The fried chicken and beer made for better stories. Bobby Valentine made for a better story.
But the biggest problem the Red Sox had from September 2011 through last September was that their starting pitching was the American League's worst.
So it stands to reason that the biggest reason that the Red Sox have spent the first 2 1/2 weeks of this season in first place is that their starting pitching has been the American League's best.
Simple comparison: In the first 13 games last year, Red Sox starters had a 6.09 ERA. In seven of those 13 games, the starter allowed at least four runs (including three games where the starter allowed seven runs). In the first 13 games this year, Red Sox starters have a 2.09 ERA. In each of those 13 games, the starter has allowed no more than three runs (20 runs total in that time).
The 13-game stretch allowing no more than three runs is the longest ever by a Red Sox team to begin a season. It's the longest by any American League team since the 1990 Brewers.
Those 1990 Brewers couldn't keep it going. Their starters ended up with a so-so 4.20 ERA for the season, for a team that ended up losing 88 games. For them, 13 games proved to be the ultimate "small sample size."
Will the Red Sox be any different?
Two reasons why they might: The pitching revival began in spring training, catching the eye of scouts on the west coast of Florida. Also, the two starters who have keyed the improvement both have a history (pre-September 2011) of pitching at a high level.
Jon Lester is 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA (compared to 0-2 with a 5.82 ERA through the first 13 games last year). Clay Buchholz is 3-0 with a 0.41 ERA (compared to 1-1 with a 9.00 ERA at this point last year).
Lester and Buchholz both looked much improved this spring. When they struggled at the beginning of 2012, the struggles continued all season.
The Red Sox rotation was bad at the start and bad to the end. Thirteen games in, the problem was already obvious.
Thirteen games in this year, the turnaround feels significant. If these guys keep pithing like this, it will be.