By Mark Paulette
How often do the Boston Red Sox, a team which plays its games in one of the foremost hotbed-regions of Major League Baseball, enter the postseason with tempered expectations?
A year ago, they were the team of destiny. David Ortiz would sign off his fairytale career with a fourth World Series title and disappear into the corn fields with a tip of his cap.
In 2013, well, that was destiny of that there was little question following the marathon bombings in April.
In 2009, the names were different than the runs of years past, but it was still a 95-win squad led by Terry Francona. Surely, they wouldn’t bow out in the ALDS, (which they did, 3 games-to-none at the hands of the Angels).
2008 was the makings of a dynasty. A season after the club’s seventh World Series title and second in four years, it was time for the Yankees to take a backseat to baseball’s powerhouse of the 21st century.
2007 was sheer dominance and never in doubt.
2005 had just seen what a Wild Card team was capable of. Especially one fresh off an 86-year-old curse.
2004 was finally next year. Everyone felt it.
2003 was also next year, we were just off by 12 turns of the calendar.
There has not been an occasion this century in which the Red Sox entered the postseason as, at the very least, prohibitive favorites in the stubbornly biased minds of New Englanders. We’ve always looked at the Sox through rose colored lenses come October, able to see past any potential flaws and concoct reasons as to which Boston will prove superior to their opponents. That is, until this year.
Since the end of July, we’ve labelled this team fourth-best in the American League, despite the fact they never relinquished the AL East lead for more than a day.
Their eulogy was written months ago, when the weather warmed and the bats never did. When the once feared rotation turned into the team’s biggest question mark.
We complained the team lacks flair and excitement, despite a span of nine walk-off wins in a span of 22 home wins.
We refused to take note while the team proved their character on a nightly basis, leading the majors in come-from-behind wins while posting a record of 15-3 in extra-inning affairs.
Even the one shining beacon of hope, Chris Sale, fell victim to criticism as he failed to maintain the immortal levels at which he began the season.
On Thursday, the Red Sox will open postseason play in Houston with few deeming them worthy of capturing more than a single game, let alone a series. Boston media outlets are labelling a potential ALCS exit as a successful playoff run.
Expectations for the Sox are at an unprecedented low when entering the postseason on this side of the millennium, and that may be the greatest factor in Boston’s favor. With the spotlight off, the Sox are free to play ball without the added weight of one million tweets following every unexpected turn.
A team which thrived under pressure situations all year now finds itself in an unfamiliar spot, where little is expected of them in situations of the like.
So, sit back and take a shot of that dirty water, because though the glass is half empty, these Sox may just quench your thirst for postseason success.
Mark Paulette is the senior producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.