BOSTON — They keep banking ‘em.
Any discussion of the Red Sox’ fast start, 11-2 now, will automatically invite some level of skepticism because of the calendar. Cold weather, bad opponents, a long schedule ahead. All true.
Those banked wins add up, though. They don’t go away. If the first-place Sox hit a rough stretch — when they hit a rough stretch, rather — the early W’s accumulated will help them keep the division lead. They'll have a cushion that most other teams won't. Already, the rest of the American League East is looking up. The Yankees have to deal with a five-game deficit in the loss column. It’s too early, perhaps, for the teams to think along these lines. But it’s never, ever too early to value separation.
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The most exciting moment of Friday night’s 7-3 win over the Orioles may have been the ovation Joe Kelly got in the seventh inning, pitching for the first time since he was given his suspension (which remains unserved as he appeals). Fenway Park had a healthy crowd size, but coming off a charged Yankees series that wrapped Thursday, the juice just wasn’t there against a mediocre Orioles team. There were still “Yankees suck” chants coming down, a reflection of a schedule that’s left the Sox with one intriguing opponent thus far, with those Yankees.
So, in a manner similar to those first games against the Rays and Marlins, the Sox just took care of business on Friday.
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It is important business, though, if not the most compelling baseball you'll watch all year. This isn’t a warm-up act. September games and pressure-packed moments in the throes of a pennant race are better remembered, always. But they count no differently. The stretch run is great to keep an eye on, to prepare for. But if you can avoid the need for a stretch run all together and win the division with a relative ease, that’s a better position to be in.
The Sox the rest of the way have to go 82-67 to match 93 wins for a third straight year. That’s still a strong level of play, a .550 win percentage. But the more heavy lifting they do in the early-going, the easier an inevitable losing streak will be to stomach. It's April, it's early, but the wins matter.