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5 for 5: How did Red Sox flip the script?

10/3/2013

In the days leading to the ALDS, we’ll ask five people -- our four Red Sox pundits and one reader -- to answer five questions about this surprisingly successful Red Sox team.

Today’s question: What’s the biggest reason for the Red Sox’s worst-to-first transformation? And how much stock do you put in the character/chemistry argument?

• Gordon Edes: Sox made the most of their do-over

It all changed for the Red Sox on Aug. 25, 2012, when through a fortuitous set of circumstances the Sox were able to execute a transformative trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, unloading the players they thought would be their foundational pieces for the rest of the decade -- Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, along with Josh Beckett and Nick Punto -- and freeing up $262 million in the process.

No one gets to hit the reset button the way the Sox did when they found a willing buyer in the Dodgers, who had just gone through an ownership change that left them flush with cash and a desire to make a huge impression on a fan base turned off by the greed of bankrupt owner Frank McCourt. The trade required a coordinated effort from ownership and GM Ben Cherington to execute, and a mutual acknowledgment that the previous master plan was an abject failure.

Given the chance to do it differently, Cherington and new manager John Farrell proceeded to reshape the roster, with the added focus of identifying good players who wanted to play in Boston and would thrive there. That may not be the textbook definition of “character,” but the Sox obviously found the right characters for this market.

• Joe McDonald: The right guys at the right time

This transformation has everything to do with the changes Cherington made during the offseason. Hiring Farrell gave the manager instant credibility in the clubhouse. Once he was in place, Cherington and Farrell built the roster from the clubhouse out, stressing both character and talent. Cherington complemented the core with well-respected guys like Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, David Ross, Mike Napoli and Mike Carp.

The chemistry this team had was evident as early as spring training, and it never waned throughout the summer and now into fall.

• Tony Lee: Holdovers had something to prove

The impact of imports Victorino, Napoli, Gomes, Koji Uehara and others was massive. However, what has elevated the Red Sox has been the return to form of the holdovers, the very ones who languished through 2012, either healthy or not.

John Lackey transitioned from a sidelined malcontent (in the eyes of some) to a cap-doffing workhorse. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz saw their combined ERAs drop from 4.70 to 3.08. Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz played in the same game 12 times in 2012. They were lineup linchpins this year alongside Dustin Pedroia, who saw upticks at the plate and produced perhaps the best defensive year ever for a Red Sox second baseman.

It is impossible to quantify the effect of improved chemistry, but Victorino & Co. could not have an impact until they were welcomed to the fold by revitalized remnants.

• Kyle Brasseur: Forget chemistry, it’s consistency

This Red Sox team never fell below .500 at any point this season, never lost four or more games consecutively and was swept only once all season. Meanwhile, last year’s Red Sox team was swept in their first series of the year and had lost four games in a row 13 games into the season. There’s a lot of stock to put into the character/chemistry argument; the players and coaching staff on this team picked each other up after tough losses and never let things spiral out of control. Here they are, in the postseason 97 wins later.

• Reader Mike P. from Mystic, Conn.: Sox earned my respect back

A well-respected manager and healthy, talented players get you lots of wins, and I think those factors probably account for the great chemistry, more so than the other way around. But those factors don't guarantee the chemistry either. IMO, the great chemistry and character of this team, while maybe not the major factor in a successful season, certainly adds the icing on the cake and maybe, just maybe, provides the extra little edge that could propel this team to a championship. At a minimum, it accounts for the feeling on the part of lots of Red Sox fans that this team, that we were so disappointed in last year, has done all the right things to regain our respect and loyalty. And, since I watch almost every Red Sox game on TV (and go to a few at Fenway, as well), I can honestly say that the chemistry and character of this team has made watching the Red Sox fun again.

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