- The Red Sox are 81–34 and on another furious winning streak. Can they catch the 2001 Mariners for the single-season wins record?
With seven weeks to go in the 2018 MLB season, the Red Sox could lose 47 games in a row and still finish .500. To finish .500 would require matching the current MLB record for losses in a row (26, set by the Louisville Colonels in 1889) plus a good chunk of the second-longest losing streak (24, which belongs to the woeful Cleveland Spiders of 1899, who lost 134 games).
Thanks to Wednesday night’s 10–5 win over Toronto, Boston is now 81–34 on the year, good for the best record in baseball, first place in the AL East, and a guarantee that the Sox can’t finish with a losing record this season
Boston has won six straight, nine out of its last 10, and 25 of its last 30. It hasn’t lost more than three games in a row all season—that last skid coming back in late April, when the Sox were no-hit by Oakland’s Sean Manaea to wreck a 17–3 start to the year—and its worst record by month this year was 18–11 in May, a .621 winning percentage better than what 27 other teams have posted on the year. Only two teams all season have winning records against the Red Sox in 2018: the A’s (4–2) and, amazingly, the 41–73 White Sox (2–1).
All of that, plus the most runs scored in baseball (620), second-fewest allowed (421), and second-best run differential (+199, trailing Houston by three), adds up to a .704 winning percentage. With 115 games in the books, the Sox are on pace for 114 wins—not just a staggering total and a franchise record, but also within creeping distance of the all-time record of 116 set by the 2001 Mariners (for a 162-game season; the 1906 Cubs also won 116, but in 152 contests). But can Boston close that gap?
It won’t be easy. The Red Sox would need to go 35–12 over the rest of the season to match Seattle’s mark, or a .744 win percentage that would equal a 120-win pace over a full year. Granted, Boston’s been doing even better than that over the last five weeks, racking up wins at an absurd .833 pace. Go back to the beginning of June, and the Sox have been winning games at a .724 clip. Compared to where Seattle was at this point in the season, meanwhile, Boston is in a favorable spot: 115 games in, the M’s were 83–32 and went 33–14 to finish it. So it’s not impossible.
But the schedule will do the Sox no favors. Boston’s next five games—the series finale tonight against Toronto, then four against Baltimore—come against below .500 teams. But from there until the end of the month, the Sox will face three straight teams with .500 or better records: Philadelphia (two games), Tampa (six games) and, toughest of all, Cleveland (four games).
Things don’t get any easier in September, where the schedule features the Braves (three games), Astros (three games), Indians again (three games) and six final matchups with the division rival Yankees. Those four teams are a collective 86 games above .500. There are some cupcakes in that mix: the Marlins, White Sox, Blue Jays, Mets and Orioles make up the rest of Boston’s season. But any slip-up against those other contenders would force the Sox to make real hay out of those bottom feeders to keep the dream of 116 alive. A .500 record in their 21 games left against winning teams (or, well, slightly above, since 21 is an odd number) would require a 24–2 run versus the Rays and the dregs of the league to stay on a record-tying pace.
That’s part of the reason why neither Fangraphs nor Baseball Prospectus gives the Sox much of a shot at toppling the Mariners. The former’s projection systems—a combination of Steamer, ZiPS and team depth charts—peg Boston for 108.8 wins. BP’s simulations, meanwhile, have the Sox at 107.6 victories. Those results would be a slowdown from the team’s current pace: 109 wins (rounding up) would be a 28–19 finish, or a mere .595 winning percentage.
Regardless, even if 116 wins aren’t in the picture, either of those projected records would result in the greatest Red Sox team in franchise history. Boston’s record for wins in a season is 105, set all the way back in 1912, and only three Red Sox squads in 117 years have won 100 or more games. The last time it happened was 1946, when the Ted Williams-led Sox captured 104 games and the only pennant of his career, only to fall to the 98-win Cardinals in the World Series.
Boston has come close to the century mark since. The 1978 Sox won 99 (but lost the AL East to the Yankees in an infamous one-game playoff), and the 2004 and ’13 championship teams finished with 98 and 97 wins, respectively. But 100 has remained out of reach for 72 years. It’s safe to say that will end in 2018; even a .500 record from this point forward (or, again, slightly above, as there are 47 games left in the season) would give the Sox 105 victories. That would be tied for the most by any team since the 2004 Cardinals won 105. And if Boston can reach the 110 mark, it would become only the sixth team in MLB history to reach that rarefied air.
Most important, though, is that those 81 wins have more or less guaranteed a playoff spot. Fangraphs has the Sox with a 91.6% chance to win the division and with 100% odds to earn at least a wild-card nod. BP is even more optimistic about an AL East crown, at 92.2%, and in agreement that the math can’t find a way in which Boston isn’t in the playoffs.
There’s a long way to go between here and champagne corks being popped in a locker room to toast a third straight division title. The Yankees are down and not out, and even great teams can stumble. For proof, go back to the 2017 Dodgers, who entered September at 91–41 and on pace to win 112 games. As they steamrolled through August, we compared them to the greatest teams of all time to see if history was in the making.
It wasn’t. A 12–18 finish—including an 11-game losing streak—capped the Dodgers at 104 wins, well short of Seattle. Nor did all those regular-season wins translate into October glory, as Los Angeles won the pennant but lost to Houston in the World Series. For Boston, what matters isn’t 116, but 11—all the wins the team will need this postseason to capture a championship.