Let’s play word association with the last few editions of the Boston Red Sox.
For me, 2011 equals “failure.” When I think of 2012, the first thing that jumps to mind is “fecundity.”
Apologies for the language, but the first thing is “really f-ing good.”
So instead of diving into more statistical analysis or projecting what the 2014 team will look like or telling you why Boston’s prospects are slightly flawed, I feel like it’s important to take a step back and admire what the 2013 Red Sox are doing to the rest of the league.
Like offense? This team is first in runs, doubles, total bases, RBI, OBP, SLG and OPS. They’re first in stolen base percentage, at 86%, and first in the AL in HBP and IBB.
The catalysts of that success include names you’d expect, like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, as well as players who are surprising even their most ardent supporters. Daniel Nava’s OBP is .392. Shane Victorino is slugging .454. Jarrod Saltalamacchia may surpass his total fWAR from the last two years combined. Will Middlebrooks has been among the most productive third basemen in the game since being summoned from the minors on August 10. The beat goes on and on.
If starting pitching — which really plagued the Sox over the past few seasons — is your thing, you’re in luck with this edition of the Red Sox as well. Despite missing three months and battling injury, Clay Buchholz is undefeated. Despite a rough spot in mid-summer, Jon Lester looks the best he has in several years. John Lackey is one of the most remarkable comeback stories in baseball, and Jake Peavy was perhaps the most significant acquisition made by any team at the trade deadline. The Red Sox have four starters capable of manning the first two spots in a contending rotation. This team is deep.
And the bullpen … oh, the bullpen. It should be a mess. Boston lost Andrew Bailey, Andrew Miller and Joel Hanrahan, among others. The bullpen should be an absolute disaster. Yet thanks to the absurdly enjoyable season of Koji Uehara, the late innings are an area of strength. When your biggest problem is Junichi Tazawa, you’re doing something right. And the late-season surges of Drake Britton and especially Brandon Workman have helped solidify middle relief.
Speaking of up-and-coming prospects, we haven’t even touched on Xander Bogaerts yet. We’re getting to see the 20-year-old break into the majors in basically the perfect scenario: on a team that doesn’t need him to produce, but can only benefit if he does. And while six-or-so weeks isn’t truly a large enough sample size to make a judgement on his defense, it doesn’t look like he’ll have much trouble handling shortstop every day in 2014.
2013 has also been a positive year for prospects like Anthony Ranaudo, Henry Owens, Garin Cecchini and Jackie Bradley Jr. Others, such as Matt Barnes, Allen Webster and Rubby de la Rosa, have had to work through some struggles but certainly haven’t collapsed.
And as we’ve all covered at length lately, the Sox are extraordinarily well positioned from a financial and personnel standpoint to remain competitive for many seasons. They’ll have flexibility this offseason and can make a push to resign Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Napoli, or perhaps pursue Jose Abreu or Brian McCann. The rotation for 2014 is set, as is the majority of the infield and two outfield slots. Some parts may move between now and next year, but the core of this team is intact.
Listing the accomplishments of the Red Sox may seem a bit tired, but, as I watch them mercilessly beat on a depleted Yankees team, I think it’s important for fans to savor this experience. We get to watch a likable, talented, winning team take the field every night, and this squad has an excellent shot at playing deep into October.
But even if they don’t make it this far, it’s astounding how much more fun it is to watch baseball in Boston right now than it has been in several years. This is a ride I don’t want to see end.