The 1912 Red Sox remain arguably the best club in franchise history, thanks largely to all-time great seasons by ace starter Joe Wood and future Hall of Fame center fielder Tris Speaker and a handful of career years by starters and infielders who would fail to replicate those seasons in subsequent campaigns.
On top of that, Wood was beset by injuries that would ultimately derail his career. He managed only 23 appearances in 1913 with just a 129 ERA+. His WAR dropped from 9.6 in 1912 to 2.5 the next year. By 1914, he seemed done, posting a league-average 2.62 ERA in just 18 appearances. At 24, Wood seemed done.
As a result, the Sox were scrambling for starters.
In 1913, 21-year-old Dutch Leonard made his debut, posting solid numbers in 259 innings, doing his part to bolster a suddenly mediocre pitching staff. In 1914, the Sox made wholesale changes, jettisoning one-hit wonder Buck O'Brien, moving the struggling Hugh Bedient into the bullpen and purchasing the contract of Ernie Shore from the International League Baltimore Orioles, which underwent a firesale as it struggled against new competition from the Federal League. 1914 also marked the emergence of Rube Foster, who had made a limited debut the year before, and the purchase of another young Baltimore pitcher.
George Herman "Babe" Ruth didn't see much action that year — a 70 ERA+ in four games, three starts — but he was penciled into the rotation for 1915 alongside Foster, Leonard, Wood, Shore and mainstay Ray Collins.
The promise was there: Leonard set a record in 1914 that stands today with his 0.96 ERA. Lest you chalk that up to the dead ball, his 279 ERA+ remains the second-best mark for a starter since 1901 (Pedro Martinez's 2000 is first). Foster had a miniscule 1.70 ERA (158 ERA+) in 211 innings, and Shore had a sterling 2.00 ERA (135) in 139 innings after coming up from Baltimore. The 1914 Red Sox allowed the fewest runs in the league.
The offense had remained solid, dropping only to second in OPS and third in runs in 1913 after leading the league in both categories during their championship season. The all-time great outfield of Lewis, Speaker and Hooper were the core of the ballclub, as the infield's names and performances shifted in the 1913-14 seasons. By 1914, the Sox had terrific seasons from the three outfielders, first baseman Dick Hoblitzel and catcher Bill "Rough" Carrigan. They finished third in OPS and runs.
Despite winning 91 games and playing solid ball, the Sox were well behind the 99-win Philadelphia Athletics, but not many changes seemed necessary to have a chance at the title in 1915.
Indeed, the Sox' lineup barely changed. Player-manager Carrigan devoted more time to managing and less to playing, and he replaced himself with Pinch Thomas, who was typically awful at the bat, and Steve Yerkes was replaced at second by the much more competent batsman Heinie Wagner. Everett Scott may have been a great defender, but he was horrible at the plate (42 OPS+).
Still, Hoblitzell at first, Larry Gardiner at third and the trio of outfielders, none of the five older than 29, formed a solid core in the lineup. And every time his turn in the rotation came up, Ruth was a force to be considered: In just 103 plate appearances, he led the club with four home runs, posted a .576 slugging percentage and a 188 OPS+. He became the first Red Sox player not named Tris Speaker ever to break a .900 OPS in 100 or more plate appearances. Heck, his .952 OPS was the third-highest in club history to that point, behind Speaker's 1912 and 1913 seasons.
On the mound, the Sox were formidable. Leonard necessarily came back to earth, but his 2.36 ERA (119 ERA+) was still respectable. Ruth showed promise in his first full season, posting a 114 ERA+, while Foster indicated he might have been the real thing with his second straight season over 130 ERA+ (though it would actually be his last).
The true revelations, however, were Shore — 1.64 ERA (170 ERA+), third in the league in both categories, in 247 innings — and, surprisingly, Wood, who returned to start 16 games when the pain in his shoulder allowed, completing 10 of them and posting a spectacular 1.49 ERA and 1.042 WHIP despite just 3.6 K/9. He pitched solely on guile, sometimes pausing so long between pitches that fans would begin counting down.
The pitching staff was so good (five starters with a WAR of 2.5 or better, one of just 14 staffs in baseball history with that distinction, four starters over 3.0, three over 4.0), Collins was forced into the bullpen, where he was not particularly good and overshadowed by yet another young stud making his big-league debut in spitballer Carl Mays, who led the league in games finished and saves.
The 1915 season was a dogfight with Ty Cobb's Detroit Tigers. The Sox started off slowly, barely above .500 by June 1, but they won 19 or more games in each of the next four months, including a 25-5 stretch from Aug. 3 to Sept. 4 that featured three doubleheader sweeps.
Both teams won 100 games, and the season came down to the clubs' head-to-head matchups — a pair in late August won by the Sox thanks to Shore, Ruth and Leonard, who held the Tigers to two runs over the 18 innings and overcame every effort by Cobb to distract and incite them. In late September, with the Sox up 2.5 games, a crammed Fenway Park (more than 37,000 people, meaning fans were lining the outfield and foul lines) witnessed Ernie Shore pitch a 12-inning shutout of the Tigers. The win essentially clinched the pennant for the Red Sox, who swept the three-game series and finished with 101 wins, 2.5 games ahead of Detroit (which had four more losses in its 100-win season).
Win No. 100 was slow in coming. The Sox had 97 wins with 10 to play, but went 2-5 over their next seven. The century mark was reached and passed on Oct. 6, in a doubleheader sweep against the Yankees. The Sox would wait another 31 years before seeing 100 wins again, despite fielding championship teams in 1916 and 1918. The 1916 squad won just 91 games in a weak American League, while the 1918 squad played through a war-shortened season with an excellent winning percentage that still would have netted them just 98 wins.