The Boston Red Sox came into the 2011 season with high expectations.
Depending on who you believed, they would win 120 games, sweep the World Series, slay the dragon and marry the princess.
After the season started those lofty predictions started to appear just plain silly. They didn’t just start slow, the Red Sox looked like they would be among the worst in the league after the first couple of weeks.
Lately the Red Sox have come into their own and are right back in the hunt for the AL East title
So which Red Sox team is the real one? The one that stumbled out of the gate or the one that’s been tearing up the American League ever since?
There are plenty of reasons to believe that the Red Sox can continue to build on their recent success.
Here are the five best:
Sometimes when a team is under performing, it’s the role players who need to lead the superstars.
With so many superstars on the Red Sox, it was a player who wasn’t even in the starting lineup on opening day who started carrying the team.
Jed Lowrie has stepped up his game at the plate, batting .315 so far this season with 21 RBI. It wasn’t until Lowrie got hot that the rest of the lineup woke up.
On the pitching staff, it was the oldest player in baseball, Tim Wakefield, who gave the Sox a much needed spot start. Against the Cubs on May 22, Wakefield had the knuckle ball humming, and pitched the Red Sox to a win.
Every great team needs contributions from unsung players, and the Red Sox have been getting just that.
The Red Sox weren’t only built on high-priced sluggers, they were also built on high-priced pitching.
All the investment in the pitching staff—along with smart decisions with their veteran pitchers and development of young arms—had left Terry Francona and company with an embarrassment of riches.
Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett have rebounded from their rough starts to anchor a suddenly dominant rotation. Jonathan Papelbon has been solid in the closer role, and Daniel Bard has come back from a few really bad outings earlier in the season to be the team’s best late-inning reliever.
The baseball season is a grind, and nothing keeps a team in the hunt like a fully-stocked pantry of pitchers.
Nothing like a little good old fashioned home cookin’.
The Red Sox are 16-10 at Fenway Park and 9-12 on the road. They started the season with six straight road games, and lost them all.
After that poor start the team has used the advantages that come along with playing at home to get back in the hunt for the AL East title.
Players like to get into a routine, and there’s nothing like a nice long homestand to calm down a stressed out team. After those first six away games, the Red Sox went 5-4 in their next nine games at home.
It was during this stretch that the team got back on track.
You know how every time you start a new job or class and have to go through those annoying and awkward “get to know you” exercises? Well professional athletes don’t like them either.
And worst of all, they last for longer than 30 minutes if you’re the new guy on an MLB team.
Baseball players interact with each other on a more personal level than other professional athletes. They’re forced to get along because they have more downtime together and longer road trips than other professional athletes.
This Red Sox team just took a little while to get to know each other.
Does Carl Crawford need tough love after a bad game? Or should Youkilis just give him a pat on the back and tell him tomorrow’s another day?
These are the things teams learn over time, and the Red Sox are starting to figure them out.
Losing’s never fun. Ricky Bobby taught us that.
But truthfully, you’re more likely to lose if you’re not having fun.
Now this team is past the uncomfortable stages of the beginning of the season, they’ve been playing with a vigor and attitude that makes coming to the ballpark every day an enjoyable experience for them.
Playing baseball in Boston is different than it is in other cities. Adrian Gonzalez could have a bad week in San Diego and it wasn’t big deal.
Not so in Boston. In Boston if he has two bad games in a row, 50 reporters ask him how it feels to cause the decline of western civilization.
In Boston you can’t take all that pressure with you to the plate everyday and succeed. The new guys on this team have started to show the ability to handle the pressure that comes with being on the Red Sox.
After all, it took a bunch of idiots back in 2004 to show us all how to win in Boston.