Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated.
This was a dream season for the Red Sox after the nightmare of 2012. Everything that the Sox touched in 2013 turned to gold. They started hot, going 18-8 in April. They finished hot, going 16-9 in September. In the middle, they went 63-48. That was good enough to win the AL East championship, their first division title since 2007. In October, the Red Sox dispatched the division rival Rays, the defending AL champion Tigers, and finally, the NL champion Cardinals to bring Boston its eighth World Championship.
Preseason Prediction: There is real talent here, but probably not enough to overcome all the competition in AL East and certainly not enough to account for all the injuries they are bound to suffer. I know I keep harping on that point, but they really do have one of the largest collections of injury-prone players in the league and there is now way they are all going to stay healthy. The good news is that for the first time in a long time, the BoSox won't be entering the season with lofty expectations. It isn't often that a major market team with a $150+ million payroll can sneak up on people, but this team could. At the end though, they just don't have enough. They can certainly finish over .500, but not by much.
What Went Right: Nearly everything. Jacoby Ellsbury rebounded from a disappointing 2012 to steal 52 bases while hitting .298/.355/.426. The maligned signing of Shane Victorino immediately paid dividends as Victorino looked like his old self, hitting 15 homers, stealing 21 bases, and winning the Gold Glove in right field. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz played like they almost always do, leading the team on the field and in the clubhouse. Mike Napoli dispelled any concerns about his hip, homering 23 times as the team's primary first baseman. Shortstop Stephen Drew did everything the Red Sox expected him to on his one-year deal. Backup outfielders Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava both played extremely well, earning more playing time as the season went along. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had the best offensive year of his life behind the plate.
Jon Lester didn't miss a start and buried any remnants of the beer and fried chicken controversy from 2012 with his performance on the mound. John Lackey made 29 starts after missing all of 2012. The team's bullpen was excellent, led by the dynamic Japanese duo of Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa.
What Went Wrong: Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey combined to throw just 36 innings, dealing with a litany of injuries. The mere presence of Alfredo Aceves in the first half nearly destroyed the team before he was summarily banished to the minors. The Daniel Bard experiment finally ended with him being claimed on waivers by the Cubs. Andrew Miller's season was over before the All-Star Break thanks to a foot injury. Ryan Dempster was a mess, and Jake Peavy was hardly the panacea the team expected when they acquired him from the White Sox. Rookie Jackie Bradley Jr struggled out of the gate and was demoted back to the minors. Will Middlebrooks was a disaster in the first half before rebounding in the second half – and losing his job in the playoffs to rookie Xander Bogaerts. Clay Buchholz made just 16 starts, continuing his trend of disappointing seasons.
Most Surprising Player: Baseball fans have known the name Koji Uehara for awhile. During his time in the bullpen for the Orioles and Rangers, Uehara was known for his high strikeout rates, low walk rates, and ungodly splitter. But it's never all come together, either due to injuries or ridiculous home run rates. In 2013, it all came together. Uehara struck out 101, walked nine, pitched to a 1.09 ERA, and accrued 3.3 fWAR in 74 1/3 innings – and he wasn't even Boston's closer to start the year. The 38-year old made his mark on baseball in 2013 like no one imagined he ever would.
Most Disappointing Player: I don't think it's necessarily fair to rip on Joel Hanrahan, considering that he needed Tommy John surgery *and* flexor tendon surgery on his right elbow. But when a guy is making $7 million, and you gave up four players to get him, you expect a little more than what the Red Sox got from Hanrahan. In 7 1/3 innings this season, Hanrahan struck out five, walked six, allowed four home runs, and eight runs total. Wrap it up and put a bow on it, and you get a 9.82 ERA, an 11.23 FIP, and -0.6 fWAR in nine games. One of the guys traded to Pittsburgh for Hanrahan was Mark Melancon, who had a 1.39 ERA, an 8.75 strikeout to walk ratio, and made the NL All-Star Team. Not everything Ben Cherrington touched turned to gold this year.
The Future: The transformation of the Red Sox from 2012 to 2013 was stunning. A large portion of their key contributors will be free agents this winter, including Ellsbury, Napoli, Saltalamacchia, and Drew. But hey, I'm sure Cherrington knows which of those players he'd like to bring back, and which he wouldn't. It worked for them last winter, so why not this winter?