Red Sox Report Card. Second Half Homework Not Optional.


It’s inevitable that the All-Star break ushers in a mid-season gut check. The pause inevitably causes both a simultaneous look back and forward. With that in mind and lots to talk about, here is your 2012 Red Sox mid-season report.

 Starting Pitching – Grade: F
There’s no candy coating this grade. To paraphrase John Houseman from the famous Smith Barney commercial, “They earn it.”

In the first half of the season Boston’s starting pitching staff, depending on the combination you use to perform the calculations, was 34-32 with a combined 4.82 ERA. They ranked 21st of 30 MLB teams; certainly not dead last but profoundly disappointing given the raw talent and expectations. More galling than the numbers was the lack of leadership both on and off the field as the hangover from the 2011 party and resulting media hoopla spilled over into 2012.

With the exception of Felix Doubront and new starter Franklin Morales, all the starters have been uniformly bad. Even Clay Buchholz‘ 8-2 record belies the fact that Boston’s offense averaged nearly 8 runs per game when he pitched, masking many terrible outings.

And there were injuries aplenty. At one time or another Josh Beckett, Buchholz, Aaron Cook and the more injured than not Daisuke Matsuzaka were maddeningly in and out of the rotation throughout the first half of the year.

It will take health, help in the form of new blood , consistency, grit and manning up to turn this group around.

Bullpen Pitching – Grade: C
There were many solid individual performances and some stretches of great bullpen pitching in the first half but, at the end of the day, not enough. Alfredo Aceves proved he is not the answer in the closer role, blowing four saves and losing six games outright. Mark Melancon lost two games and was wretched. Over 15 games, Melancon’s ERA is 7.04. He’s been better since coming back from an extended get-your-head-on-straight trip to Pawtucket but he’ll need to turn on the afterburners to atone for a train wreck of a first half . Boston will need heaping helpings of the same if they’re to compete in the second half.

True, the staff was thrown into an instant panic when closer Aaron Bailey’s thumb injury required surgery, forcing Bobby Valentine to shuffle his pitching deck and make a decision he would come to regret, inserting Daniel Bard into the starting rotation. Bard was awful from the start and remains a mess in Pawtucket. The once confident fireballing set up man can’t find the plate anymore. Many times you can get it back. Sometimes it leaves for good. Ask Steve Blass.

Offense – Grade: C
Boston’s .268 team average and number five MLB offensive ranking belies real problems the team had and will continue to have if they can’t get healthy and if players put on the field to fill a specific role don’t do so.

With the exceptions of David Ortiz, Ryan Sweeney and Daniel Nava, who’s nifty .388 OBP makes him a very welcome addition, the rest of the team has been just OK. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, although batting .238, has had some very timely and big hits for Boston so far. I used to belittle the guy. I’ll leave him alone if he keeps playing solidly behind the dish and keeps banging out big hits.

Cody Ross is made to play in Boston. He’s a dirt dog grinder that lives for the big moment. His smile and positive vibe are contagious. During stretches of the first half, his bat and clubhouse demeanor carried the team. He came up big, until he came up injured. He’s back and that’s a good thing heading into the second half.

Although is was never expected that Mike Aviles would be the second coming of other great Boston shortstops like – well – never mind, he has been more than serviceable so far this year. He’s getting on base and playing a solid short stop, making the most of his talents.

"Without soon to return Jacoby Ellsbury  (Friday, yay!) Boston is a zero threat to steal a base or even upset a pitcher’s rhythm. Whatever happened to that delicious double threat of Ellsbury and Crawford back-to-back at the top of the lineup? Oh, that’s right – Crawford should’t be playing for Boston. Oh wait, he isn’t…still."

Adrian Gonzalez is turning out to be the highest paid singles hitter in major league baseball. He’ll get his hits, especially in non-pressure situations, and his average will always be around .300. That’s not what Boston acquired him to do. He was hired to terrorize AL pitching, mash home runs and pepper the Green Monster. He’s not doing any of that. I’ll stop writing or the grade will drop below a C.

Defense – Grade B
Not much to say here. Boston is a solid sixth in the league. They don’t make errors that kill you. All other aspects of their game have taken care of that. The Sox get major props for playing good D while hopping players from one position to the other with the frequency of a cheap ham radio.

Gonzo going to right field during both inter-league play and another bout of injuries was a a real stand up move by a nice guy that nevertheless proved near fatal occasionally for fans who saw him play right field.

Call Ups and Acquisitions – Grade: B+
Scott Podsednik (injured), Daniel Nava,Pedro Ciriaco (wow what fun!), Mauro Gomez, Darnell McDonald (now a Yankee) and Ryan Kalish have been a bumper crop of entertaining bright spots in an otherwise desultory proceeding. This lends credence to the argument that youth must be served (OK, Podesdnik made me liar on that one). Surely amongst this group there must be an emerging starter or two that, if Boston then played it’s cards right, would make the Crawford conundrum go away.

Health – Is there a grade lower than F?
It’s no one’s fault but this is suspiciously the third year running in which the injury bug has bitten the team, a disease from which they can’t seem to recover and a malady that will leave another season in ruins if the team doesn’t get healthy and quickly.

Manager – Grade: B
I’m not a huge Valentine fan but I have to say  he’s learned to keep his bazoo shut, his ego in check and keep his cool under some very trying circumstances. His early season misstep with Youk and subsequent bitch slap from Pedroia the next day has not been repeated. The last thing this team needs is more-self inflicted drama. Valentine appears to have learned that lesson quickly.

On the field, he’s made no major mistakes and has done a better than average job as 24 players on his roster at one point or another have hit the DL in the first half of the season. He’s been positive, philosophical and has handled the media well. Still and all, if things play out in the second half like they did in the first half of the season, Valentine is one and done in Boston. The curse of the Tito grinds on.

The Intangibles
Trouble in Paradise. Boston is not the desired destination for players it once was. The intense media frenzy and fishbowl atmosphere that surround Fenway Park after Boston climbed the mountain and bagged two championships in 2004 and 2007 make it less hospitable than when they were lovable underdogs.
Profiles in Lack of Courage. There are personalities on the team contributing to a lack of winning chemistry that will continue to drag the Red Sox into the abyss if management doesn’t grow a pair, get out their broom and make major changes. You know there is some serious funk going in when Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are short-tempered with the media.

Beckett has to go, period. He’s past his prime. His dour and mean-spirited approach to the game is toxic on the field, off the field and I can only surmise in the clubhouse has well. John Lackey has to go. A gargantuan bust, he’ll never be a factor in a winning tradition in Boston. Daisuke Matsuzaka, gone. Carl Crawford, gone. Reports now are that John Lester is unhappy in Boston. If his demeanor and declining performance are any indication, he too must find another home. This team has to retool in a big way. Minor tweaks aren’t going to do it. Lester can fetch a number of quality players. If he’s as unhappy as he acts, he’ll be no good on the Fenway stage going forward.

Cheers and Jeers
Most pleasant surprise: A three-way tie between Ryan Sweeney, Felix Doubront and Will Middlebrooks. Yeah, yeah Sweeney and Middlebrooks can’t stay healthy and dealing Youk short-term looks bad since he’s currently tearing up the league and playing every day for the first place White Sox. Still, Middlebrooks is the right move long-term and while the 6’4″, 240 lb. Sweeney is never going to hit bombs, he’s been good in right field and very consistent at the plate.
First half biggest stud: Hands down, David Ortiz.
First half biggest dud: I never thought this choice would be so hard. Envelope please. And the winner is…
Josh Beckett. His ERA is lousy (4.43), his record is 4-7 and he’s been SO toxic. Cut out the cancer at it’s core.

Sharpen your pencils gentlemen. You have a lot of problems to solve.