Commentary

Can Red Sox join century club?

One-hundred wins has been a tough milestone for Boston, but this team could do it

Updated: March 28, 2011, 10:18 PM ET
By Jeremy Lundblad | ESPNBoston.com

Editor's note: This is the first in a weeklong series previewing the 2011 Red Sox season.

Anything short of a spot in the World Series would have to be considered a disappointment for the 2011 Boston Red Sox.

That's the primary goal following the most productive offseason in franchise history. But there's another opportunity for this squad to secure a spot in the record books: posting 100 wins.

At least, that's a goal set by a pitcher who will have a significant say as to whether it is reached.

"We have a chance to do something really special that I've been wanting to do my whole career and haven't been able to, which is to be on a team that wins 100 games," Josh Beckett said in February. "I think that this is the first real legit chance that we have."

For Beckett, 10 years without a 100-win season may have him itching, but it's nothing compared to the drought of the franchise he represents.

The Red Sox haven't won 100 games since 1946.

To put it another way, only three living people can boast of playing on a 100-win Red Sox squad: Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Boo Ferriss.

Boston finished 104-50 in 1946 before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. In the 64 years since, there have been 56 100-win seasons by 18 teams. But Boston hasn't been one of them.

You'd have to go back to the Tris Speaker era (1912 and 1915) to find the other two 100-win seasons in Red Sox history.

Indeed, the Red Sox have reached triple digits only three times. That's the same number as the New York Mets, who have been around for 61 fewer years.

The New York Yankees? They've reached 100 wins four times in the past nine seasons, more than the entire 110-year existence of the Red Sox.

Boston's had some close calls since that last one in 1946.

The Sox fell two wins shy of 100 in 2004, thanks largely to an 11-14 June. In 1986, Boston was 86-54 with 22 games to go, but finished 10-12 the rest of the way.

And then there's the infamous 1978 season. The Red Sox stood at 84-47 before an epic collapse began with 14 losses in 17 games. With 99 wins, Boston still had a chance for 100 in a one-game playoff against the Yankees. Then Bucky Dent happened.

[+] EnlargeBeckett
J. Meric/Getty ImagesJosh Beckett says 100 wins is a reasonable goal for the Red Sox, and his success figures to be a key in achieving it.

Of course, spring is the time to look forward. So let's do just that. Could this Red Sox team really win 100 games?

Projecting is a dangerous game. Just ask Jimmy Rollins. In February, he set his sights on an even loftier goal for the Philadelphia Phillies.

"Yeah, we'll win 100 games," he said. "I really plan on going after, who is it, Seattle won [116] or something recently."

Good thing he later cautioned that statement with an acknowledgement of the role health could play. Domonic Brown, Chase Utley and Brad Lidge have all come down with injuries in March, while Roy Oswalt is lucky to be unscathed after taking a line drive to the back of the neck on Wednesday.

After 2010, the Red Sox certainly don't need to be reminded of how injuries can derail a season.

But as things stand, talk of 100 wins seems reasonable, albeit premature.

Mike Cameron was a member of the aforementioned 2001 Mariners team that won 116 games. "It kind of reminds me of my years in Seattle, everything's in place," Cameron told WEEI.com following Beckett's comments in February.

Despite placing 19 players on the disabled list in 2010, the Red Sox still managed 89 wins.

Between getting healthy, solidifying the bullpen and adding Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, a significant spike in wins seems almost destined.

Consider the outfield, where Boston essentially received replacement-level production in both center and left last season.

Crawford accounted for 6.9 wins above replacement (WAR) last season in Tampa Bay. Combine that with a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury (2.9 WAR in 2009), and the outfield alone should -- in theory at least -- account for eight to 10 additional wins.

Indeed, the prognosticators are expecting big things out of the Red Sox.

In 10,000 simulations of the 2011 season, AccuScore projects an average of 95.3 wins for Boston. The Red Sox win at least 100 games in 32 percent of those simulations.

That one-in-three chance looks pretty attractive for a franchise stuck with double-digit wins for 64 years. But it also means, despite all of the promising signs, the odds are significantly against it happening.

Beyond staying healthy, there was a common thread to those 100-win simulations by AccuScore: pitching depth. Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka all finished with at least 13 wins and an ERA of 4.20 or better in each 100-win season.

Those aren't exactly gaudy numbers, and each has previously bettered them. But the question is whether all three can do so in the same year. In 2010, they combined for 29 wins and a 4.84 ERA.

There's little doubt that the Red Sox have a 100-win offense (if healthy). The rotation is the biggest question mark, but it still could be the deepest group in the American League, as it was envisioned to be last season.

Ironically, much of the burden falls on Beckett (and his 6.64 spring ERA). No one will play a bigger role in the Sox reaching 100 wins.

While battling injuries last season, Beckett finished with a career-worst 5.78 ERA. Beckett combined with Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield to give the Red Sox a 5.2 WAR from the back end of the rotation. Consider that Beckett alone was more valuable (5.4 WAR) in 2009.

Ultimately, the Red Sox are counting on the much-discussed "odd year Beckett" to return. For the uninitiated, that's the phenomenon in which Beckett's career ERA is 1.18 lower in odd years than in even years.

With this squad, anything seems possible, including 100 wins. That's easy to say in March before adversity arrives. It's also not Boston's ultimate goal.

Since 1980, 30 teams have won 100 games in a season.

Only four won the World Series.

Jeremy Lundblad is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats & Information. He provides statistical analysis for ESPNBoston.com.

Jeremy Lundblad

ESPN Stats and Information

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