The Improbable Dream Part IV: Against All Odds

The Improbable Dream

Legendary WHDH commentator Ken Coleman described the 1967 Impossible Dream season by saying it was “really a love story, an affair betwixt a town and a team.” No team embodied this sentiment more than the 2013 Boston Red Sox.

Within the first month of the season, the City of Boston saw itself reckoning with the tragic Boston Marathon bombing. As the city recovered, the Red Sox put them on their backs and carried on. The delivery of a World Series to a town rocked by tragedy seems like an ending fit for a Disney movie, not something that actually happened. Yet, it did.  

Much like they had before the 1967 season, the Red Sox brought in a new, hard-nosed manager to get the team in line. Former Red Sox pitcher coach, John Farrell, was bought back to Boston after having managed the Toronto Blue Jays for the previous two seasons.

To supplement the core that had left after 2012, the Sox signed a number of veterans. David Ross, Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and Stephen Drew all joined Boston entering 2013. The media didn’t really think much of these moves, and they didn’t really see the Red Sox as serious playoff contenders. 

But the media was wrong. Incredibly wrong. 


When people talk about the 2013 Red Sox, a lot of attention is given two things: the Marathon tragedy and, of course, the beards. There’s another narrative, however, that warrants attention: The 2013 Red Sox were a dominant force.

This was a major difference from the 1967 Red Sox. The “Impossible Dream” team that also defied dire and pessimistic expectations to reach the World Series were as far as seven games back of a playoff spot as late as July 8th. They had to claw their way to a World Series berth. 

The 2013 Red Sox were another story entirely. They only spent 18 games out of the division lead. They first took the AL East lead by defeating the New York Yankees on the road in the first two games of the season. The farthest back they ever fell was three games after a May 14th loss on the road to the Tampa Bay Rays.

It was never really in doubt that the Sox would make the playoffs. They dealt with injuries (most notably to third baseman Will Middlebrooks and pitcher Clay Buchholz), but they were able to power through successfully. 

A Team Hitting Effort

The 2013 Boston Red Sox was also the ultimate team effort. 

Across Major League Baseball, 106 players batted in 140 games or more – only one Red Sox player did so. Dustin Pedroia played in 160 games. His closest counterpart was Mike Napoli, who played in 139 games.

He was followed by David Ortiz, who played in 137 games, and Jacoby Ellsbury and Daniel Nava, who each played in 134 games. These are the only Sox players who played in 130 or more games. 

On the other hand, the National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals had five batters who played in more than 140 games. They also had eight players who played in more than 130 games. 

At the plate and on the field, the Red Sox were able to plug holes with prospects Jose Iglesias, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. They even traded Iglesias in a three-team trade at the trade deadline to acquire Jack Peavy (Iglesias returned to aid the Sox in a playoff run in 2021).

Future fan favorite, ultimate utility man, and the first man to hit for the cycle in the postseason, Brock Holt made his Sox debut in 2013. 

The crazy thing was, it just worked

The Red Sox were the only team in baseball to score more than five runs per game and the only team to score more than 800 runs. They led the league in On-Base Percentage (OBP) with a .349.

They also did this without relying too much on the home run. They were 7th in the league with 178 home runs (the Orioles were the only team with more than 200 home runs). 

Holes in Pitching

The team was less dominant on the mound, allowing 613 runs, which was good enough for 14th in the Major Leagues. The team gave up 156 runs, good enough for 16th in the Major Leagues. The pitching issues that had plagued the team in recent seasons had not gone away, and you could argue that it never has gone away. 

There were bright spots. John Lackey returned, pitched an entire season, and played a pivotal role in the team’s World Series win. He was a solid #2 starter. However, team ace Jon Lester posted a 3.75 ERA, 52nd in the league (Lackey was only slightly better with a 3.52 ERA).

Clay Buchholz posted a 1.74 ERA but missed time due to injury and only started 16 games. Buchholz missing time due to injury would become a recurring trend in the years to come. 

The warning signs that plagued the Red Sox in the years following 2013 were starting to show. 

Why It Didn’t Last

If the 2013 Red Sox also had one fatal flaw – it was the team’s age. The batter’s average age (as measured by Baseball Reference) was 29.6, a year older than the league average of 29.6 and the fifth oldest in baseball. 

One could argue that the Red Sox didn’t actually address the systemic issues that plagued them. They still had league-average (at best) pitching.

The team was carried by its exceptional hitting with recent acquisitions like Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, and Shane Victorino. They combined with team stalwarts David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury to be key contributors.

However, Gomes, Napoli, and Victorino were not pieces around which you could build a team. It didn’t help that Ellsbury left the team after 2013 to join the Yankees. 

Some of the other pieces just weren’t meant to last. Third-year player Daniel Nava had a career year and was never again as good as he was in 2013. He was decent in 2014, but fell off substantially in 2015 and was shipped out of Boston.

The late Nick Carfardo even compared utility player Mike Carp (who played in 86 games) to David Ortiz. It was a career year for Carp, but he would play his last major league game and be out of the league by the end of the 2014 season.

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks (who had the lowest OBP on the team) failed to hit above the Mendoza line in 2014. He was out of Boston at the end of the season. Middlebrooks was touted as the third baseman of the future. 

Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a career year and opted to leave Boston for Miami at the end of the 2013 season. He was never again as good as he was in 2013. 

Waking Up From a Dream

Like I said at the start – the season was like a Disney sports movie. 

I call it the Improbable Dream because the whole thing was not only improbable but the season’s performance was like a dream. It was the exception to reality. Unfortunately, the team woke up in 2014 and faced their reality. 

The Boston Red Sox were a team with substantial underlying problems that won a World Series on the back of career years and key contributors outperforming expectations. The team (with many of the same players) regressed just a year later, finishing the 2014 season with a record of 71-91. This left them in last place in the American League East. The team only scored 634 runs that season, down substantially from the year before. 

The Anatomy of a Trade series from earlier this year talks about the Sox’s struggles of the 2010s and how they impacted the team. The 2013 Boston Red Sox was an improbable mixture of guys having career seasons and key acquisitions exceeding expectations.  

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