In the last 2 seasons the Boston Red Sox have not lived up to expectations. Before the 2011 season some proclaimed the “best team in baseball”. They certainly had talent, but winning baseball games is about more than having talent. The 2011 and 2012 seasons were painful lessons illustrating this.
Heading into the current season, most analysts and fans were down on the Red Sox. They looked at the Blue Jays’ acquisitions (forgetting the lessons they should have learned from the ’11 Sox and ’12 Angels) and anticipated the Rays and O’s to continue to play well thereby giving the Red Sox a snowball’s chance in Hades.
I, and a few others, were not so negative. I saw a number of positive things- particularly a return to the plate approach that had made them successful in the past. Others talked about how they wouldn’t score runs. I begged to differ. So far I am right. They have one of the most productive offenses in baseball.
What is amazing is that this has happened without Middlebrooks being a middle of the line up bat. Or even productive. Or even in the majors. Big Papi has picked up where he left off with a new plate approach gained from conversations with A-Gon(e). There was a tangible benefit from that trade for Alex Gonzalez: the new and improved David Ortiz. He has simply been great the last 2 seasons. When on the field. This was a major concern after missing the last third of ’12 and all of Spring Training. But he has not had any problems with the foot. He has even stolen bases. This is a great sign.
Napoli started the season like a man on a mission. But it is a season, not a month. He struggled in June. As July has come on he has pulled out of his slump and shown a resurgence of power. He still strikes out more than you’d like but he drives in lots of runs and sees lots of pitches. He has also been more than serviceable in the field. He’s not a Gold Glove candidate but he’s not an error-machine either. With Pedrioa’s steady and often spectacular defense, the Red Sox have had a consistently good right side of the infield. Dustin has been spectacular. He has made so many amazing and crucial plays it is uncanny. While his power numbers have been down, he is still doing his job at the plate. I can’t fathom why he was only 3rd in AL All-Star voting for 2nd. Apparently no one is watching the Destroyer play. When you consider he’s playing with a completely torn ligament in his thumb, it is even more amazing. Petey is just amazing and we need to enjoy the greatness while it remains.
The left side of the infield has been built with smoke, mirrors and chewed gum. Drew has been on the DL a few times thanks to injuries. He started in a horrific slump but was on a hot streak when he had his latest injury. This is what many fans feared since his last name is Drew. Despite the inconsistent hitting, he has played very well defensively. The season started with Iglesias at short. His spectacular defense was not a surprise. Hitting .400 was. But he was returned to AAA when Drew returned prompting much fan angst. But Middlebrooks struggled too. He struggled with his plate approach and injuries. He also had a few trips to the DL allowing Iglesias the opportunity to play 3rd base and continue to rack up the hits. It is only in the last few weeks that he has dipped below .400. He has played both 3rd and SS to provide superior defense for the Sox. Will was sent back to the minors to get his plate approach back, allowing Iglesias to stay up and a patchwork of AAA lifers have filled in well enough for the Red Sox to keep winning.
The outfield has been full of surprises as well. Daniel Nava has built an All-Star caliber season while moving back and forth between right and left. He has provided some solid defense as well. Victorino has hit better than most people expected after last year. His defense has been superior. But his aggressive play has meant a few trips to the DL with an assortment of injuries. Jacoby started slowly, and struggled with some injuries along the way. But as the season wore on he rediscovered the ability to hit. The power still isn’t there, but he’s getting on base and scoring runs- exactly what a leadoff hitter should do.
Looking at the numbers, Gomes hasn’t hit well. But he’s had some very timely hits. His contribution is in the clubhouse most of all. He is one of the leaders, along with Napoli, that have helped completely rehab the clubhouse chemistry. This has helped keep them from long losing streaks. Mike Carp has been a “super-sub” hitting very well in his limited time. Jackie Bradley has done many things well when he has been up, but still isn’t ready to play in the majors full time.
Starting pitching has been mystifying. Lester and Buchholz started off like men looking to win the Cy Young: dominating! It was amazing. It as promising. It didn’t last. Buchholz did what he does, get hurt and missed over a month after having his new born baby daughter sleep on him. Lester reverted to “Last Year Lester” as his mechanics failed. You’d think this would doom the Red Sox. It didn’t.
John Lackey has been absolutely amazing. He has pitched better than he ever has. He has to be a Comeback Player nominee. He has been the ace of the staff for most of the season. Dempster has been solid, usually giving the Sox a chance to win. Doubront looked horrible for the first few months of the season. I was ready to dump him. Suddenly, everything fell together for him and he has been exception in his last 11 or so starts. He’s going deeper, but like early Lester just not deep enough yet.
Last year it was the spot starters that killed them. They got NOTHING from those guys. This year they have gotten a number of good outings from Webster, Aceves, and Workman. Not always, but more than enough. Aceves continued to self-sabotage and just found himself going through waivers and assigned to the minors only to be seen again in case of absolute disaster.
The pen started mostly strong, but has had to absorb another of devastating injuries and some poor performances. They are on their 4th closer and hopefully Bailey will get his act together so he can close again. That would strengthen the pen since you can’t over-use Uehara. Morales has been on the DL with periodic appearances in the line up. Miller’s foot injury ended his season which was dominating despite the walks. They just added Thornton from the White Sox. The bullpen needs the break since some guys are overworked due to injury and the fact that some of the starters struggle to go deep into games.
The Red Sox have the best record in the AL. They have spent most of the season in first place. They have avoided losing streaks and they genuinely seem to care for each other and playing together. This has helped them succeed in a way the last 2 teams could not. Farrell has provided the steady influence Valentine could not. He keeps problems from becoming stories (even with Aceves) instead of creating problems like Bobby V did.
What will the 2nd half the season bring? No one knows. While they have weathered numerous injuries, a few key injuries could spell disaster like in past seasons. But this I know, I think they have regained the confidence of Red Sox fans. I think they have shown that management is not as inept as some feared and claimed. I saw evidence of this long before they showed it on the field. Their goal is to continue to repel the charges of their AL East rivals. The Yankees and Orioles have made impressive runs but fallen back. They could come back again. Right now the Rays are playing very well and surging. They have cut the Red Sox lead to 2 1/2 games. Should be an interesting rest of the season.