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Survive, stay alive, 'til I see you again

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  July 2, 2010 05:35 PM

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RED SOX ATHLETICS BASEBALL.JPGThe Red Sox are going to be fine. July will treat them well. They will play meaningful baseball into October.

I, um, you know, think.

And with that convincing, practically bulletproof, argument out of the way . . . how 'bout that LeBron sweepstakes, huh? He sure likes being recruited!

Oh, all right, we'll give this one more shot, and an honest one, with our usual fumbling attempts at analysis regarding this uncommonly admirable baseball team.

I understand the comparisons to 2006. What's happening to the battered Red Sox right now is similar to what happened during the relentless late-season attrition four years ago; heck, even Terry Francona has acknowledged the gloomy similarity to a degree. But it's not the same, and I'll tell you why.

What happened in 2006 was far, far worse. It was epic, it was instantaneous, and it was devastating. Not only were the injuries stacked one on top of the other, they were more alarming -- Jonathan Papelbon staggered off the mound clutching his shoulder, Papi had to go to the hospital with heart palpitations, Jason Varitek missed a month with an injured knee. And in a totally different stratosphere in terms of meaning, perspective, and concern, young lefthander Jon Lester was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. At once, the Red Sox managed to be both aggravating and incredibly unimportant.

It all went horribly wrong. They played out the schedule after their late August, injury-accelerated collapse, which culminated with a five-game sweep at the hands of Johnny Damon and the Yankees, after which Manny Ramirez, who had been pretty much the only bright spot for the Sox in the series, decided he was going to clock out early with a knee injury, a tweaked hamstring, or a gimpy grandmother, depending upon the day and his mood.

A sequel to the 2006 nosedive is not in the making now, for a couple of reasons. First, the injuries, while coming in great quantity, aren't nearly as devastating. Victor Martinez, out with a broken digit on his catching hand, should be back in mid-July, which isn't so far away. Dustin Pedroia is supposed to be out for a month and a half with his broken foot, and you have to imagine that when he was informed that he'd be out six weeks, he replied, "Sorry, Doc. Laser show returns in three."

Josh Beckett is making real progress toward becoming the No. 3 starter (yeah, I said it) they'll need, Jeremy Hermida is making progress from his obligatory collision with the Beltre Train, Varitek's busted foot is survivable in the short term, Jed Lowrie is apparently breathing without his Mr. Neb or whatever is wrong with him. Now, if someone could remind Jacoby Ellsbury that his checks are signed by the Red Sox and not the folks at Athletes Performance, maybe the band will be together before we know it.

In the interim, there is enough organizational depth to hang on and tread water at the very least. Darnell McDonald, a good teammate who does everything relatively well, has been a godsend this season, and I'm going to be legitimately disappointed if he becomes a roster casualty when the regulars are healthy. I admire Mike Cameron, and it's apparent he's fighting through a very significant injury, but he's not going to help this team as much this season as McDonald already has.

You're no doubt familiar with Daniel Nava's amazing story, which might seem like the plot to one of Mike Lupica's young adult novels if you didn't know better. Versatile Bill Hall has proven time and again why the Sox saw value in him when his Mendoza-ish batting average over the past couple of seasons suggested the Atlantic League was in his future. Felix Doubront -- no Abe Alvarez, he -- gave us a taste of the future in his one impressive spot start.

javylopez.jpgThere are no Kevin Jarvises or Jason Johnsons or spent shells of Javy Lopez here, just capable replacement-level players making the most of their opportunity. I do wish they had a second coming of Carlos Pena (pictured) here. One of the few unexplained mysteries of the Terry Francona era is why he played an injured Mark Loretta over him at first base when all was lost in '06. (End digression.)

True, maybe they're getting dangerously thin in their Quadruple A player ranks -- I like to think I'm pretty plugged in to their farm system, and I had no idea Niuman Romero existed until about five minutes ago -- and Lou Merloni has mentioned a couple of times that the Red Sox really could use Kevin Frandsen right now. Hell, go a step further: They really could use Lou Merloni right now.

The Sox need certain things to happen to get through July unscathed (and by unscathed, we mean three or four games above .500 for the month, which includes a tough West Coast trip as well as four with the raging Rangers). Fortunately, all are reasonable requests.

The heart of what's left of the lineup -- Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, and J.D. Drew -- needs to get hot at the same time. Doable, right?

The starting pitching needs to continue to thrive. Doable, particularly since John Lackey is coming off a solid June (and is somehow 9-3). The defense needs to be steady. Doable, particularly since Hall looks much more comfortable at second than we expected.

And it wouldn't hurt if the bullpen started putting out fires rather than causing them. Reinforcements will be needed there eventually (count me in as intrigued by Gammons's Kerry Wood suggestion). But they can hang tough in the short term, particularly if the starters hold up their end of the bargain and someone such as Scott Atchison or Dustin Richardson emerges. Doable . . . possibly. Hey, gotta hedge at least one bet here.

I hate to bust out the intangibles on you -- you can insert a "that's what she said" here if you're so inclined -- but the reason I believe this team will come through this relatively unscathed is because . . . well, I believe in this team. They've earned that much with victory after victory in the face of adversities big and small.

It took them longer than we'd have hoped to find their identity, but this has become an immensely likable team in its own way, whether it's Pedroia backing up his smack-talk , Beltre's weird and incredibly effective skill set (not mention his tireless hustle and comedic stylngs with VMart), Marco Scutaro's quiet dependability, Lester's determination, Buchholz's maturity . . . this group has found its identity, the players have become ours, and it's been a blast to watch.

The season is not half-over and the 2010 Red Sox have already proven their talent and their character. The latter will get them through this. And I've convinced myself, if not you, that the former will carry them memorably to, and perhaps through, the autumn.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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