By Richard Cuicchi | October 06, 2013 at 07:49 PM EDT | 1 comment
The bearded Boston Red Sox team entered into the post-season with the American League’s best record. They were hardly challenged all season long, having lost no more than three consecutive games. The now infamous beards being sported by practically every team member has been a unifying factor for the squad, as they accomplished an admirable “worst to first” season in 2013. There is no apparent evidence that their winning ways, or their beards, will get trimmed in the postseason.
The Red Sox are making their first post-season appearance since 2009. They experienced a serious meltdown over the past two seasons. In 2011, they were riding high atop the American League East Division up until the final month of the season, only to wither away down the stretch, even failing to make the playoffs. Manager Terry Francona lost his job over that performance. Bobby Valentine took over as skipper of the team for the2012 season which proved to be a disastrous move. The team lost 93 games, third worst in the American League, and finished dead last in their division. Valentine simply lost control of the team with his volatile style of management, and the Red Sox Nation gladly rode him out on the rails.
When John Farrell was hired as manager for the 2013 season, there was renewed hope for the fans. Farrell had been a popular, well-respected pitching coach for some of the former winning Red Sox teams. In fact, there was somewhat of an uproar when Red Sox ownership did not aggressively pursue him as Francona’s replacement. However, the club still needed some new players to replenish the team. And they needed some spark to put them back on a winning track.
Free-agent stars Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford turned out to be short-timers who were dumped during the 2012 catastrophic season, along with carry-overs Josh Beckett and Kevin Youkilis from the last World Championship team of 2007. During the offseason, the Red Sox went after some proven players, although not of a high profile or elite status by acquiring David Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, and David Ross. The Red Sox still had some of its core of winning players, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury. Along with a returning veteran pitching staff, the media and fans were cautiously optimistic about the new season’s outlook for the Red Sox. However, their main competition was expected to be the Toronto Blue Jays who went crazy in the free-agent and trade markets and wound up stocking its team with a truckload of new “big name” players. Furthermore, the Baltimore Orioles, a 2012 playoff team, and the Tampa Bay Rays, figured to be in the hunt for the division title again.
The new Red Sox players, led by Napoli and Victorino, brought a workmen-like approach to the club. Their characteristics included a gritty, grind-it-out style of play, dirty uniforms, and of course, the beards. Along with Pedroia, who already fit that same mold, these Red Sox seemed to find something to rally around and effectively rejuvenated the attitude of the club. Then, all of the players started growing beards in a demonstration of unanimity. It soon became a ritual for the players to tug on each other’s beard after a clutch hit or spectacular play in the field. The team’s facial hair was somewhat reminiscent of the champion Oakland A’s of the early 1970s, when their players made their statement by wearing mustaches.
Whether the beards had anything to do with their success or not, the Red Sox led the American League East Division for the vast majority of the season; there were only 18 days when they were not in first place. They won 97 games for the season—quite a turnaround from 2012! The pitching staff overcame some stumbling blocks from season-ending losses of three of their bullpen staff, Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Miller, and Andrew Bailey by mid-July. Koji Uehara stepped up as the closer and pitched brilliantly down the stretch, including 27 consecutive batters (equivalent of a perfect game) retired at one point. Starter Clay Buchholz was on the disabled list for three months, but Felix Doubrount and late-season acquisition Jake Peavey picked up the slack there.
However, the Red Sox had no difficulties with their offense. They scored 150 runs more than the average of the rest of the American League teams. As a team they had the highest on-base percentage and slugging percentage of any team in the league. Just when it was thought Big Papi Ortiz may be starting to wind down his career, he responded with one of his best seasons. Napoli and Pedroia were big run-producers, while Daniel Nava had a breakout season.
The Blue Jays turned out to be a total disappointment in 2013, victims of high expectations from spending a ton of off-season money on high profile players. They finished last in the AL East. Tampa Bay had a lackluster first half of the season, challenged the Red Sox briefly for first place in early August, but then fell out of serious contention during the month of September.
I expect Detroit to be Boston’s toughest opponent in the American League playoffs. If the Tigers’ starting pitchers can give a lot of innings, their offense can match up well enough to defeat the Red Sox in seven games. However, I don’t think the Tigers’ bullpen will get the job done. Regardless of who the Red Sox face in the World Series, I think they will prevail for their third World Championship in ten seasons. As a die-hard Yankee fan, it pains me to make that prediction, but I guess I have to be honest with myself.
Since the advent of free agency, Major League baseball players no longer have to hold off-season jobs to supplement their baseball income. However, I suppose if any of the Red Sox players need extra work after the playoffs, they could audition for roles on the TV show Duck Dynasty. They certainly have the look!