5 Red Sox takeaways from the first half of the season

The start of the 2018 season produced several statistical achievements.

Chris Sale pitching during the 2018 All-Star Game.

COMMENTARY

Sitting at the halfway point, the 2018 Red Sox are on pace to eclipse the team’s single season win record set over a century ago. For a first year manager, it’s a dream start to his managerial career.

The opening half of the season has been illuminating for Boston fans. New faces have shined while familiar ones have also experienced glimmering starts.

Examining the All-Star roster found Red Sox players in crucial positions for the American League, indicative of the team’s talent. Alongside the stars, some of the newly added role players have also been contributing consistent performances.

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It’s all added up to a 68-30 first half record, and a 4 1/2 game lead on the Yankees.

Despite the league-leading number of wins, the first half also produced its share of concerns. Looking ahead to the season’s second half (and an expected playoff berth), there is plenty of reason for optimism, but also a few areas of worry.

Here are a few traits the 2018 Red Sox showed in the first half of the season, and what that might tell us about the team’s future.

Alex Cora has checked all the boxes.

Naming a rookie manager to lead the Red Sox after John Farrell was fired despite winning back-to-back division titles was a decision met with some initial skepticism.

Halfway through his debut season, Cora has answered his critics so far. The team is on pace to notch over 100 wins for the first time in decades. More than that, Cora has brought a “comfort” back to the clubhouse.

On the field, he’s encouraged his team to be aggressive. Whether it’s Xander Bogaerts hitting more home runs or the team stealing more bases, the philosophy has produced results.

Notably, Cora has also been willing to admit his mistakes, though they’ve been far and few between to this point.

The pitching staff is still incomplete.

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At the top of the rotation and back of the bullpen, the Red Sox look like World Series contenders. Everywhere in between is the place that induces a measure of doubt.

Chris Sale (10-4, 2.22. ERA) remains elite, as does closer Craig Kimbrel (1.77 ERA). And while other pitchers in the Boston bullpen (Hector Velasquez and Matt Barnes) have posted quality numbers, the Red Sox are reportedly still trying to add another reliever.

The starting rotation also might need reinforcement. After multiple postseasons where it was painfully obvious that starting pitching was lacking, the inconsistency shown after Sale has been a source of concern.

Eduardo Rodriguez has pitched well, but his recent injury leaves even more uncertainty behind Sale. Both Rick Porcello and David Price have struggled to string together quality starts, especially against tougher opposition.

J.D. Martinez has been worth every penny.

Since signing in February, J.D. Martinez has lived up to the billing. He’s currently in contention for the American League triple crown, hitting .328 with 29 home runs and 80 RBIs.

The $110 million over five years looks like a wise investment. His numbers to start his Red Sox career have mirrored Manny Ramirez’s Boston debut.

And his leadership has been reminiscent of David Ortiz. While Martinez has a ways to go to equal either of those team legends, he has nonetheless provided much needed ballast in the middle of the order.

The stars are out, but what else?

A common theme across the Red Sox in 2018 has been the electrifying performance of the team’s star players. The players expected to shoulder the burden have done so to a remarkable degree.

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The aforementioned Martinez has been tearing the cover off the baseball, while Mookie Betts (batting .359) actually has a higher OPS (1.139).

Sale and Kimbrel have been nearly un-hittable (each averaging over 13 strikeouts per nine innings).

And a second tier of quality production is found in players like Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi. Bogaerts has already topped his 2017 numbers in both home runs and RBI, and his OPS is over 100 points higher. Benintendi has been a threat on the base paths (17 stolen bases) and at the plate (.897 OPS).

Beyond that, the roster looks less settled. Jackie Bradley Jr’s defense remains elite, but his hitting (with a .210 average) has been a worry. Mitch Moreland started the season on fire, but has seen his OPS drop precipitously since May.

An unbalanced offense isn’t necessarily a fatal flaw, but in more difficult games down the stretch, the Red Sox can’t become too reliant on a small group of stars.

They’ve been dominant in the division.

Familiarity has (mostly) bred success for the Red Sox in 2018. Against A.L. East teams, the Red Sox are 32-13. This includes the 4-5 mark against the Yankees, the only below .500 performance against divisional opposition.

Games against the Orioles have been particularly one-sided. So far, Boston is 9-1 against Baltimore, outscoring the Orioles 54-24.

Looking at the rest of the season, plenty of A.L. East games remain. Three series remain to be played against the Orioles, as well as the Yankees. Boston will also play Tampa and Toronto a combined 12 more times.

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