For anyone who suffered – and I mean SUFFERED through the 2012 season – the first half of the 2013 season has been a sometimes giddy and mostly satisfying ride if you’re a Red Sox fan.
Watching Daniel Nava, Jose Iglesias and Koji Uehara has been a genuine treat. Shane Victorino, when healthy, has been a real plus. Seeing Jacoby Ellsbury slowly return to form - it appears he was still suffering from the effects of his 2012 shoulder injury early on – has been something to savor, especially if it really is his last season in Boston.
In short, the team has exceeded all expectations so far, yet still has a lot to prove if they’re really going to turn it around in a hurry. It is the rare bird in Major League Baseball that can actually pull off the worst to first trick.
With that as the backdrop, let’s get down to business.
Boston’s offense has been bolstered by some timely and unlikely pop. Mike Carp is batting .313 with 112 at bats under his belt in spot roles. Dustin Pedroia has had a monster year so far, batting .325 and literally playing every day while making all the plays, all with a torn thumb muscle. Big Papi has returned to form, albeit with less power but he is still on pace to knock in over 100 runs and is batting .317 after getting a late start on his season.
And then there’s Jose Iglesias, the most improbable offensive story of the year. Frankly, Iggy is killing it. He leads the team in batting average (.414), on base percentage (.461) and is number three in on base plus slugging percentage. Not bad for a guy always know as all glove, no stick.
Collectively, the team is batting .276, just six points off the MLB leading Tigers’ pace. They have been disciplined at the plate as well, again just four percentage points behind MLB leading Oakland in walks. Not bad at all for a team that ranked 10th and 29th respectively in 2012.
Boston ranks near the middle of the pack (14) among major league teams with a .985 fielding percentage. They have in large part moved to correct the issue by sending down team errors leader Will Middlebrooks (8) and trading Pedro Ciriaco (7).
Still, watching Mike Napoli attempt to handle a pop up can be an excruciating experience. Napoli has five errors so far this season. If Napoli and the more than a dozen players who made single errors do the tighten up in the second half fielding should take care of itself.
Yes, there has been hand-wringing aplenty about Jon Lester lately and Clay Buchholz can’t seem to get healthy after a smokin’ start. The bottom line is that Lester and Buchholz had 17 wins between them in the first half of the season.
John Lackey is enjoying his best season in a Boston uniform. He’s lost some games that never should have been, primarily due to a sometimes shaky bullpen but he’s been getting stronger with each start and his control has been pinpoint. In 78.1 innings pitched he’s walked only 17 batters. Lackey is currently 5-5 but with a 2.99 ERA and good health is poised for a strong second half.
A handful of starters (Ryan Dempster, 5, Felix Doubront, 4) , spot starters (Alfredo Aceves, 4) and relievers (Junichi Tazawa, 4) have made important contributions to Bostons’ success so far. On the other hand, the bullpen can implode on any given night and Boston is still in search of a real closer. Sure, Uehara has been very good since stepping into the role but it just doesn’t feel sustainable. At this point Andrew Bailey remains a major question mark in any role.
As a staff, Boston garnered just one win less (49) than MLB leading Pittsburgh (50). That’s right, I said Pittsburgh. What needs to get fixed is their WHIP (the average number of walks and hits by a pitching staff), a critical measure of pitching efficiency. Boston’s offensive prowess in the first half of the season masked their number 24 WHIP ranking.
AL East teams are bunched up and ready to pounce when give the opportunity. They will beat on one another down the stretch and the Sox will have to be ready to stand tall to weather the storm. Get ready and strap in kids. The second half is shaping up to be a wild ride.