The Boston Red Sox are headed back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
After a disastrous 2012 season in which Boston lost 93 contests — their worst total since 1965 when they lost an even hundred — they followed it up with an incredibly resurgent 2013 campaign, posting a 97-65 record. This was tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for the best mark in the majors. (The Red Sox lost their final two games).
The Red Sox — under former pitching coach John Farrell, in his first year managing the team — were consistent all year long, failing to win less than 15 games in any month. May was the only month in which they failed to gain a winning record (15-15).
Boston led the majors in several offensive categories during 2013, including runs scored (853), runs batted in (819), doubles (363), total bases (2,521), slugging percentage (.446) and on base percentage (.349). Their .277 team batting average only trailed the Detroit Tigers’ .283 team mark for the best mark in baseball.
David Ortiz, at the age of 37, continued to produce by driving the offense all season long. “Big Papi” hit 30 home runs, drove in 103, and had a well above average batting line of .309/.395/.564. Not bad for the first year of a two-year contract.
Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Dustin Pedroia joined Ortiz as the only other players on the team to have at least 450 at-bats while compiling a batting average of at least .294.
Mike Napoli provided solid production in his first (and potentially last) year in a Sox uniform. He hit 23 home runs and a career high 38 doubles while driving in a career high 92 runs, despite hitting only .259 with a career high 187 strikeouts (fourth most in the AL- Carter, Davis, Dunn).
One of the more encouraging stories of the season was Jon Lester’s bounce back season. After putting up by far his worst career numbers a season before (9-14, 4.82 Earned Run Average), he rebounded nicely in 2013 going 15-8 with a solid 3.75 ERA. Also, his 213.1 innings pitched set a new career high.
John Lackey also exceeded expectations. Fresh off a historically bad 2011 season—and a completely absent 2012 season where he was recovering from Tommy John surgery—the big righty turned in a very solid 2013 campaign. Despite having a just a 10-13 record (he was victimized by poor run support), his 3.52 ERA was his best mark since 2007 (3.01). 19 of his 29 starts were quality starts, and his 1.16 WHIP was good enough for a new career best.
Originally slated to have Joel Hanrahan be the closer, that plan turned to wreckage for the Sox after he suffered a season ending injury in early May. Former closer Andrew Bailey took over closing duties after that, but lost his job after a seven game, five innings-pitched stretch in mid-to-late June where he blew four of six save opportunities while allowing nine earned runs (16.20 ERA) and five home runs. (July 12 was Bailey’s last appearance of the season.)
But after the Hanrahan and Bailey disasters, Boston found their closer—Koji Uehara. And they never looked back after that.
Uehara appeared in 73 games in 2013, going 21-24 in save opportunities. 17 of his 21 saves came from July on — after he became the regular closer. He was arguably the most effective relief pitcher in the majors all season long, posting a 1.09 ERA and 0.57 WHIP in 74.1 innings pitched. In addition, he held hitters to a .130 batting average and had a nasty strikeout-to-walk ratio of 11.22 (101 to 9).
Uehara was most dominant during the final three months of the year. In that timeframe, he allowed only one earned run in 40.1 innings pitched for a microscopic 0.22 ERA. Furthermore, he struck out 52 batters and walked only two.
The Red Sox will face the Tampa Bay Rays (92-71) in the first of a five game American League Division series beginning Friday, Oct. 4 at 3 p.m. at Fenway Park. Jon Lester will take the hill for the Sox as he will be opposed by fellow southpaw Matt Moore (17-4, 3.29 ERA).
This is the first time the Red Sox and Rays have met in the playoffs since the 2008 American League Championship Series. Tampa Bay won that series in seven games.