It's an epithet to suggest that a team's been lucky in a single game, much less an entire season. Orioles fans bristled at the suggestion last year, when the O's went 100-2 in extra-inning games. The very notion disgusted me when I followed the '97 Giants, who won their division despite being outscored. What does luck have to do with baseball, good sir?
Everything. Kind of. The whole game is predicated on round spheres falling in open spaces, just out of the reach of trained professionals. But more than that, luck can extend to transactions. The Pirates were lucky that the Nationals weren't cuckoo for Francisco Liriano instead of Dan Haren. The Dodgers were a little lucky that the Yankees weren't cuckoo for Hyun-jin Ryu. The Cardinals were lucky that 18 different teams weren't cuckoo for Michael Wacha in the 2012 draft.
So I'd like to explore the luck of the 2013 Red Sox. If you're uncomfortable with that terminology, then use "good fortune" instead of "luck." Or … look, if you don't embrace the fortuitous bounces of the pachinko ball, then I don't think you really understand what baseball's about. Here are five things that benefitted the Red Sox this season that didn't have to happen.
Mike Napoli's magic hip
The Red Sox targeted Napoli, and for good reason. A monster hitter who can fake his way behind the plate is a valuable thing, especially if he can spend his days off at first base.
Napoli never spent a day behind the plate for the Sox. And he was pretty close to never getting to Boston in the first place. From MLB Trade Rumors:
A three-year, $39MM guarantee with the Red Sox for slugger Mike Napoli was renegotiated all the way down to a one-year, $5MM contract in the course of about two months during the offseason, as a physical revealed he has avascular necrosis (AVN) in both hips.
The savings from that deal were passed on to Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, and Stephen Drew. And the kicker was that Napoli was healthy all year. He was exactly the player the Red Sox were expecting for three years and $39 million. But at a price that allowed them to improve elsewhere.
Edit: Marc Normandin of Over The Monster points out that Napoli made the full $13 million this year for staying on the active roster, and that Gomes and Victorino were already in the fold when Napoli signed his original, expensive deal. Oh. Well, what about the money for Jake Peavy, smart guy? Huh?
But it looks like the luck with Napoli was more restricted to him staying healthy, which was something of a surprise.
Koji Uehara is the closer
Don't get me wrong. If Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan were healthy, the Red Sox would have a stronger bullpen. On paper. Which is all we have to go on. But maybe Bailey doesn't get Prince Fielder and/or Miguel Cabrera in Game 3. Maybe Hanrahan biffs two games against the Rays. All we know now is that the Red Sox are in a pretty good spot, and they got there with Uehara being fantastic.
The plan for the 2013 rotation worked out
That plan was this: Hope that Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester are good again, and sign Ryan Dempster. And, I dunno, maybe John Lackey's good again?
Stare at that for a bit. It's ridiculous. And Dempster wasn't very good, so it's not like the big free-agent gambit saved the rotation. They hoped for the hurt/ineffective pitchers to be healthy/effective. And it worked. Now ain't that some kind of …
Everything about Daniel Nava
The odds of Nava going from the College of San Mateo to the ALCS are about the same as my wife going from the College of San Mateo to being married to a crazy-hot baseball writer. Which is what happened in both cases. Not sure where I'm going with this, but the main point is that 29 other teams had a shot at Nava for years and years and years.
Do you have any idea how crazy his story is? All it took was one scout saying, "You know …" to screw everything up.
The Dodgers existed
It takes a different kind of organization to accept the contracts of Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett as a tax on getting Adrian Gonzalez for several prospects. And if I might be so bold, it's not the kind of organization that's ever existed before. Maybe the Yankees in their frittering prime, but not necessarily. It was a confluence of new owners looking to make loud noises, TV deals going crazy, and a rich team looking to sell. Everything had to be just so.
And the savings led to a $39 million Mike Napoli. Which was later discounted because of irregularities in a medical report, and then those savings were invested elsewhere.
The Red Sox are a smart team. Their struggles over the last two years were weird, and I'm not sure if they were predictable. But the current regime figured out a way to get back in a hurry, and they executed a deft plan.
But there was a little good fortune. If any of the above didn't happen, you wouldn't notice. That's the thing. If Napoli re-signs with the Rangers, you don't even think about how that affects the Red Sox. If Bailey's healthy, well, that's the point, right? If the Dodgers don't make an insane move (that's worked out for them, by the by …), and the Red Sox are still impotent in the offseason.
The Red Sox aren't lucky. They're just not unlucky. And they had to have a lot of tumblers fall into place to be two wins from the World Series.