The Boston Red Sox are champions of the American League East.
Let that sink in for a moment.
A team that somehow won 69 games in 2012 has bounced all the way back into the playoffs. And, they did it with a new manager with an underachieving record, having one position player playing in more than 150 games and on the rejuvenated arm of John Lackey.
If you thought that was the script the Sox would follow back in April, then you are lying.
In six months, this insufferable team, with an ownership that looked to be anyplace besides Boston, has become one of the most beloved teams in the storied history of the franchise.
Let’s start with the off-season.
After Bobby Valentine was dropkicked to the curb and replaced by former pitching coach John Farrell, General Manager Ben Cherington pulled out the checkbook.
No, not on the big, blue-chip players of years past, but on Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Johnny Gomes and other role players introduced as “character” guys.
The Red Sox were not looking for a piece or two to fit into their puzzle; they went out and bought the whole box. Taking a page out of how the Oakland Athletics won the AL West in 2012, Cherington assembled a group of hard working players and it worked.
There were a few bumps and bruises along the way.
The trade for Pittsburgh Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan was a flop. Andrew Bailey also was not up for the ninth inning challenge and Dempster will likely be in the bullpen for the playoffs.
The Sox also lost Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Will Middlebrooks to injuries for a chunk of the season.
Despite all that, they clinched the division on September 20.
All the clubhouse acrimony, which came to the surface two years ago when the Red Sox choked and exploded under Valentine’s disastrous 2012, melted under the steady leadership of Farrell.
Farrell told anyone who would listen that Boston was his dream job, making it easy for the Blue Jays to release him out of his contract early.
You think the higher-ups at Rogers Centre are regretting that decision.
The task given to Farrell was to right the ship. Not only did he do that, but improved the Red Sox win total by nearly 30.
With Dustin Pedroia the only everyday player to play more than 150 games, Farrell pressed all the right buttons on offense and handled a pitching staff stung by Buchholz’s absence and a rocky first half from ace Jon Lester.
The three-way trade that landed Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox was the final piece. Although giving up the glove of shortstop Jose Iglesias was difficult, Peavy injected instant energy to the entire pitching staff.
Perhaps the biggest surprise this season was the return of Lackey.
Much maligned after two awful years in Boston—and a third season lost to injury—Lackey has found the form that earned him that big payday.
The won-loss record is deceiving. Lackey had pitched much better than his 10-plus win total indicates and has his best ERA since 2007. His control is the best it has ever been and he has returned to the innings-eater he was with the Los Angeles Angels.
For the first time in a long time, the Boston Red Sox have exceeded expectations. Yes, a deep run in the postseason would be nice, but no one in their right mind saw this one coming.
If you did, let me know when the plane leaves for Las Vegas.
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