The Red Sox 20/20 Edition

So, with the Red Sox reaching .500 finally and nearly a quarter of the season behind us, and optimism beginning to percolate a bit following a 3-game sweep of the Yanks in the Bronx, I decided to take a look at last year’s team at the same point in time to compare the teams and measure my expectations going forward.  But before we get to that, kudos to the Sox on sweeping the leg in NY.  As you’ve probably heard, this was the first Sox sweep of the Yanks at the House that Steinbrenner (NOT to be confused with the one that Ruth) Built, and the first such sweep since April 2004 (a year that ended on a pretty good note).
Anyway, back to the business at hand.  So, as indicated, I decided after this team’s latest “milestone” to check last year’s schedule/results, and sure enough, last May, the Sox were also 20-20 after 40 games.  In light of how last season ended, is this a cause for concern?  Maybe.  But maybe not…
Allow me to explain.
So last year’s 20-20 edition of the Olde Towne Team, which suffered a plethora of injuries and never quite recovered, was also 8.5 games behind the 1st place Rays, and 5.5 games behind the Wild Card-leading Yankees at that time.  Last year, as you know, the Sox finished the season at 89-73 (3rd place), 7 games behind the Tampa Bay Rays and 6 games behind the Wild Card-clinching Yankees.  So, 122 games later the Sox only managed to pick up 1.5 games on the division-winning Rays (and actually lost .5 game to the Yanks).  So, yeah, that outcome does not exactly inspire hope.
But here’s the potential wrinkle: as of May 15th, this year’s 20-20 edition was “only” 3 games behind the 1st place Rays, and “only” 2 games behind the Wild Card-leading Tigers. (Yep, if the season ended on May 15th, both the Sox and Yanks would be on the outside looking in, as would the reigning AL-champion Rangers, FWIW).  Therefore, IF the Sox can play at a slighter better pace than they did last year while their competition plays slightly worse, the Sox would seem to have a very decent shot of making the playoffs.  My cause for cautious optimism: “on paper” (every sports prognosticator’s favorite hedge), this year’s Sox are much better and presently* much healthier than last year’s team. 
However, IF the current Sox can stay more or less healthy AND (or in spite of injuries) they can consistently play like the team they have the potential to be going forward, then their playoff hopes are very real, I think.  Another cause for optimism: the Sox (and Rays**) and Yanks seem to be heading in opposite directions.  Assuming the Yanks continue to scuffle while the Rays and Sox continue to play at their current paces, the AL East could really come down to a horse-race between Boston and Tampa a la 2008… But way, way too soon to count the Yanks out, so I won’t go there yet!  And the Sox still have to prove that they can sustain their current level of play.  Not to mention the fact that the Jays and O’s also cannot be counted out as both teams have essentially identical records to Boston.   For now, I am going to enjoy the Sox’s latest milestone.  Here’s hoping they have turned the corner on their abysmal start and can keep the winning pace on to an October to remember!*** 
Go Sox!
*Of course, as this gets posted, in the past two days the Sox have, at least temporarily, lost 40% of their rotation with Matsuzaka and Lackey landing on the DL.   
**After a 2-8 start identical to Boston’s, the Rays, as of May 16th, are sitting at 23-17 at the top of the AL East.   
*** More on the Sox’s playoff chances later.

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