10/9/2013 6:15 P.M. ET
Many straws stir the drink for ALCS-bound Red Sox
Offense, pitching, defense ... Boston has excelled on all fronts this season
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
BOSTON -- Perhaps overshadowed by the shaggy beards and the much-talked-about team chemistry is the true beauty of the 2013 Red Sox.
This is a team that doesn't rely on one ingredient or one superstar. Instead, it does everything well. And those can be the toughest teams to beat.
It has all blended into a recipe that has the Red Sox brimming with confidence -- and just four more wins from reaching the World Series. The American League Championship Series starts Saturday (watch on FOX).
This team can outslug you or it can win with small ball. And Boston has won on numerous occasions this season just by grinding the other team's pitcher out.
When was the last time a Boston team had three playmakers at the top of the order like Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia?
Think about it: All three of those players can beat you with an infield hit, a gapper or a home run. And they can all steal a base.
"We're going to find a way to beat you a thousand different ways," Pedroia said of his team on Tuesday.
And there are other occasions when these Red Sox win simply because their pitching and defense is better than the other team's.
"Our style -- our offense, our defense, our starting pitching and bullpen speaks for itself, so we've just got to continue to do that," said Jonny Gomes. "This team can bang, and at the same time, these guys play the game right. You talk about taking the extra base. You're talking about leadoff walks -- not trying to hit a leadoff homer. Just passing the torch and picking each other up."
The Red Sox have won championships in the not-so-distant past, but in a less-balanced way than this year's group.
Back in October 2004, sometimes it seemed that Boston would grind through a game and just wait for David Ortiz to provide a walk-off hit. And on numerous occasions he did.
With this team, the hero can be anyone at any time. Ortiz is still capable of the big moment. But it could just as well be Victorino hitting a little broken-bat bleeder, like the one that helped knock out the Rays in Game 4 of the AL Division Series. Or it could be Xander Bogaerts having the composure to work a walk in his first postseason plate appearance, setting him up to score the tying run on a wild pitch.
Go back to October 2007. Sure, a lot of players stepped up. But the biggest reason the Red Sox were in position to win the World Series that year is because Josh Beckett (4-0, 1.20 ERA) had a postseason for the ages.
With this team, the pitcher who turns in the gem can be Jon Lester or John Lackey or Clay Buchholz or Jake Peavy.
Though it isn't known yet who the Red Sox will play in the ALCS, you can be sure their opponent -- be it the Athletics or Tigers -- will spend hours trying to find a clear weakness and might be discouraged when they can't find any.
If either Jim Leyland or Bob Melvin needs to commiserate, Rays manager Joe Maddon will likely be all ears.
"Again, when you look at their lineup, and look at the very top, Ellsbury," Maddon said. "Victorino really adds a different dimension to that group. He just drips with intangibles. That's just who he is. Papi as well. Pedroia, like I said, is pretty much the heart and soul of that entire group.
"Napoli, I proclaimed it the year of the Napoli a couple of years ago. I've always felt that way about him. Jonny Gomes, the same thing. They have all that stuff going on. They have a wonderful bullpen. They're just good, man. They're good. They're the reason we're sitting here not winning right now. They beat us all season."
Though the Red Sox have players who suit their balanced style of play, their manager deserves much of the credit for instilling it.
"Without John [Farrell], I don't think we would have been here," said Ortiz. "He's the head of this body right here. He's been getting it done since Day One. I really appreciate everything he got done for us."
But there is still more to do.
"We've got 25 guys who prioritize winning a game over any kind of individual accomplishment or accolade," said lefty setup man Craig Breslow. "The result has been a lot of wins. Guys talk all the time about how the only thing that matters in the postseason is winning, but I feel like for 162 games, the only thing that mattered to us was winning also."