, Sox relievers threw the eighth most innings in the league; so far this year, they’re 23rd.
The Sox have scored the fourth most runs in baseball, they have the league’s third best OPS, they’re tied for the lead in triples and are second in stolen bases. They haven’t hit for power, but then again, they’ve played all but nine games with out their best power hitter — David Ortiz, who’s come out swinging like someone dumped a bottle of Big Papi’s Hot Sauce down his pants.
And he’s not alone.
Jacoby Ellsbury leads the league in stolen bases. Mike Napoli is tied for second in the majors with 28 RBI and leads the league with 13 doubles. Dustin Pedroia hasn’t gone deep yet, and only has 12 RBI, but he’s batting .337 and has the fifth best OBP (.444) in the league. Daniel Nava leads the team in OBP and it appears as if his annual stint as Sox feel-good story may last a little longer this time around. And you know what? I could go on. Forget one feel good story — this whole team fits the bill.
But of course, it’s only the first chapter. And as we move along in this book, we’ll find out answers to questions more significant than anything we’ve seen over these first 26 games: Can Ortiz’s Achilles hold up? What about Shane Victorino’s back? Napoli’s hip? Andrew Bailey’s arm and Ellsbury’s entire body? How long before Will Middlebrooks “sophomore slump” is more than just a slump?
But as of today, we can only go on what we’ve seen, and what we’ve seen has been a lot of fun. Let’s hope the train’s still rolling by the time the C’s and B’s hang them up and the Sox take center stage.