One team won the American League East last year, beating out the two teams with the highest payrolls in MLB. Another team missed the playoffs, but still managed to win 89 games and made a couple of big acquisitions. Many people expected the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox to fight it out in the standings in 2011, and they already are: Ten games into the season, the two teams are battling for fourth place.
As of Tuesday morning, Boston and Tampa Bay stand at 2-8, tied with the Houston Astros for the worst record in baseball. Red Sox and Rays fans might now agree with poet T.S. Eliot's observation that April is the cruelest month.
The first place to seek guidance for what lies in store for these two teams is baseball history. Going back to the first year of expanded playoffs (1995), there have been 128 playoff teams. Of these 128 playoff teams, only three started 2-8 or worse: the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies, the 2001 Oakland Athletics and the 1995 Cincinnati Reds. This number is right in line with expectations -- given the final records of all playoff teams during that period, you'd expect 2.4 percent of those teams to have started the season with two or fewer wins.
So, what does this all mean for the Red Sox and Rays? Although fans shouldn't stream into stadiums shouting that end times are nigh, these two teams' playoff expectations are significantly less than they were going into the season.