Things could not have gone any better for the 2018 Red Sox. They won a club-record 108 games, were basically in first place wire to wire, and never lost more than three games in a row (only twice).
They knocked the cover off the ball offensively, the starting pitching was great and the bullpen was largely effective. Dave Dombrowski made some key depth moves, and Alex Cora pushed all the right buttons from start to finish. They dominated in the postseason.
This season, of course, has been almost the polar opposite. The Red Sox got off to a terrible start and haven't been able to dig out of that hole. The offense hasn't come close to humming, the starting pitching has been erratic and ... well, we won't even talk about the bullpen.
And here's the kicker: The Red Sox have slumped with almost the same exact team. Before the season, that was just fine with Cora — in fact, it seemed like he preferred it.
"Do we really want to turn the page?" Cora asked in spring training. "It's a book and we wrote a chapter last year and let's write a new chapter this year, but we can always go back … and learn from it."
If Cora had bothered to jump in his car down Interstate 93 to 95 and then to Route 1 to visit Bill Belichick and the Patriots, Cora would have been told he's doing everything wrong.
Belichick made these same mistakes after the team's first title in 2001. They led to what is now the lone blight on Belichick's sterling record as Patriots architect: the team's only season of fewer than 10 victories and failure to make the playoffs with a healthy Tom Brady.
Bill Walsh had the same difficulty after the 49ers won their first title in 1981. A year later, they were under. 500 in a strike-shortened season and missed the playoffs for the only time in his career.
"There was a loss of will," Walsh lamented in The Genius by David Harris, "a loss of need and personal sacrifice."
Of course, they might not be the Patriots we know today without the lessons learned during that 2002 season. Belichick may be the best, certainly in the salary cap era, at a lot of things. This may go down as his greatest accomplishment among professional coaches: his ability to get great teams to climb the championship mountain year after year.
How has Belichick done it? What would he have told Cora not to do, if asked?
Former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson, a key cog in the first three championship teams from 2001-04, knows the answer.