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Worst to First: The Incredible Redemption of the Red Sox

I came into this season with no expectations for the Red Sox. The September crash 2011 and the disaster that was the entire Bobby-Valentine-led 2012 season had squashed my hope in the Sox, and I bashed every move they made in the offseason. My only hopes for the 2013 season were to finish in fourth instead of last and see if prospects Jackie Bradley Jr. and XanderBogaerts were good enough to warrant faith in future Red Sox teams. In other words, I’m a very stupid man.

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Even though no one could have predicted the Red Sox would be close to winning 100 games, I should have had more faith. So how exactly did 2012’s train wreck turn into 2013’s juggernaut? One word: redemption. It feels as if every player on this roster has his own redemption story, and we’ll highlight a few here.

We’ll start with the free agents. The unloading of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett at midseason last year seemed to indicate that the Red Sox were done handing out free agent contracts to pricy veterans for the time being. But they went right back to it, agreeing to a three-year $39 million contract with 31-year-old Mike Napoli (before knocking it down to one year for health reasons) and giving the same exact contract to 32-year-old Shane Victorino, who was coming off a very down year with the Phillies and Dodgers. Napoli and Victorino had put up batting averages of .227 and .255, respectively, in 2012, making the signings feel more like overpaying for name-brand vets than bargains at the time. But bargains they turned out to be, as Victorino has been a consistent force at the 2-spot, hitting .289 and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense in right field. Napoli is hitting .255, but when he’s hot he’s as scary as any slugger in the league, and has also turned in Gold Glove-level defense at first base.

Next up is John Lackey, previously considered a free agent bust so bad they couldn’t even move him in the great fire sale of 2012. Former GM Theo Epstein signed Lackey to a five-year, $82.5-million contract following his impressive 2009 season with the Angels. Lackey repaid that monster payday with three putrid years, one with a historically bad 6.20 ERA and one missed entirely for Tommy John surgery. Lackey seemed to be a bottom of the rotation starter the Red Sox would be stuck playing simply because of his massive and undeserved contract. But Lackey has gotten the last laugh. At points this year Lackey has been the Red Sox’ best pitcher and a bona fide ace on his way to a 3.44 ERA that undersells just how good he has been. With Clay Buchholz missing time, Lackey has been an integral part of the Red Sox’s rotation and success. He’s posted a WAR (wins above replacement) of 2.9, and considering he finished 2011 with a WAR of negative-2, this certainly qualifies as a redemption story.

Last up is the most amazing of all, KojiUehara. This 38-year-old vet with the energy level of a rookie first only made the news for his energetic high-fives in the dugout. But now he’s rewriting the history books. A star in the Korean leagues for many years, Koji came to the MLB in 2009 and was inconspicuously solid, transitioning to the bullpen in 2010. He signed with the Red Sox with little fanfare, and only became the closer by default, after injuries to Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey. All he’s done with the job and his unhittable splitter is post a 1.12 ERA for the season and at one point record 37 consecutive outs, the best ever stretch by a pitcher over 33 innings. Koji has been the most unhittable pitcher in the American league, and for a period made the idea of pitcher with only 70 innings under his belt winning the Cy Young Award.

We haven’t even mentioned the revelation of street free agent Mike Carp or the incredible bounce back season of Jacoby Ellsbury. All these great individual seasons have combined for a storybook worst-to-first year for the Red Sox. These great signings by GM Ben Cherington have the Red Sox primed to make a deep postseason under the solid management of John Farrell, and they may pull of the ultimate redemption story: Bringing a World Series trophy back to Boston.