a good read

By Ron Borges
Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The way things are shaping up at the moment, a lot of typical New England angst may have been wasted on the Red Sox [team stats] during the past three months.

If you listened to talk radio or paid attention to the blogosphere as a fresh season unfolded, all was lost before anything had been won. Jacoby Ellsbury [stats] was lost. Carl Crawford was lost. Andrew Bailey was lost. Clay Buchholz was lost. Josh Beckett [stats] was really lost. Bobby Valentine? Don’t ask.

To put it simply, “Woe is us” seemed to be the pink hats’ mantra, and many citizens of Red Sox Nation’s (un)faithful seemed to be wearing them. Yet as the season’s midpoint approaches this weekend, despite all the worries and the woes, the Sox are right where they need to be.

Despite last night’s 6-1 loss to the Oakland A’s, the Sox sit only a half-game out of both second place in the American League East and the second wild card slot, trailing the fast-fading Baltimore Orioles in both cases.

They have won 11-of-16 while Baltimore has lost 8-of-11, and Joe Maddon’s once-remarkable Rays had tumbled back to earth and below the streaking Sox in the standings before moving back into a tie with a win over the Yanks last night. No one seems to have sorted this out yet, but the Sox are in the hunt with reinforcements ready to arrive like a crimson-hosed cavalry.

Despite having played without two-thirds of their starting outfield most of the year, with three of their five top pitchers on the disabled list at various times (Beckett, Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka [stats]), and with their closer shut down before he threw a single pitch that counted, the Sox are tied (with Tampa) for the sixth-best winning percentage in the AL. They have scored the second-most runs in the major leagues, despite having no apparent leadoff hitter and a guy in the 3-hole suffering the kind of power outage plaguing the eastern half of the country. And they seem to have solved what at one time appeared to be fatal bullpen deficiencies.

For all the knocks on Valentine since the day the poor man inherited the manager’s job from his uncle Larry “Lucky” Lucchino, he has been right about nearly all the personnel moves he’s made.

He was right about Kevin Youkilis [stats]’ fade. He was right about Will Middlebrooks’ rise. He was right about Franklin Morales. He was right about Alfredo Aceves. He was right about Felix Doubront. He was right about the way he’s juggled myriad outfielders, getting the most out of them collectively since Earl Weaver was platooning John Lowenstein, Gary Roenicke and Benny Ayala in 1982 into an All-Star entity in left field with three heads, six arms and three hot bats.

If the Sox can bounce back in the next two games in Oakland, they will arrive back at Fenway for a four-game weekend series against the Yankees just before the All-Star break that could leave them breathing down New York’s neck entering the second half. And help is on the way.

Ellsbury and Crawford are on rehab assignments and expected back soon.

And who knows what could happen if Beckett comes back from wherever he is at the moment?

Beckett has been unhappy, unlucky and unproductive this spring, but his 4.06 ERA despite all that speaks to what still might be. Buchholz has seemed so frail one wonders if he’s made of tissue paper, yet despite a 5.53 ERA he’s 8-2. Who knew?

If the two of them can remember as summer heats up how they used to pitch, Jon Lester [stats] starts to make big pitches in sticky moments and Matsuzaka can figure out how to halt his early-inning troubles like he had in last night’s loss, what has been troublesome starting pitching suddenly would look much different.

Valentine has talked of the possibility of a six-man rotation, which sounded insane at first, but when one considers the fragility of Buchholz and Beckett, and the fact it would put Matsuzaka back on the kind of schedule under which he flourished in Japan, you have to stroke your chin and wonder. Has Valentine got another thing right?

It’s too early to say all is well at Fenway, but it’s not the Dickensian “Bleak House” many portrayed it as. Are the Sox still a house divided? Maybe, but if they keep winning 11 of every 16, who cares if they all go to Dairy Queen after the game or not?