Bradford: The Red Sox are having more fun. Does it matter?

Rob Bradford
July 20, 2018 - 7:42 am

USA Today Sports

It seems like a good time to check in on this fun thing. 

When one Red Sox player after another went on that bench at the beginning of spring training and cited one of their goals as to have more fun, I rolled my eyes a bit. It sounds good, but this is also a results business and whether or not the 2017 team was having the time of its life, the end result was 93 wins and a second straight division title.

The players "could have had more fun through the rough times" last season. That's what Mookie Betts said at his first media session of the season back in February.

Tangible evidence that this fun thing meant something was needed. So we went looking for some.

The first realization is that for at least some in that clubhouse being in first-place last season wasn't making coming to work any easier. For instance, we have this from Joe Kelly's appearance on the Bradfo Sho podcast: "We won 93 games and we came in first place in the A.L. East and I swear to God I felt like I was in last-place."

Now?

"We’re playing better. We’re having more fun. It’s more relaxed. It’s looser. That takes the grind out of it," Kelly said asked for an update. "I think it has. We’ve been playing well. That’s translated. We’re playing better. Everyone is having fun. We’re relaxed. It probably has something to do with it."

But does it? Sure, the Red Sox are dressing up on road trips and soaking in the life that is existing 38 games over .500, but they were winning last year, as well. Heading into their 99th game a season ago the Sox were 55-44, sitting 3 1/2 games over the Yankees.

Through all the chaos of the Manny Machado/Dustin Pedroia and David Price/Dennis Eckersley, John Farrell was still guiding a pretty good team. Were they having as much fun as this time around? Probably not, in part because of the aforementioned distractions. But even with whatever dynamic that was, when the Red Sox hit the dog days they managed to play their best baseball, going 16-4 to kick off August.

Yet, as Kelly pointed out, as good as last year's team was, this edition is better. It is absolutely rolling in a manner not seen nearly as much in 2017. That's why we have to at least entertain that my spring training skepticism was misplaced, especially after listening to an impartial observer, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, speak on the matter.

"I will say this, there's something different about them. It's a confidence or something," Gibbons said. "There's no doubt about it."

So this brings us to the cause and effect.

It's a lot easier to have fun when you have the fail-safe of J.D. Martinez in the middle of the lineup. It's a lot more fun when Betts is having the kind of year he is. It's a lot more fun when Mitch Moreland isn't playing with a broken toe.

"It's a chicken and egg thing," Martinez said. "I think it's a product of both. No one's sour in here. No one's bitter. It doesn't seem like anyone's about themselves. Everyone wants to win and play well. Alex is doing a great job keeping everyone loose. It's just fun to come to the ballpark because you're around a good group of guys."

"Winning does help, but the more we're having fun, the better we're going to go out and play, the looser we are," Brock Holt explained. "I think guys are enjoying themselves and enjoying this team and being a part of something special, and I think everyone in this clubhouse believes that. It's fun to come to the park every day and play baseball."

But what if the Red Sox get the postseason and lose. That's not going to be much fun. All those good times had throughout the grind of the regular season won't really matter much. But there is a scenario where we could see this new attitude manifest itself in greater success.

Probably the biggest payoff this perceived atmosphere -- no matter how the Red Sox arrived with it -- is taking some of the mental strain off going through a major league pennant race in Boston during a major league season. By the time the Sox hit the postseason the last two years, that uneasiness sure seemed to have a negative effect in the days leading up to playing Cleveland and Houston. There is something to be said for springboarding into the playoffs, both mentally and win-wise.

It took a team meeting after Game 2 of the American League Division Series for the Red Sox to splash cold water on themselves. By then it was too late. Live and learn.

"If we hit a rough patch this year," Betts said in spring training. "Maybe we can learn from last year, continue to enjoy the game, and maybe we can get out of it faster."

So far the Red Sox haven't really had to put that new approach the test. They are having too much fun. Evidently, that has actually meant something more than a few more Instagram tarmac photos.

"I think we’re in a good place," said Jackie Bradley Jr. "Mentally, (having fun) probably (means something). The more you win, the more you want to continue to win. When you’re losing you want to win but it doesn’t weigh you down as much because you have trust in your teammates. We’re winning more this year."

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