On September 3, 2011, the Boston Red Sox were sitting pretty: they had a nine-game lead for the wild-card spot in the American League playoff chase, and they were looking to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2009.
By the end of September 2011, however, the Boston Red Sox were in shambles. A 6-18 finish will do that to you, especially when you blow a ninth-inning lead in the final game of the season that would have put you into the playoffs.
And that disaster continued through 2012, as the Sox finished 69-93 and in last place amongst American League East division teams.
Even worse, perhaps, the Boston organization saw its 820-game streak of consecutive sellouts at Fenway Park end in early April 2013, and just a few days later, the Boston Marathon bombings shook the entire city.
But the Red Sox recovered in truly amazing fashion, winning the AL East division in 2013 with the best record in the majors — and now the team sits on the brink of winning its third World Series title in ten seasons, after going 86 years (from 1918 to 2003) without winning one.
Truly, the organization has demonstrated that “Boston Strong” is more than just a rallying cry of civic pride this season.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR BOSTON IN 2013: The Red Sox led the AL — and the majors — with 853 runs scored, so the offense worked pretty well for Boston this season. As a team, the Sox led the majors in on-base percentage (.349), slugging percentage (.446) and OPS (.795). Boston placed three offensive regulars in the top 20 across the majors in Wins Above Replacement, as well: second baseman Dustin Pedroia (.301 average, 84 RBI), outfielder Shane Victorino (.294, 15 HR, 21 SB) and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (.298, 52 SB). Throw in another strong season from designated hitter David Ortiz (.309, 30 HR, 103 RBI), and it’s no wonder the Red Sox scored so many runs.
On the pitching side, Boston didn’t have a starting pitcher in the majors’ top 40 in ERA this season. But veteran John Lackey rebounded nicely from poor 2011 and 2012 seasons to post a 3.52 ERA to lead the staff, while Jon Lester’s 15-8 record was the best on the team. Overall, the Red Sox team ERA (3.79) was middle of the road in the majors, but injuries to the likes of starter Clay Buchholz and two closers (Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey) were alleviated by outstanding depth (Koji Uehara) and shrewd mid-season acquisitions (Jake Peavy). Boston’s defense was also stout, making only 80 errors the entire regular season. Red Sox management did an excellent job with its $141M payroll this season.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR BOSTON IN 2013: Injuries certainly hit the Red Sox hard, surprisingly. Both Hanrahan and Bailey were lost for the season, and losing arms like that in the bullpen is never a good thing. Buchholz was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in early June when he was lost for the next 83 games with an injury. And even though the team led the majors in scoring, Boston was still shutout 11 times this season. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks’ promising career was derailed by health problems, as he missed 68 games and hit only .227 this year, well below the .288 mark he hit as a rookie in 2012.
WORLD SERIES OUTLOOK: Even though their offensive production has taken an expected dip in the postseason (facing the best teams in October always stunts any team’s production, of course), the Red Sox still have scored 4.5 runs a game in ten playoff games against the Tampa Bay Rays and the Detroit Tigers. Boston’s overall .236 batting average, however, hasn’t been great, and they’ll need to improve that in the World Series: it’s tougher to win without hits, and the Red Sox inability to get a lot of hits off the Tigers’ starters was only alleviated by the poor Detroit bullpen (Boston scored 12 of its 19 runs in the American League Championship Series in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings). The Sox will need to hit better, earlier and more often against the St. Louis starters in the Series if they want to win. The team has pitched well in the postseason, especially against Detroit’s very strong lineup. Boston has veteran leaders who have been here before, but so do the Cardinals. Home-field advantage may end up being a huge factor here, actually, thanks to the AL’s win in the All-Star Game this summer.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.