Let's not talk about fried chicken, or Bobby Valentine, or clubhouse chemistry. Let's not talk about how the once dysfunctional Red Sox are now winning because of team camaraderie, because the players are showing up at the ballpark earlier before games and hanging out together at the Cask 'n Flagon after. Let's talk about the real reasons the Red Sox—a year after losing 93 games and finishing 26 out of first place—are now the most complete team in the American League.
The Sox have the best offense in baseball—they lead the majors in runs scored, OBP and OPS —and the team's star hitters have stayed healthy. Last year's club lost a staggering 1,587 man-games to injuries, second most since Baseball Prospectus began tracking the data in 2007. After his injury-plagued 2012, David Ortiz is putting up monster numbers (.317 average, 1.008 OPS, 19 home runs). Jacoby Ellsbury, who appeared in 74 games last year, leads the league in stolen bases (36) and has been the AL's second-most valuable outfielder as measured by wins above replacement. With Dustin Pedroia having another All-Star season and the breakouts of outfielder Daniel Nava and shortstop Jose Iglesias, the Red Sox lineup is as deep as any in baseball.
Defensively, the Red Sox ranked 27th in the majors in ERA (4.70) last year but have shaved off nearly a full run in 2013—the starting rotation's 3.82 ERA is second best in the league. Boston's pitchers set the tone for the season when they allowed three runs or fewer in their first 16 starts, tying an AL record. Before landing on the DL, Clay Buchholz (9--0, 1.71 ERA) was among the best in baseball, and the righthander will be back after the All-Star break. The big revelation has been John Lackey, who missed all of last season but is throwing into the mid-90s while producing the lowest walk rate of his career.
New skipper John Farrell has kept the team humming through bullpen turmoil (six closer changes), injuries (Buchholz and relievers Andrew Bailey, Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Miller), and controversy (allegations of Buchholz's throwing a spitball).
The 2013 Red Sox are pitching well and remaining fit. If they continue to do both, we'll be talking about them deep into October.
DAMIAN STROHMEYER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
HITS, DOCTOR Two big reasons for the revival of Pedroia and the Sox: a deep lineup and freedom from the injuries that mauled them in '12.