COMMENTARY | The Boston Red Sox just finished off a marvelous 2013 regular season that saw them win 97 games and secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
While the outcome of their postseason is yet to be determined, there are reasons why the team can already consider the season a major success.
Here are the four biggest positives from the regular season:
There was a successful overhaul of the team's identity: The 2012 Red Sox were an eminently loathsome group for fans. Led by controversial manager Bobby Valentine, they mustered a meager total of 69 wins while embroiled in an ongoing run of clubhouse controversies.
Boston general manager Ben Cherington totally remade the team during the offseason. He hired new manager John Farrell and brought in free agents that emphasized clubhouse chemistry while creating a veteran bridge to see the Red Sox through until their promising crop of prospects are able to contribute.
Solid but unspectacular veterans like Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino and Koji Uehara among others were signed to modest contracts. They helped the Red Sox have one of their most successful seasons in recent memory, popularizing shaggy beards and enthusiastic high-fives along the way.
Almost overnight, the Red Sox completely changed their identity from an unpopular group of malcontents to an infectiously fun bunch of misfits who do whatever it takes to win, while keeping smiles on their faces. Regardless of what happens in the playoffs, the future looks a lot brighter now than it did a year ago at this time.
It was discovered John Lackey can still pitch: Big things were expected from the veteran right-handed starter after he signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with Boston prior to the 2010 season. Unfortunately, he pitched poorly, was a central figure in the infamous "chicken and beer" controversy, and missed all of 2012 because of Tommy John surgery.
Having not pitched in more than a year, Lackey entered this season with a lot of question marks about how he could perform and significant ground to make up with disappointed fans.
The 34-year-old did just about everything right this season. He showed up to spring training in the best shape of his career, which contributed to a remarkably consistent season. He went just 10-13 but had a 3.52 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 29 starts.
The consistency Lackey showed makes the remainder of his contract a surprising bargain. He is owed $15.25 million in 2014, but is under team control for the league minimum in 2015 because of a clause in his contract that kicked in following his surgery.
The kids got a chance to play: Make no mistake about it, this year's Red Sox was a very veteran group led by the likes of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester. However, they won't be able to play forever, and the team's very promising group of young players started to emerge at the major league level.
On the offensive side, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and shortstop Xander Bogaerts, two of the best prospects in baseball, were promoted to Boston during the season and held their own while getting their feet wet.
Among the pitchers, Alex Wilson, Drake Britton and Brandon Workman made important contributions to the bullpen following mid-season call-ups. Meanwhile, Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster had flashes of promise during their stints with the team.
The youngsters who made their way to Boston are a major part of the foundation of the future, but they aren't alone. The team has one of the deepest farm systems in baseball, which should give the big league club the ability to be well-stocked and in contention for years to come.
A rivalry was rekindled with the New York Yankees: It used to be that games between New York and Boston were can't-miss affairs. The Red Sox sought to end an 86-year streak without winning a World Series, as the Yankees won a plethora of championships, which led to their games becoming one of the fiercest rivalries in sports.
After the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007, the intensity of the games between the two teams didn't seem the same. That changed this summer.
Boston pitcher Ryan Dempster hit New York third baseman Alex Rodriguez with a pitch that many believed was motivated by his dislike for the controversial slugger. The high tensions and back-and-forth game that ensued was reminiscent of the way things used to be and rekindled a rivalry that had slipped into near-dormancy.
Conclusion: The perfect end to the 2013 season for the Red Sox would be taking home their third World Series trophy in the past decade. While it remains to be seen if the team can pull off that monumental task, the Red Sox can already chalk the regular season up as a success. Not only did they entertain and captivate their fans, but they also appear to have a positive and productive system in place that has set them up for many more possible successful seasons to come.
In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.
You can also follow Andrew on Twitter: @HistorianAndrew.
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