Red Sox: 50 wins

I remember a few years ago when Josh Beckett (traded to the Dodger and now out for the rest of the year) boasted that the Sox could win 100 games.  They didn’t.  That was 2011, the year of the great September swoon.  The year that Terry Francona was fired.  Not a good year.  Fast forward through last year and the Bobby Valentine debacle to 2013.  This is a year for those who love baseball.  There are no superstars, no celebrity players.  What you have is a bunch of guys who play ball.  Christopher Gasper summed it up well in his Boston Globe column this morning.

Red Sox

If you have tuned out the Sox over the first three months of the season because of disinterest or lingering resentment from the past two seasons, you have missed a good time and a good team.

At 50-34, the Sox have the best record in the American League. They’re one of only two teams in baseball to spend the entire season above .500 — the other is the Atlanta Braves. They have a plus-80 run differential, second only to the St. Louis Cardinals in all of baseball. They’ve won in walkoff fashion seven times, including against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, when they triumphed on an error at first base by a converted catcher, Josh Thole.

It’s one of those games you win when your team has good karma, instead of a toxic dump of a clubhouse. The personality makeover Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington gave the clubhouse in the offseason has taken, and the manager, John Farrell, is a source of stability, instead of a source of insurrection.

John Farrell, former pitching coach for the Red Sox under Francona, has done what the owners thought he would do for the team.  He stays out of the spotlight and does his job.

The Sox lead the majors in runs scored (431), OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) at .793, and pitches seen per plate appearance (4.06). Traditionally a team that runs the bases at the pace that ketchup drips out of a new bottle, the Red Sox entered Monday tied for second in the majors in stolen bases.

It’s increasingly difficult to say that what is happening in the Fens is just a fluke, that Daniel Nava, Mike Carp, and Jose Iglesias, who is hitting .409, are all wearing glass cleats and the clock is about to strike midnight.

The poster boy for these revitalized Red Sox is John Derran Lackey. That’s right, I said John Lackey.

Like his team, Lackey was written off, derided and despised. He was unlikable and unwatchable. He missed all of last season because of Tommy John surgery.

This year, I have even seen Lackey smile.

But, Gasper asks, won’t people come out and root for the team.  Why is the buzz still about the Bruins and the Celtics?  I have to admit that I haven’t been to Fenway this year.  I only go every 3-5 years (have to save up my money)  and I went last just as the Sox were hitting their 2011 dive.  But I do watch them, listen to games and follow them closely.

Maybe Boston sports fans believe the team is going to fray and show its holes like a pair of mittens that keep getting caught on a fence. Fenway Fatalists assume Clay Buchholz won’t be able to return from the pain in his neck that has kept him out since June 8 and the team’s closer carousel will keep spinning without an answer. Koji Uehara is the latest to try the role.

Maybe they just find the team a bit hard to identify with. They’re no eccentric savants, long-haired idols, or free-spirited frat boys.

No gimmicks, just gamers.

Whatever it is, the Sox don’t have the buzz befitting a first-place baseball team more than halfway through the season.

Maybe those who derided the “new” fans as the pink hatters were right:  people were attending because it was the in thing to do, not because they loved the game.  Me?  I will watch any game.  I’ve even been known to watch a women’s tournament in Vermont.  They were playing to raise money for a women’s shelter.  But Gasper is right.  This is an exciting team.  Watch Uehara when he completes a successful inning.  They play hard every game and never quit until the last out.   And they may just bring us another American League Championship.  Maybe I should break my rule and go to a game.

Halfway through the 2011 season

Given the way the season began, the Sox are not in bad shape.  At the halfway point (July 2), they were 47-34.  Since then they have added a win and a loss and gained a game on the Yankees.  As Nick Cafardo said, “The Red Sox are flawed, but many teams would love to have blemishes and still win 47 games.”

Blemishes?  Mike Cameron just never could come back from his surgery last year.  Theo Epstein, when he was releasing Mike, said it was one of his mistakes, a trade that didn’t work out.  And J.D. Drew.  I like the guy.  He’s a pro.  But we can’t count on him as we could in years past.  I see retirement for J.D. at the end of the season.  Carl Crawford.  What to say.  He has a terrific smile, but so far he hasn’t lived up to his promise.  We hope he is just adjusting.  I keep waiting for Darnell McDonald to start hitting.  There are kids waiting in the wings, Darnell.  But the big blemish is John Lackey.  And I think it is an even bigger mistake than Mike Cameron that Theo has to deal with.

The John Lackey situation Just when you think it might be the point of no return for John Lackey, he steps up and turns in a gem in Philadelphia. But Lackey remains in prime position to be the cover boy for Theo Epstein's book of bad signings with his $82.5 million deal. 'It's accurate to say that he had an elbow injury earlier this year and got a shot for that that alleviated some of the symptoms,' Epstein said regarding Lackey. 'And we're going to monitor it closely.' Lackey is sitting on a 6.81 ERA to go along with his 5-7 record.

Bob Ryan writes this morning in the Boston Globe

John Lackey once led the American League in earned run average

John Lackey once won 19 games.

John Lackey once gave up a leadoff double and then retired 27 Oakland A’s in succession, a performance that came in the middle of a stretch in which he threw 30 2/3 scoreless innings.

John Lackey once pitched and won a World Series Game 7.

John Lackey once was deemed worthy of a five-year, $82.5 million contract by the Boston Red Sox, who certainly were not bidding against themselves when they made the offer.

Where has that guy gone?

After yesterday, his ERA is 7.47.  And even if Theo didn’t know this, he could never pitch at Fenway where his ERA is now, get this, 9.17.  I feel a little bad piling on when he was injured and his wife is sick, but baseball – particularly in Boston- is serious business.  We are in a tight race right now and when Lackey is scheduled to pitch, one has to pencil in a loss.  Here is Bob Ryan again

But it’s really not funny. It’s a gigantic hole in the middle of a starting rotation that really needs to get to the All-Star break without something disastrous taking place. No one knows when we’ll next see Clay Buchholz, who is being sent to North Carolina for further examination of his back, and who, according to the manager, won’t be sent out there “until we know he’s not hurting himself.’’

Meanwhile, what do you say in a circumstance such as this, when a guy in whom you have invested an enormous sum of money, and who arrived with the reputation of being both a talented pitcher and a highly competitive one, has presented himself in such a horrendous manner? There really is no way to exaggerate how big a catch Lackey was supposed to be.

Here is what respected Baseball Prospectus had to say on the subject of Lackey’s impending free agency at the conclusion of the 2009 season: “Lackey stands alone as one of the best, a relatively young righty who carries significantly less risk than the other high-upside hurlers.’’

 …

He has become the ultimate Mystery Guest when he takes the mound, especially at Fenway. A 9.17 ERA in his home ballpark speaks rather eloquently.

As recently as two years ago, John Lackey was an honored and respected pitcher. Now his numbers identify him as the worst starter in major league baseball. Baseball Prospectus probably would like a do-over. Theo, too.

But there is lots going well.  Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury are back for one.  Nick Cafardo writes

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.

David is Goliath again Reports of David Ortiz's demise have been greatly exaggerated and Big Papi is in the midst of one of his most productive seasons in a Red Sox uniform, and he's hammering lefties, too. After 80 games, he has a .956 OPS, good for ninth in the AL. Versus lefthanders, Papi has an impressive .992 OPS and a .341 average. The Red Sox recently struggled without Ortiz in the lineup in National League parks, prompting manager Terry Francona to use Ortiz at first base to get him into the lineup in Philadelphia, which landed regular first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in right field for a night.

And the last word goes to David Ortiz

“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.’’

Go Sox!  And congratulations to the All Stars:  Beckett, Ortiz, Gonzalez and Ellsbury!