|Red Sox Bullpen Sleeper: Matt Barnes||The Case For Trading Clay Buchholz||Connelly’s Top Ten: 1812 Overture Rendition of the Top Ten||Management Forced Its Hand With Rick Porcello, Red Sox Nation Pays|
The Red Sox find themselves atop the American League East after the unofficial first half of the season, so let’s take a look at what’s gone right and what hasn’t for this 2013 team as I present a report card on the five key aspects of the team.
The Red Sox have used nine different starters this season, primarily including Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz. Boston’s starters allowed three runs at most in each of their first 16 games to begin the year, tying an American League record.
The bulk of that success came from Buchholz (9-0, 1.71 ERA), who was a Cy Young award candidate before a neck strain, which has kept him out of action since June 8.
Meanwhile, Lester (4.58 ERA) has struggled mightily this season, and needs to return to form in order for the Sox to be seen as a serious postseason threat. Newcomer Ryan Dempster (4.24 ERA) has been solid, but he’s allowed 20 home runs, tied for the fourth-most in all of baseball.
One of the few positive stories has been the revival of John Lackey, who holds a 2.78 ERA in 100.1 innings, well below his career-best 3.01 ERA in 2007. He could be the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year award winner if anything close to the success he’s seen continues.
If Lester returns to form as an ace, Buchholz recovers from injury and continues to dominate, and Lackey and Dempster continue to provide backend depth, the Sox will have a potent playoff rotation.
Starting pitching grade: B-
The Red Sox entered the season with Joel Hanrahan as their closer and Andrew Bailey setting up. That plan fell apart as Hanrahan (9.82 ERA) struggled before undergoing season ending Tommy John surgery. Meanwhile, Bailey took over as closer—but five blown saves put him back in the middle relief core.
Koji Uehara has been an exciting fit as closer as of late, though he too has suffered the occasional rough patch. Uehara pitched on consecutive days nine different times this season, though it’s tough to expect him to be closing out tight games everyday down the stretch.
A key for the team in the second half will be determining a permanent fit as closer, whether it’s Uehara, Bailey, or an outside option brought in by the front office. Regardless, this is the weakest part of the roster.
Relief pitching grade: C-
Dustin Pedroia will win his third Gold Glove award in 2013. I don’t often make guarantees, but Pedroia makes highlight-reel-worthy plays on a nightly basis, and covers more ground than any other American League second baseman. Pedroia is the heart and soul of the Red Sox, and this year is turning out to be his best since 2008, when he won league MVP.
Interesting stat: the Red Sox do not have a single player on the active roster amongst the bottom 80 in all of baseball in errors committed. That essentially means that while defense measurements across the board may put them in the middle of the American League, the team really doesn’t have a weak position, aside from the hole left at third base by Will Middlebrooks, who was demoted for his offensive struggles.
In the second half we’ll see how the team utilizes both Stephen Drew, who is expected to return soon from injury, and Jose Iglesias, who has wowed the league with both his glove and bat thus far. Iglesias has the versatility to play third base, which is the likely course of action until Middlebrooks inevitably returns from the minors.
Defense grade: A
The Red Sox are only ninth in the American League with 98 home runs in 97 games, but the team leads all of baseball with 215 doubles—the Baltimore Orioles are second on that list with just 191! But these doubles aren’t coming from any one contributor, as the Sox have five players with at least 20 doubles, including Jarrod Saltalamacchia who has already hit a career-high 24.
Boston has received strong production from their expected regulars, but the team has also benefitted from seasons by players like Daniel Nava, who is hitting .288 with 52 RBI, as well as Mike Carp, batting .303. Of course one of the biggest offensive stories has been the surge of Iglesias, who has watched his average finally fall below .400, still at .367 in 180 at bats thus far.
Offense is the last concern for the Red Sox going into the second half of the season, as long as their regulars stay healthy and David Ortiz continues to be a force in the middle of the order.
Offense grade: A-
There hasn’t been a single bad word about the presence of John Farrell, though I question his supposed positive impact on the pitching staff given the inconsistencies of Lester and the struggles of the bullpen. There may exist a comfort for pitchers like Lester and Buchholz in having him around, but I’d be more willing to accept how terrible Bobby Valentine was in Boston than to credit Farrell with the success of the team. In the end, the players make the difference.
The front office did an excellent job in trading for Farrell, as well as finding perfect pieces like Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli to gel in the Red Sox clubhouse. Ben Cherington and company have kept faith in Daniel Nava, which has paid off with his most productive season yet, and the team is sure to improve the bullpen before the trade deadline.
Management grade: A-
All in all, the Red Sox have done terrific things this year across the board, but their bullpen is a major concern as they hunt for a deep playoff run. Expectations have changed dramatically since April, when most analysts and even fans believed this team was more likely headed for the basement than the top of the American League East. With a 2.5-game lead and the most total wins in baseball, the Red Sox should start planning on a trip to the World Series.
Team grade: B+
Tags: Andrew Bailey, Ben Cherington, Boston Red Sox, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Nava, Dustin Pedroia, Felix Doubront, Joel Hanrahan, John Farrell, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Koji Uehara, Mike Napoli, Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino