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Sox have gotten it half right

Despite showing, room to improve

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 14, 2011

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Red Sox have scored the most runs in baseball. They also have the highest batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

The most doubles and runs? The Sox. They are even tied for third in triples and only two teams have more home runs.

Despite paltry contributions from right field and a disappointing first half from new left fielder Carl Crawford, the Sox have assembled a powerhouse lineup.

“There aren’t too many teams that, 1 through 9, where you have a really good hitter in there,’’ Tampa Bay starter David Price said. “But that’s what the Red Sox have. You can pitch pretty well against them and by the fifth inning you’ve thrown 100 pitches and given up four runs.’’

As the Sox gather at Tropicana Field tonight for a mandatory workout, keeping up that production is more important than ever given the state of the rotation.

The Sox open a three-game series against the Rays tomorrow night and are planning to start Andrew Miller, John Lackey, and Josh Beckett. But Beckett’s availability is now in question after he could not pitch in the All-Star Game on Tuesday because of a sore left knee.

That could force the Sox to pitch Tim Wakefield or rookie Kyle Weiland on Sunday.

With Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz on the disabled list and Beckett dealing with knee pain, the Sox need their bats to prop up their pitching. At the moment, there is not a sure thing in the rotation.

Beckett had an earned run average of 1.86 in his first 14 starts. But he has allowed nine earned runs in his last 17 innings. He missed what amounted to two starts with a bad case of the flu, then twisted his knee on a wet mound on Friday night.

Beckett was scheduled to pitch the second inning of the All-Star Game but felt discomfort while warming up and decided to play it safe. He does not believe the injury is serious, but obviously the Sox will have to monitor his health.

Lackey pitched one of his best games as a member of the Red Sox on Saturday, shutting out Baltimore for 6 2/3 innings and striking out seven. But that only lowered his earned run average to 6.84 after 14 starts.

Miller is 3-0 with a 3.57 ERA in four starts since being called up from Triple A Pawtucket. But his peripheral statistics are not impressive. He has a 1.59 WHIP and is averaging just 5.2 strikeouts per nine innings. While Miller has shown promise, the Sox were hoping for better given his dominance in the minors.

The 44-year-old Wakefield is on pace to throw 147 innings, which would be his most since 2008. The Sox entered the season expecting he would make 10-12 starts, not 20.

Weiland made his major league debut on Sunday against Baltimore and was rocked for six earned runs in four innings. The former Notre Dame closer did not appear ready for prime time against the lowly Orioles.

Lester is on the DL with a strained latissimus muscle suffered July 5 and has not tried throwing since. He hopes to start that process in the next few days.

“I’m optimistic because I feel better, but my job is to pitch and I haven’t pitched yet,’’ he said. “We’ll see how it is.’’

With Buchholz, you have to go back to June 16 for the last time he pitched. What was initially termed a minor back injury turned out to be something worse and his return is at least a few weeks away.

“Those guys are the horses in our rotation,’’ center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury said. “Guys have done a great job of filling in. But down the road, down the stretch, it would be nice to have them healthy.’’

Adrian Gonzalez would prefer the Sox make sure their injured starters are fully healthy now rather than risk the future.

“We need them for the playoff push,’’ he said. “That’s the biggest thing. We need them healthy in the playoffs. They’re going to be the reason we win the World Series if we do.’’

The Red Sox have won six straight and nine of their last 10. At 55-35, they have the best record in the American League. But their lead on the Yankees is only one game, and the Rays are six games back.

“We’re playing well but we have to keep doing that,’’ Kevin Youkilis said. “We know the teams behind us aren’t going to quit.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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