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All in all, not half bad

Up-and-down Sox are well positioned

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 2, 2011

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HOUSTON - All things considered . . . we don’t have a problem, Houston.

The Red Sox are fortunate to be only 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees at the halfway point of the season, which came with last night’s 7-5 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

The Red Sox have been streaky, for sure. Interleague play, which they have dominated, has been a challenge during this nine-game stretch in which one of their best hitters, David Ortiz, has barely been able to get on the field.

Ortiz was excited about how well he had been swinging the bat this season, but last night he said, “I feel like I’m in spring training again.’’

Such are the ups and downs of a season.

The Sox have endured with Carl Crawford, Jed Lowrie, Clay Buchholz on the disabled list. They lost Daisuke Matsuzaka for the season and John Lackey, ineffective for much of the first half, also has had elbow issues and missed time. Dustin Pedroia, who had a key two-run single in last night’s six-run seventh inning, started slowly but is coming up with key hits and doing the little things to win.

The Sox are 47-34, even with little production from right field, where the J.D. Drew/Mike Cameron platoon was a failure. But while they search for answers in right, they seemed to have found consistency behind the plate, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek shook off slow starts and picked it up offensively (10 homers and 37 RBIs combined) and defensively.

They found a new starter in 6-foot-7-inch Andrew Miller that they’re excited about.

They tested the versatility of Alfredo Aceves and he succeeded in every role he was used in.

Josh Beckett returned to be a dominant pitcher. Jon Lester has continued his development into elite status among lefties. Jonathan Papelbon, who recorded his 16th save last night, has answered the challenge of pitching well in his walk year and Daniel Bard continues to show why he’s ready for the next step in his career - to be a closer. He appears ready if the Sox cut ties with Papelbon after this season.

Adrian Gonzalez is the team and league’s MVP so far. He’s an RBI machine (73), who knocked in the winning runs last night and has come to the American League and conquered.

Marco Scutaro, who led off last night’s game with a home run, subbing for the ill Jacoby Ellsbury, hasn’t received enough credit for his professionalism after losing his job to Lowrie, who is out indefinitely with a bruised shoulder.

The Red Sox are flawed, but many teams would love to have blemishes and still win 47 games.

Unfortunately for the Sox, the Yankees have managed to hang in and overtake the Sox for first place despite losing eight of nine games to Boston.

And Tampa Bay, in third place, 2 1/2 games behind the Sox, doesn’t seem to want to leave the equation. Maybe they will be worn out by the time September rolls around, but clearly the first 81 games have shown the Red Sox are pretty resilient even while looking dreadful at times.

Such was the case in the 81st game for the longest time. They struck out 10 times against Bud Norris, one of the Astros’ promising young pitchers.

For the first six innings - Norris held them hitless after Scutaro’s homer - you wouldn’t have given this team any chance. But then the worm turned in the seventh. Drew singled, followed by Saltalamacchia’s single and Josh Reddick’s RBI double, and it just went on and on.

As bench coach, Demarlo Hale is the guy who has put out all of the little fires and deals with the last-minute things.

“It’s been busy,’’ he said of the first half. “I didn’t even know this was the halfway point because we’ve been so consumed in this thing. I think it’s a great tribute to our team and our togetherness the way we’ve responded to things and the adversity and the adjustments we have to make. Today we come in and Jacoby is sick and we have to adjust the lineup on the fly and we come out and we win the game.

“Given everything we’ve gone through to be where we are in a tight race in the AL East and be alive in this thing all the way, I feel pretty good,’’ he said. “I think we’d love to have a quieter second half where we don’t have as many issues, but I think this makes us stronger and it shows the depth we have in our organization that we can bring up a guy like Reddick and Drew Sutton and play him in left field. That we can go through four different lefties out of the bullpen and have each guy contribute.

“Hopefully with Crawford and Lowrie coming back in the second half, and getting our rotation back with Buchholz in there, it’ll be nice to have our full team at some point, but if we don’t I think the first half has shown we can overcome things and play well as a team,’’ Hale said.

Interleague play ends tomorrow and this challenging stretch will be behind them. Ortiz can return to the everyday lineup.

“This team has a chance to do some things,’’ Ortiz said. “When we get our lineup healthy and together and the weather gets nice and hot, we’re going to be fine here. We’re going to put up some runs. It’s going to be fun.’’

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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