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Making the numbers work

Team soars despite slow start, injuries

By Nick Cafardo
June 20, 2010

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If you’re into the Red Sox then you should give them a standing ovation.

If you believed this was a playoff team in spring training, then good for you. And if you didn’t fall into the trap of judging a team in the first month of the season, congratulations are in order. This correspondent, fully on board with the run-prevention philosophy, predicted an American League East title and a World Series championship, but the prediction looked dismal for a long, long time.

“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,’’ said Victor Martinez after the Red Sox took a dramatic 5-4 win over the Dodgers at Fenway yesterday. “We go into every game and just try to win every game and do the best we can every game. If we win, we win, if we lose, we lose, but we don’t think about it either way. We just move on.’’

First of all, the Sox’ 42-28 record is testimony to their overall talent, but mostly to the team’s depth. If someone told you at the start of the season that Darnell McDonald and Daniel Nava would be prominent members of the outfield, you’d likely say in your most polite tone, “Don’t think so.’’

If you were told Josh Beckett would have been a nonfactor and that Daisuke Matsuzaka would be on the DL twice, but that the Red Sox would have one of baseball’s best pitching staffs (OK, they’re 20th overall, but the starters are 13-3 with a 3.26 ERA in 19 games since May 29), you probably wouldn’t buy that either.

This is a tough, gritty team. Guys have been playing with injuries all season, including yesterday’s hero, Dustin Pedroia, who lined a single to right in the bottom of the ninth to score the winning run. Pedroia was hampered by a bum knee for some time, but he played through the pain and he’s improving.

Manager Terry Francona did his best to downplay the fact the Sox have defied the odds and put together the best record in the majors — 38-19 — since April 20.

“I don’t really think about it that way,’’ Francona said. “Whatever happened a month ago doesn’t really matter. We’re playing good baseball right now.’’

Their success just doesn’t add up. How could the Red Sox have one of the best offenses in the majors — leading in runs, hits, doubles, total bases, RBIs, slugging percentage, and batting average and second in homers, and OBP — when, according to our intrepid reporter Peter Abraham, they’ve had the outfielders batting seventh, eighth, and ninth in the lineup 16 times?

They have won, essentially, without Jacoby Ellsbury, who has played nine games because of injured ribs, and Mike Cameron, who has played only 23 games because of an abdominal tear that will limit him to a part-time role for the remainder of the season. Jeremy Hermida, who also fractured five ribs, hopes to come off the disabled list when scheduled.

The “rock’’ of the outfield has been J.D. Drew, who had played in 65 games before suffering a hamstring strain Friday night. He missed yesterday’s game, and hopes to return to action Tuesday in Colorado. Essentially, the Sox are down to their fifth outfielder — Bill Hall — who made two errors in right field yesterday; McDonald, a journeyman, who should be sixth on the depth chart; and Nava, who is basically their eighth outfielder after Josh Reddick.

The play of the backups has allowed the Sox to hold off on trading for an established outfielder. That still may happen, but for now they’re willing to let this outfield-by-committee wear itself out, if it ever does. Teams are reluctant to give up valuable prospects to obtain a worthwhile player such as Kansas City’s David DeJesus, someone who would fit nicely in Boston’s outfield, but not one they may think of as a long-term answer.

The Sox would rather save their chips for something bigger, whether it be for pitching or a hitter should someone get seriously hurt. But if the Cinderellas turn into pumpkins, the Sox have to bite the bullet and acquire more proven major league players. But the Sox can thank McDonald and Nava for allowing them to hold off as long as they have.

Helping Boston’s rise has been Tampa Bay’s fall, while the Yankees have been pretty steady. Since April 20, the Rays are 32-22. The Rays don’t have Boston’s lineup, and while their pitching is still No. 1 in the AL, it’s also begun to come back to earth after a smoking start.

So here we are on June 20 and only a game separates the three teams. They may be the best three in baseball, as many thought, but how the Red Sox have gotten there doesn’t really add up. And that’s the kind of math they hope continues from here on out.

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