With a win over the Rangers Tuesday night, the Red Sox improved to 36-23 on the season, good for first-place in the AL East. The Sox are 13 games over .500, and they've relegated the rival Yanks to third place in the division.
You were right to expect some kind of improvement compared to the Bobby Valentine disaster of last year, but not even the most optimistic Sox fan could have expected this start. Can they keep it up? Here's what we've learned through roughly the first 1/3 of the season. Next
Clay Buchholz is back
Buchholz improved to 8-0 Sunday night, getting credit for a shutout ("That's awesome", he said) despite the shortened game. The Red Sox are 10-1 in his 11 starts, and Clay's 1.62 ERA leads all of baseball. Buchholz has always had talent – he threw a no-hitter in his second career start – but injuries have limited his production at times. He's firing on all cylinders right now, and he gives the Red Sox a true ace, something they didn't have last season. Next
Dustin Pedroia is a gamer
This isn't totally new, but Dustin Pedroia is one tough little second baseman. Pedroia tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb on a slide on Opening Day. He kept the injury a secret, and he's started every game since. More than that, he's played well, batting .333 with a .415 on-base percentage. The Red Sox need Pedey to be Pedey; they're batting him third despite the fact that he's not a true No. 3 hitter. They really don't have anyone else. Next
The Yankees are a threat
It may not look like it after this weekend (and after losing 7 of their last 8), but the Yankees are very much in the thick of it in the AL East race. At 31-25 they're three games out of first place. They've kept up without Derek Jeter and with 11 combined games from Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. Teixeira's recent return should help, and Andy Pettitte is set to come off the disabled list Monday. The Orioles and Rays are in the mix as well, but don't count out New York. Next
Jackie Bradley Jr. is coming along
It was unfair to label Bradley a star before he suited up for his first game of the season. Bradley tore up spring training, but he's never projected to be a Mike Trout-type player who dominates all facets of the game. After a tough start with the big club, Bradley hit .354 with a 1.002 OPS in 20 games for Pawtucket.
Because of an injury to Jacoby Ellsbury, Bradley is back with the Sox and showing more confidence. He was 3 for 5 with two doubles and two runs in Saturday's game vs. the Yankees. Next
Daniel Nava is dominant (wait, what?)
Nava has been one of the Red Sox' biggest surprises, batting .297 with eight home runs and 37 RBIs in 51 games so far this season. He has a higher OPS than Dustin Pedroia and more RBIs than David Ortiz.
At 30 years old, he's become an indispensable switch-hitting outfielder despite his lack of pedigree. Can he keep it up? That remains to be seen. Next
Jacoby Ellsbury has wheels, lacks power
Ellsbury set a team record with five steals Thursday night against the Phillies. He injured himself on the last steal, however, and took the weekend off. We know Ellsbury has wheels, but he has yet to find the power stroke he displayed while belting 32 home runs in 2011.
He's got just one homer this season, during a contract year. Those dingers may not be coming back. Next
John Farrell makes a big difference
It's easy to pan Bobby Valentine, and it's easy to give John Farrell all the credit in the world for his team's improved start. The answer to how much of an impact Farrell is having probably lies somewhere between two extremes. The Sox jettisoned some bad personalities and contracts in the offseason, which has nothing to do with the manager.
Farrell deserves a ton of credit for the turnaround of pitchers like Buchholz and Jon Lester. He's also held the bullpen together despite injuries. Next
The fans aren't all the way back yet (tickets are available)
For the first time in years, you can search for Red Sox tickets on the day of a game and find hundreds of reasonably priced seats, even on the secondary market. The sellout streak is over, though the park is mostly full.
Tickets to Bruins and Celtics games this season came at much more of a premium. Presumably the better the Sox play the harder it will be to get into the ballpark. Next
Daniel Bard is a mess
Once the closer-in-waiting, Bard is now in limbo. The Sox tried and failed miserably to convert Bard to a closer. He's a reliever again, but he's struggled mightily in the minors. He hasn't pitched for Double A Portland since May 15, when he walked five batters in one inning.
He has 17 walks in 12.2 innings. It's going to be a long path back to the majors. Next
The closer situation is tenuous
Joel Hanrahan (pictured) was brought from Pittsburgh to be the closer, but he's out for the year with an elbow injury. Andrew Bailey is finally healthy and occupying the closer's role, and he's very capable of it. But without Hanrahan, everyone else in the bullpen gets pushed back into more pressure-filled roles. With fewer bodies, the Sox run the risk of running the highly-effective Koji Uehara into the ground. Bailey has a history of injuries. Can he stay healthy? Next
Koji Uehara is fun
Speaking of Uehara, the Red Sox reliever has gained quite a following. He's a very effective pitcher (2.05 ERA, 31Ks, 4 BBs), and his enthusiasm is infectious. He's been known to high-five every player and personnel guy in the dugout when he comes off the mound. Kind of cool. Next
It's still all about the pitching
The Red Sox have always scored a lot of runs. They lead the American League in runs scored this season after finishing fifth in that category last season. Pitching is usually the deciding factor, which was never more evident than last year, when they posted a 4.70 staff ERA. So far they're better, checking in almost a full run lower at 3.72. If the pitching holds up they've got a shot in this thing. Next
Will Middlebrooks is a major concern
Out with a lower back strain, Will Middlebrooks is first eligible to return from the DL on June 8. His injury is one concern, but a larger issue is that Middlebrooks is hitting .204 with a .234 OBP. Expected to be a middle-of-the-order presence after a powerful rookie debut, the young Sox third baseman is struggling. The Sox don’t have any top prospects waiting in the wings at the position. Next
They need David Ortiz to be healthy
With his home run Sunday night, Ortiz became the only player in baseball to hit 10 home runs in every season since 2000. Ortiz is having as good a season as any, batting .33 and driving in 36 runs in 39 games. The Sox need his bat in the middle of their lineup. Next
Mike Napoli was worth the risk
He almost didn't come to Boston after the discovery of a hip injury caused his contract to be restructured, but Mike Napoli has been indispensable to the Red Sox lineup. He leads the team with 45 RBIs, and his .274 average has been a pleasant surprise. He and Ortiz give the Sox a threatening presence in the middle of the order Next
Jose Iglesias is a fighter
He wasn't supposed to hit, but shortstop Jose Iglesias started the season with the Red Sox and began hitting right away. He was sent down to Pawtucket when Stephen Drew returned from the disabled list, and then had some issues and was pulled from a game for not hustling and was benched for three days.
Now that Iglesias is back with the big club, this time as a fill-in third baseman with a possible utility role in his future, he has kept on hitting. Overall this season he's posted a .434 average in 53 at-bats. Back to the beginning
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