This years Boston Red Sox have been a huge surprise. Currently sitting a half game back in what most people would consider the toughest division baseball, the Sox have succeeded despite shipping superstar players like Nick Punto (Oh, and Adrian Gonzales, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett). On paper this year's Sox are not nearly as talented as last year's team was and yet their performance leaves no question, the 2013 Sox are a better team. The question is then, how are they doing it?
The answer is actually a very simple one. General manager Ben Cherington has acquired players who fit a particular role and manager John Farrell is putting those players in positions where they can succeed. A huge component of this practice has been placing hitters in match-ups they can consistently win.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a prime example of this approach. Salty is a switch hitter but traditionally has hit better from the left side of the dish than the right (this year he's hitting .160 from the right and .289 from the left). While last year the Sox utilized Salty as an everyday player, this year he has started primarily in games against right-handed pitchers and his batting average is a healthy .260 as a result. And it's not just Salty, either. Daniel Nava has faced primarily righties, is hitting almost .300 and is third on the team in both home runs and RBIs. Even Mike Carp is hitting over .300! Mike Carp!
While there are certainly a number of other reasons for the Sox success including a remarkable starting rotation, an unprecedented level of team chemistry and Koji Uehara's emergence as arguably the most likeable player on the team, the utilization of players in situations where they can succeed has allowed the Sox to excel.
There are those who may argue that this isn't Sox baseball or that moneyball doesn't work but this team is reminiscent of the '04 team that had Dave Roberts stealing bases and Doug Mientkiewicz stealing baseballs. It's a long season, but if the Sox can stay healthy and continue to utilize players intelligently this team is a legitimate contender and a hell of a lot of fun to watch.