(Editor’s note: Justin first talked about the possibility of the Red Sox winning the World Series back in June!)
What was old is now brand new again in the sports crazed town of Boston, Massachusetts. After a rocky year and a half, they have managed to turn the clock back to the summer of 2011, when the Bruins were skating to a Stanley Cup and the loaded Red Sox were the toast of the baseball world. After a creaky start to that season, the Sox kicked things into gear and looked like they were on pace to add their third World Series trophy of this century to their treasure chest.
After dominating the 2010 off-season with major trades and signings, the team was rolling along into September, sitting 30 games over .500 as August drew to a close. And then, the roof caved in. The team completely fell apart and ended up missing the playoffs after dropping two of three to lowly Baltimore to close the season. Following that historic collapse, boy wonder GM Theo Epstein, legendary manager Terry Francona and beloved closer Jonathan Papelbon were run out of town and buried in an ugly mess of media beat downs. The team and management were crucified on talk radio and in the papers, and things would get shakier a year later when lightning rod Bobby Valentine was brought in to manage. Valentine was clearly not a long term solution, and many assumed he was seemingly keeping the seat warm for prodigal son John Farrell, who had fled north of the border to manage the Blue Jays in 2010. Farrell had always been the assumed heir apparent for Francona, but when Toronto came calling, he couldn’t justify passing up the opportunity to sit behind a guy that seemed to have a job for life. Of course, that wasn’t the case, but when Francona was canned, Farrell was under contract for two more years. With Farrell in their sights for 2014, the Sox and Bobby naturally inked a two year deal for the outspoken Valentine to helm the Sox and bridge them to Farrell. Things got uglier.
Valentine clashed with players and media immediately, coming off as aloof, out of touch and inconsistent both on and off the field. As the team floundered into last place, it seemed like they may be years away from building the franchise back into contention. However, that turn around was launched a whole lot sooner than expected when Magic Johnson and the star seeking, money printing LA Dodgers threw new GM Ben Cherington a life raft. During the week of August 19, 2012 crazy rumors began swirling that Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett were being fed through the waiver system. Thanks to their behemoth contracts and poor play, all three cleared easily and before we could digest what was happening, all three, along with Nick Punto, were headed to Hollywood by the end of the week. Not only did Boston clear millions in salary cap space, they also received back star prospects Alan Webster and Rubby De La Rosa. Valentine was canned after the season ended and with newfound roster flexibility and cash availability, things were suddenly looking a lot brighter in Beantown.
Cherington went right to work, negotiating with Toronto to break Farrell free a year early. After two years of disappointment and sloppy play, the Jays seemed a bit too eager to let their skipper go, but Boston had their man. And that move has paid immediate dividends as Farrell has helped bring stud starter Jon Lester (6-2, 3.53) back to prominence and also guided Clay Buchholz (8-0, 1.62) to realizing his untapped Cy Young potential. On the other side of the diamond, the offense has been paced by the always under-appreciated Mike Napoli (.852 OPS, 45 RBI), the resurgent David Ortiz (1.023 OPS, 36 RBI) and the always steady Dustin Pedroia (.859 OPS, 30 RBI). With a solid rotation, a shutdown bullpen and a lineup built around a few undervalued players brought in on short term deals, the Sox have been one of the best teams in baseball since opening day. Currently sitting at twelve games over .500 and alone in first place, the Sox are riding high. And even more importantly, they have cash to burn and the flexibility to add a major asset at the trade deadline. In my opinion, they seem like a likely landing spot for Phillies ace Cliff Lee. If Philadelphia is out the race come the end of July, the Sox have the chips and cash to bring Lee to Fenway. A rotation anchored Lee, Lester and Buchholz would be World Series worthy for sure. Another bat wouldn’t hurt either, as they could use an upgrade over platoon stalwart Jonny Gomes, struggling youngster Will Middlebrooks or their inconsistent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Heading into the season, many fans and pundits assumed the Yankees and Red Sox would be dwelling in the cellar, lucky to compete for that second Wild Card spot. Yet, here we are in early June and both teams sit perched atop the AL East. Expectations in Boston were tempered back in April, but with wins piling up at a much higher rate than losses, those expectations are being adjusted. Hoping for 88 wins and a wild card berth has been replaced by expecting 93 and a division crown. The question remains whether the Red Sox can continue to outpace their expected record, but at this point in the season, the prodigal son has returned to lead his team to prominence and Boston couldn’t be happier to have him back in the family.