When the Boston Red Sox began the 2018 season on a 17-2 run, we should have known the eventual World Series winner was almost pre-ordained.
While Boston did have competition for the A.L. East title for a while in the late spring — they were in second place as late as June 26 — they went 57-29 after July 1 and were never seriously challenged after the All-Star break.
And we definitely should have known this was the likely result once the Red Sox finished the regular season with 108 wins. Even if the Cubs had managed to win the wild-card game and get through a division series and the NLCS to play them, they likely would have lost the World Series to Boston. 108-win teams are quite rare in Major League Baseball. That’s winning two-thirds of your games (or, prior to the 162-game schedule, more than two-thirds). In the 116 seasons since the World Series as we know now was created, just 12 teams have won 108 or more games. Here’s how all those teams did in the postseason.
108-win teams in the World Series era
|Red Sox||2018||108||Won WS|
Eight World Series winners. Three World Series losers (none since 1969). And one team that inexplicably played its worst baseball of the year at the worst possible time to not even get to the World Series, the 116-win Mariners of 2001.
Winning 108 games is really hard to do — you’ll note it’s happened just three times since 1986. This year’s Red Sox were simply relentless, getting strong pitching when they needed it most, and getting hitting from a guy — Steve Pearce — who was so little thought of this year that the Blue Jays sent him over to Boston for a minor leaguer who might never play in the big leagues. Now Pearce has a ring and a World Series MVP trophy.
Because baseball. Even in this utterly dominant Red Sox season, you could see how things might have gone differently. What if Andrew Benintendi doesn’t make that great catch to end Game 4 of the ALCS? The Astros likely win that game (the bases were loaded and all three runs probably score, which would have given the game to Houston) and then the ALCS is tied and who knows, maybe it’s Houston vs. L.A. What if the Cubs win one more game before September 30, or the Brewers lose one more? Maybe the Cubs get back to the World Series.
That’s how close things can be in the wild-card era. Remember that even in the Cubs’ dominant 103-win season in 2016, they were one ninth-inning rally from having to face Johnny Cueto in a Game 5 of the division series, and they trailed two games to one in the NLCS and three games to one in the World Series. Those comebacks are what makes the Cubs’ World Series title that much more special.
The Red Sox just had one of those seasons. Next year’s storyline for them will be: “Can they repeat?” And the answer, as of now, is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Because baseball.
Now we enter winter and the baseball free-agency season, which will be interesting to watch based on last offseason’s almost total lack of movement until very late. Will Bryce Harper get the huge-money deal everyone’s been assuming he will? Manny Machado didn’t do himself any favors in free agency with his poor postseason performance (.227/.278/.394, 15-for-66, with 18 strikeouts, a lack of hustle and a couple of first basemen’s feet stepped on).
Here is the timeline for free agency this week:
As of 9AM this morning, all players whose contracts ran out with the 2018 season are, technically, free agents. People will still call them members of their last team, but that’s not true in a technical sense;
Players with contract options or with opt-outs have to make those decisions by Wednesday. If it’s a team option, the team has to make that decision by then too;
The deadline for teams to extend qualifying offers to free agents who last played for them is 5PM on Friday. Players have until November 12 to accept or reject the qualifying offer. Here is everything you need to know about qualifying offers. For the 2019 season, the qualifying offer is $17.9 million;
Teams have an exclusive window to negotiate with the free agents who last played for them between now and Saturday. Beginning on Saturday, players can negotiate and sign with any team.
The Cubs have the following free agents and players with options:
Cole Hamels, $20 million team option. Will likely be picked up.
Brandon Kintzler, $10 million team option, $5 million player option. The team option will likely be declined, but he likely picks up his player option. Maybe the Cubs can then trade him.
Justin Wilson: free agent. Probably gone.
Jesse Chavez: free agent. Could be worth retaining.
Jorge De La Rosa: free agent. Probably gone.
Daniel Murphy: free agent. Probably gone.
Jaime Garcia: free agent. Probably gone.
Bobby Wilson: free agent. Bobby, we hardly knew ye.
The six free agents mean the Cubs will immediately have six open spots on their 40-man roster. Four of those get filled right away, as the four players on the 60-day DL (Yu Darvish, Drew Smyly, Justin Hancock and Mark Zagunis) have to be restored to the 40-man. It’s possible Hancock and Zagunis will be outrighted to Iowa, off the 40-man with (likely) spring training invitations. Other players probably off the 40-man: Mike Freeman and Taylor Davis, and possibly Allen Webster and Jen-Ho Tseng. That should leave the Cubs somewhere between six and eight open spots on the 40-man. Some of those will be filled with guys the team wants to protect from the Rule 5 draft, others will be left open for free-agent signings or trades.
The Cubs don’t have anyone who will get a qualifying offer this offseason. Murphy is not eligible for one because he was traded during the season (and also because he has previously received a qualifying offer, from the Mets after 2015).
Hang in there. It’s just 116 days until the Cubs take the field in Mesa against the Brewers in the 2019 spring opener and 150 days until the regular-season opener against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas.
There will be at least one more game thread here in 2018. I’m going to run a game thread this coming Saturday for the Arizona Fall League’s “Fall Stars Game,” their All-Star game, which will be televised on MLB Network at 7 p.m. CT November 3. And if the Mesa Solar Sox, where Cubs prospects play, win their division and get into the AFL championship game, we’ll have another game thread here Saturday, November 17.
Hang in there. There will be plenty of baseball to discuss over the winter, and 2019 spring training will be here before you know it.