One hundred wins is arguably the crowning achievement for a baseball team. By rule, six teams must be division winners, two teams must win a pennant and one team must be crowned the champion each season, and as the 2006 Cardinals can attest, you're not even required to be particularly good if enough things work out for you. But in no season is a 100-game winner guaranteed. There have been 93 of them in the 110 years since the American League began, ranging from the 1978 Yankees, who needed a 163rd game to cross the century mark, to the incredible 1906 Cubs, who won 116 of their 152 games.
While the Yankees' relationship with 100 wins has been fairly straightforward — they've done it. A lot (19 times, as a matter of fact) — the Red Sox' seems more interesting.
The Sox have only won 100 games three times, in 1912, 1915 and 1946. They lost their chance for 100 wins in 1978 to the Yankees, finishing with 99, then won 98 in 2004. Those are the top five Red Sox teams from a pure winning perspective.
Meanwhile, the Sox have had the distinction, and I suspect it's a unique one, of facing 100-game winners in four consecutive World Series over a span of nearly 40 years: the 101-win Cardinals in 1967, the 108-win Reds in 1975, the 108-win Mets in 1986 and the 105-win Cardinals in 2004. It's frankly amazing that the Sox, whose regular-season record was no better than seven games behind their opponent in any of those series, actually have a winning record overall, at 13-12. (That's another way of saying the Sox were doing pretty good to push those first three series to seven games, never mind nearly winning one of them in six.)
On the flip side, the Sox have lost 100 games seven times. The 1962 Mets (120 losses) and the 2009 Tigers (119) remain the paragon of awfulness. You have to go back to 1935 to find another team who lost even 115 games. But the Sox did their best in 1932 when they dropped 111 contests. They also lost 100 or more in 1906, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1930 and 1965. Believe it or not, the Yankees actually have lost 100 games, and they did it twice, in 1908 and 1912.
Which leads to another interesting tidbit: that our clubs each had one of their worst seasons at the same time as the other had arguably their best. The Sox lost 100 in 1927, the year the Yankees posted the .714 winning percentage they have yet to beat (in fact, only two teams since, the '54 Indians and '01 Mariners, have beaten it). On the flip side, the Yanks tanked in 1912 while the Sox were putting up a winning percentage equivalent to 112 victories today, the 15th-best of all time.
[These fun facts derived from this excellent Baseball-Reference tool.]
And that leads me into our discussion today. Josh Beckett and Mike Cameron have set the bar high, saying this Red Sox team has the potential to win 100 games. That's objectively true. The Red Sox have averaged a little under 94 wins since Theo Epstein took over as general manager in 2003. Drop out the injury plagues of 2006 and 2010, and that average scoots to nearly 96 wins (outside those two seasons, the Sox have in fact been uncannily consistent: 95, 98, 95, 96, 95, 95 wins).
If a reasonably healthy Sox team is all but certain to win 95 games, then that team by definition has the potential to win 100. Five games just isn't that much to overcome over a 162-game season if enough things break right. The largest factor against it happening, Terry Francona's expressed desire to eschew such milestones in favor of resting his starters once the playoffs are sewn up, might be mitigated by the expected three-team (or more) dogfight in the AL East.
So what has to break right? We'll take a look over the next couple days at what the three Red Sox teams did — and overcame — to win 100 games. And, who knows, we might throw in the 1978 and 2004 clubs, too.