As my first post, I felt it only made sense for me to write about the team that people love to hate (not the Yankees) and the team I never shut up about even if no one is listening. With the first half of the baseball season ending tomorrow, I thought it was time to look back at the first half of a team many thought to be a world series contender. The first half has very much been a success even though they had to fight through injuries, a slow start and inconsistent pitching at times.
The infield is anchored at first base by a guy who had huge expectations placed upon him even before he ever swung a bat as a Red Sox. This man is Adrian Gonzalez, who was acquired in a trade over the winter from the San Diego Padres for prospects Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo and utility man Eric Patterson. He has lived up to and even exceeded what the Red Sox were expecting, he leads the American League in batting average and runs batted in and has most definitely been the teams most valuable player in the first half. Dustin Pedroia has had a very nice season with the bat and the glove, providing many spectacular plays that have saved tons of runs. The shortstop position continues to be an issue for the Sox as early in the year Jed Lowrie was healthy and swinging a strong bat but then he went down and Marco Scutaro has not been able to provide much in his absence at least at the plate. Kevin Youkilis made the transition back to third base this year after the acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez and has done a great job at the hot corner. He started off slow offensively as most of the team did but has turned it on lately and has provided solid defense despite battling some nagging injuries all year. For a good portion of the first half the Red Sox received next to no support offensively from their catching position and at some times have been a liability defensively and throwing out runners. The platoon of Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia have not torn the cover off the ball but have been hitting better lately and are calling games much better than earlier in the season.
The outfield all starts in center field with the all star Jacoby Ellsbury, who only played a handful of games last year and has returned in a big way this season. Along with leading the league in stolen bases and fourth in the league in runs scored, he has played an exceptional center field and had some jaw dropping catches that have saved runs. The left field position was supposed to be solved for many years when the Red Sox opened their wallets and signed Carl Crawford to a seven year, 142 million dollar contract. After getting through a dreadful first month, he began smoking the ball until he was placed on the disabled list with a hamstring strain. When these two get back in the lineup together in mid July, they will be a terror for opposing pitching staffs to deal with at the plate and on the bases. Just like the catching position, the right field platoon of J.D. Drew and Mike Cameron is just not working out this year. This platoon was so bad offensively that on June 30th the Red Sox placed Mike Cameron on waivers and dealt him to Florida for cash considerations. J.D. Drew is in the last year of his contract and has made it no secret he plans on retiring at the end of the year. If the Red Sox make a deal at the trade deadline a right fielder will definitely be one of the major priorities.
Coming into this season the Red Sox were projected to have a top five pitching rotation, but injuries and inconsistency have made that rotation good but not great. Josh Beckett who had a horrible season last year has bounced back and looked dominate at points this season, going late into games and striking out a ton of hitters. Josh has returned to all star form in the first half with 8 wins and the third best era in the American League. Jon Lester, who was just placed on the disabled list with back soreness is not having as dominating a season as Beckett, but has ten wins at the break and is in the top ten in the AL in strikeouts. A guy who has been hot and cold for the Sox in the first half has been Clay Buchholz, who is coming off a breakout season where he put up all star stuff all last season. This year he has looked unhittable at points but has struggled as well and is now on the disabled list with back problems. The back end of the rotation has absolutely been a train wreck this year with the combination of about four pitchers who have struggled to keep them in the game. The first two disappointments are two contracts that have not turned out for the Sox, these two men are Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey. Matsuzaka signed a six year, 52 million dollar contract and is done for the year and may never pitch an inning for them again after having tommy john surgery. John Lackey signed a five year, 82.5 million dollar deal and currently has a .307 batting average against him. The other two guys are Tim Wakefield, originally expected to be a long reliever who has been above average in the rotation and Andrew Miller who was a high pick with the Detroit Tigers and then dealt in the Miguel Cabrera trade to Florida has been decent in four starts this season.
After struggling with a good portion of their bullpen other than the big two last year, they went out and spent some money to fix it. They signed Dan Wheeler who has been inconsistent and injury prone all year and Bobby Jenks, who when not injured has been horrible. The good signings were Alfredo Aceves, who has made some spot starts and been decent in both roles and Matt Albers who has done a decent job in the seventh inning. The left handed specialist has not been a good spot for the Sox this year with three guys not being able to help them, they are Hideki Okajima, Rich Hill and Dennys Reyes. They all were either unreliable or in Hill’s case got injured and are done for the year. A left hander in their bullpen may also be a spot of interest in the trade market in late July. The back of the bullpen has to be one of the best in baseball with Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. Bard, who is the closer of the future for the Red Sox got off to a rough start but since April has been fantastic leading the American League in holds and posting an era right around two. This is most likely the last season you will see Jonathan Papelbon in Red Sox uniform as he is a free agent at the end of the year. He very much like Bard struggled through April but has settled down to be top five in the league in saves but his era could still use some work.
When the Red Sox picked up his 12.5 million dollar option the Sox were worried that he was aging and not the same player that was destroying pitchers and getting clutch hits late in games. Boy did they make the right decision, Ortiz unlike the last few seasons did not struggle much at all in April and is on pace for eighty runs batted in and thirty homers.