Even though the Red Sox have won the last two American League East titles, when it came to this time of the year, the top stories of the day always came out of Foxborough.
It didn’t matter that the Red Sox were going to be in the Major League playoffs, or that they had a young, exciting team. The Patriots grabbed everybody’s attention.
There were reasons, of course. The biggest was that the Patriots had won the Super Bowl twice, they had the NFL’s best quarterback, a colorful guy in Rob Gronkowski, and a coach in Bill Belichick who, while he is often unnecessarily taciturn, has an almost zen-like countenance about him.
But that all ended last February. For the first time since Belichick got here, events after the Super Bowl careened out of his control. His benching of Malcolm Butler created all kinds of controversy and opened him up to questions and second guessing on a scale he’s never experienced here. For the first time, the “In Bill We Trust” Kool-Aid drinkers were scratching their heads.
The offseason didn’t make anybody’s mood any better. Tom Brady seemed more and more inclined to go his own way, missing the minicamp and acting as if he was mighty perturbed about everything. Gronkowski talked about quitting.
Then came training camp, and receivers started dropping like flies. The biggest, and saddest, hit of all was Malcolm Mitchell, who showed a lot of promise as a rookie two years ago, hurt his knee last season and just couldn’t stay on the field. It’s sad not only because he was a good receiver, but because he seems to be a good guy who really seemed to have bought into the “Patriot Way,” whatever that even is. It’s tough to tell anymore.
So now, we have Julian Edelman out for four games, Mitchell gone, and when Phillip Dorsett had an injury scare a few days ago, it was “panic city.”
Suffice it to say, there’s not the usually uber-confident optimism coming into the season. More people than usual are starting to question the Patriots’ ability to continue their amazing dominance over the rest of the American Football Conference. A friend at work is convinced the Patriots are headed for a 7-9 season. I’m a little more optimistic in that I think 10-6. But either way, we’re not looking at a third straight Super Bowl appearance.
So, it’s a very good thing the Red Sox are 50 games over .500 and making mincemeat out of the rest of Major League Baseball (well, except for the Philadelphia Phillies, who seem to be able to compete with them quite well). We’ve become so spoiled that the prospect that at least one of our teams can’t win a championship every year is enough to make us break out in a rash.
But it’s also true that we articulate these concerns as negatively possible. As of today, the Red Sox are 86-36, 10 games up on the Yankees and nobody’s counting on anything.
There are reasons, of course. The Red Sox have had big leads, and seemed shoo-ins, for Eastern Division titles and playoff wildcard spots many times, the most recent being in 2011 and the most famous in 1978. Despite the numerous instances where the Red Sox have hung on to win three World Series, pessimism prevails.
They’re 50 games over .500, but in the rare instances where they’ve lost (and it has been rare), their reasons for losing have been magnified to incorporate their entire season.
But here’s the thing: Maybe back in the days where there were 16 teams in the Major Leagues, some were flawless. But with 30? None are. Every team is flawed. There aren’t enough players to go around as it is, and if you don’t believe me, I give you the Baltimore Orioles.
So yes, the Red Sox could use better late-inning relief. Even closer Craig Kimbrel has been shaky. And forget about the eighth-inning guys. Right now, they’re a disaster. If the Red Sox were to get into a one-game playoff and that bullpen is tasked with protecting a close lead, The Nation will suffer a collective stroke.
Other teams have other problems. If they did not, the Red Sox wouldn’t be beating up on everybody, and wouldn’t be 50 games over .500.
So relax. The Patriots will end up in the playoffs somehow. It might not be their year to win it all, but they’ll be in the postseason. And unless they go belly-up in the next month, the path to the World Series will run through Fenway Park.