Winding up for the second half
They've made the turn and are headed for home.
While most fans point to the All-Star Break as the mid-way point of the baseball season, the Red Sox have in reality made it to the half. With 81 games down and 81 more to go, the Sox have set themselves up for a terrific second half.
For the second straight year, the team has a 50-31 record. The biggest difference -- and the biggest story of the 2007 season for Boston -- is that every other team in the American League has a losing record. A year ago, those 50 wins gave the Sox a four game lead. Today, that leads sits at 10 1/2 games.
The most remarkable thing about this start is that the Sox have jumped out to this lead without getting significant power numbers from David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, the best one-two offensive punch in the game. Together, they have hit for 26 fewer home runs and have driven in 46 fewer runs than they had at this point a year ago.
Needless to say, the pitching has led the way so far. A year ago, Jason Johnson was starting game #82 for Boston, already the 22nd pitcher to take the mound for the Sox. We all know the season was lost when the rash of injuries set in over July and August (Jason Varitek, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Jon Lester, and Jonathan Papelbon were all on the shelf by early September) the seeds of trouble were already sprouting as the team tried to cobble together a rotation.
This year, the rotation is a major strength. Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka are a combined 20-7, and each is on pace to win 20 games. The Sox haven't had two 20-game winners on the same team since 2002 (Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe.) That was the only time it's happened in the past 58 years.
During the pre-season, we admitted there were a lot of ifs surrounding this team, and there are still plenty. Every team has to live up to its potential. If Schilling can return anywhere close to his normal form, if Lester can return to help the club, if Ortiz and Ramirez begin to produce at their normal pace, this team will be better than good.
The Sox are set up for their fourth playoff run in five years. Thanks to a good first half -- and a terrible first half by the rest of the division -- they should be playing baseball in October. They've got the next three months to figure out how to turn a playoff contender into a championship contender.
Beginning tonight, the Sox play 22% of their games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The D-Rays have the worst ERA in baseball. Playing all those games against Tampa can only help get the offense on track. And that can only help build excitement for the "second season."
Baseball is a marathon, and Heartbreak Hill awaits. But the Sox are well out in front of the pack, and are in a good position to assure an assault over the final 13.1 miles.