For most Red Sox fans (myself included), the 2013 season is one of, if not the most enjoyable Red Sox season in recent memory.
The Red Sox were coming off a horrendous 69-93 season, in which they had suffered through the antics of manager Bobby Valentine en route to a last place finish. After trading for John Farrell to serve as manager, the Red Sox went on a surge of mid-level player acquisitions during the offseason, adding depth to the lineup, rotation, and bullpen but still leaving a stark lack of star power in all three facets.
Most penned the Red Sox as a good team, but not a great one. Most expected the Red Sox to contend, but probably not win the division, much less a World Championship. Most questioned if the franchise was headed in the right direction, following a last-place finish and busy offseason. However, most were completely and totally wrong.
As it turned out, the new-look Red Sox gelled exquisitely both on and off the field. Additions to the lineup like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, and Stephen Drew gave the Red Sox the depth to become the highest-scoring offense in baseball. And off the field, the “Get Beard” campaign became a phenomenon amongst Red Sox fans.
On the mound, there were a number of questions buzzing around Boston’s pitching rotation. Though Jon Lester signed a 6 year/$155M contract with the Cubs this offseason and is regarded as one of the better left-handed pitchers in baseball now, that was hardly the case before the 2013 season. Lester had just endured a terrible 2012 season, in which he posted a 4.82 ERA as his strikeout rate declined for the fourth consecutive year. Meanwhile, nobody quite knew what the Red Sox were getting out of guys like Clay Buchholz (who had posted a 4.56 ERA the previous season), John Lackey (who had undergone Tommy John Surgery and missed the entire 2012 season), or Felix Doubront.
The rotation worked out better than anyone could possibly have expected. While Lester continued to scuffle in the first half of the season, Buchholz turned into the ace that the Red Sox needed, going 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA before hitting the disabled list in June. Once Buchholz went on the shelf, Lester turned it around and posted a 2.57 ERA in the second half, giving the Red Sox another ace in the second half. At the same time, Lackey bounced back from injury in stellar fashion (he had a 3.52 ERA in 29 starts) and Felix Doubront looked the part of a solid back-end starter.
Everything worked out perfectly for the Red Sox, as they went on to beat the Cardinals in the World Series. However, now two years later, the Red Sox face a similar situation as they did in 2013.
The Red Sox unexpectedly flopped last season, slipping to 71-91 and another last place finish. The front office was forced to blow up the team, trading Lester to Oakland and Lackey to St. Louis. However, the team has undergone another accelerated rebuilding process and now looks poised to contend once again.
Much like the Red Sox added Napoli and Victorino in the 2012-13 offseason, they have added some more depth to their 2015 lineup. Unlike those under-the-radar moves, though, the Red Sox have signed a pair of big names in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. That combination looks the give the Red Sox one of the best lineups in baseball, plus the Red Sox now have an influx of young talent that they did not have in 2013, with Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts playing pivotal roles in the lineup.
As there were in 2013, there are still plenty of questions surrounding the Red Sox rotation, though. Buchholz is once again coming off a terrible season (this one even worse than 2012 as he posted a 5.34 ERA), but earned his first Opening Day start. Alongside Buchholz, the Red Sox filled out their rotation with low-profile ground ball pitchers Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, and Justin Masterson during the offseason.
Each of those names bear some concerns and question marks, but more than the 2013 staff? Hardly. In the past, the Red Sox have had success with a rotation that doesn’t look so great on paper, and they aim to do so again in 2015. The rotation has looked excellent in the first turn through the rotation and, though the floor is fairly low with this bunch, the ceiling is comparatively high.
And let’s not forget the team chemistry. There have been no complaints from or about any of the offseason acquisitions, with the team’s strong hispanic culture serving as a welcoming new home for Ramirez and Sandoval. In fact, Porcello signed a four-year extension before ever even pitching a game with the Red Sox due to his positive first impressions of the Red Sox organization.
We’re only five games into the season, but things are looking up for the Red Sox. The team won its first series in Philadelphia and is positioned to win another, or maybe even sweep the Yankees in New York. I’m not predicting that the Red Sox will win the World Series as they did in 2013– to do so would be foolish this early. However, they’ve proved the critics wrong in the past and, if the first five games of this year are any indication, they could do again in 2015.