THE BEST TEAM EVER?

Were the 2018 Boston Red Sox ‘the Best team ever to walk the planet’ as Chris Sale said in August, or were they just another really good team?

They won 108 games in the regular season and defeated a Yankee team that had won 100 games in the ALDS, three games to one, easily. They defeated the Astros, who were the defending World Series Champions and had won 103 games in the ALCS, four games to one, easily. They beat the Dodgers, who had won the National League pennant, in the World Series, four games to one, easily, and would have swept them had not the turf given way under Kinsler’s foot in the13th inning of Game 3.

As a team, they had the highest batting average in baseball, at .268, the most runs scored, 876, only five teams gave up less than the 647 they gave up, the most doubles, 355, the best on base percentage, .339, the best slugging percentage, .453, the highest OPS, .792, the third most stolen bases, 125, and were at or near the top in most other offensive categories.

There is an old adage in baseball that every team, no matter how good, has at least one slump every year, this year’s Red Sox were the only team in baseball that never lost more than three games in succession all year.

In Interleague Play, they won 16 and lost 4 against National League opponents, the best Interleague record in baseball.

They had everybody’s Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts, who led the league in batting average at .346, runs scored with 129, slugging percentage at .640, extra base hits, 84, and was the first player in baseball history to win the batting title and join the 30-30 club with 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same year. He also won a Gold Glove as the best fielding right fielder and a silver slugger as one of the three best hitting outfielders.

They had J. D. Martinez, who finished fourth in the MVP voting, but most experts felt should have been second behind Betts. He led all of baseball in runs batted in, with 130, in total bases with 358, finished second in the batting average race, .330, and second in home runs, 43, and came that close to winning the Triple Crown, which has been done only once in the last fifty years. He also won the Silver Slugger as an outfielder and as a designated hitter, the first person in baseball history to win the award at two positions in one year, and the Hank Aaron Award as the best hitter in the League.

They also had Chris Sale who, despite missing most of August and September with a shoulder problem still won 12 and lost 4 with a 2.11 earned run average and managed to strike out 237, sixth best in baseball. Rick Porcello won 17 and lost just 7, David Price was 16-7 and Eduardo Rodriguez who also missed a lot of the season with injuries, was 13-5. Their Closer Craig Kimbrel saved 42 games in 47 opportunities with a 2.74 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 62 innings.

The bull pen won 40 games, third best in the league and had the least losses, at 16. They had the fourth best ERA in the league at 3.72 and the third most strikeouts at 628.

Jackie Bradley, Jr., won a Gold Glove in the outfield as did Ian Kinsler at second base. Bradley also had the highest success rate in stealing bases in all of baseball at 94.44%. Andrew Benintendi was tied for first in the league in outfield assists with 12.

Their shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, had an outstanding year at the plate and in the field, hitting .288 with 23 homers and 103 runs batted in while left fielder, Benintendi, hit .290 with 16 homers and 87 runs batted in.

Their depth was an important part of this season. They had 15 position players who had 100 or more at bats and 12 who played in over 80 games. In addition, eight players hit 10 or more home runs and there were 10 grand slam homers hit during the year

Manager Alex Cora, who led the team to its fourth World Series win of the century, and its highest win total in history, 108, finished second in the American League Manager of the Year voting.

They did all this without their leader, Dustin Pedroia who spent almost the entire year recuperating from knee surgery. It is expected that he will be back at full strength to lead the 2019 Sox.

There is no question that the 2018 Red Sox were the best team to play the game that year. Were they the best team ever? That seems a question that no one would ever be able to measure accurately enough to give a definitive answer.

They have been compared with the Yankees of Murderer’s Row, the Reds’ Big Red Machine, and many others, including the 2004 Red Sox.

There is no question that the players of 2018 are bigger, faster, better conditioned and throw harder than the players of a century or even a decade ago. The players have evolved over time like every species of animal does but each eras players played against similarly equipped players.

Trying to compare players or teams from different eras is like the proverbial comparison of apples and oranges.

The game is still played on the same size diamond, with 90 foot base paths, there are still three outs to an inning, nine innings to a game and the team with the most runs still wins but the players and the equipment they use to get ready and play the game are different.

The only realistic comparison we are able to make accurately is in the area of statistics and, in that area, this team was at least one of the best.

The bottom line is, we will never know if it was the best team ever but anybody who saw them play can testify to the fact that this was as exciting, motivated and talented a team that has played in Fenway Park, or any park for that matter, in a long time.

That should be sufficient for any baseball fan. I know that I feel fortunate to have watched this team do their thing and, whether they were the best team ever or not, they gave me a season for the ages, and that is enough for me.

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