It’s hard to call the Red Sox the surprise of 2013.
They were dreadful last year, finishing last in the East with just 69 wins, three more than the Twins and one more than the Indians. But over the past decade we’ve gotten so used to seeing a level of excellence from the Boston nine that their resurgence doesn’t seem unnatural. Well not until you realize that this worst to first transformation seemed to involve gutting the team and dumping salary.
The fact is that the front office deceived us. We thought they were rebuilding and that they’d have a number of years off before baseball relevance returned. Sure we all listened to Red Sox ownership and management when they told us that they’d be much better this year. But even the most devout fan didn’t really believe it. After all this is a team that just over a year ago allowed general manager Theo Epstein, the architect of two World Series winners, to walk away.
And without Epstein, last year’s version of the Sox was disjointed, dispirited and frankly toxic. Part of that has to be laid at the door of former manager Bobby Valentine, who instead of defusing the situation and instead seemed to throw fire on them, further fracturing the team.
The Red Sox needed to clean house and they did. They shipped away their problems, freed up salary and very quietly executed a plan to rebuild the Red Sox, not over several years but quickly. But even they probably didn’t realize just how quickly things would gel.
Upgrading the offense was easy. Health returned for Jacoby Ellsbury and apparently for David Ortiz. Mike Napoli offered a lot of power at a reasonable cost, and Shane Victorino came with a good mix of power and speed to help the team. Add those to a healthy Dustin Pedroia and the blooming Wil Middlebrooks and the offense looked pretty good. The emergence of Daniel Nava as a table setter has just been a bonus.
The real surprise, however, has been the pitching. There is plenty of reason to wonder if it’s really sustainable. Certainly Clay Buchholz isn’t going to maintain his 1.01 ERA, and the odds of Jon Lester, John Lackey and Ryan Dempster, all keeping their ERA under 3.52 are very long.
However the offense is good enough to survive the pitching taking a step back, especially if the Blue Jays never gel and the Yankees don’t manage to sustain their improbable surge. After all, the Red Sox have scored more runs than any team in the AL except for Detroit.
That all bodes well for the Sox. While they won’t keep up this pace, and the recent sweep by Texas (and since by losing 3 out of 4 to Minnesota) certainly raises concerns, Boston’s management has to be very pleased that, barring a big swoon, this looks to be a successful season -- maybe not playoff successful, but more successful than any fan had a right to hope and certainly more successful than even general manager John Farrell and owner John Henry hoped they’d have at this point.
And things look rosy down the road. The farm system is loaded, especially with good pitching prospects, many no more than a year or so away.