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Red Sox midseason report card

By David Lefort, Staff, 7/11/2005


All things considered, the Red Sox should be smiling about a first half that definitely could have (and probably should have) been worse. After all, without their two best starting pitchers from a year ago (Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez) and with a closer who was ineffective for three months, the Red Sox are a game better at the break than they were last year (49-38 this season vs. 48-38 in 2004). Oh, and they sit in first place at the unofficial midway point for the first time since 1995. Sure, the Yankees are a much weaker squad than in years past, but the resurgence of the Orioles and Blue Jays means the days of a two-team race in the AL East may be over.

The Sox' best winning streak in the first half was seven games, and they had three other stretches of four or more straight victories. Perhaps more impressive, the local nine had just two losing skids of more than two games. That being said, the Sox had more than a few opportunities to make this a comfy six- or seven-game lead instead of the slim two-game cushion they're stuck with now. The AL East is anyone's division in the second half, with three teams within 2½ games and four within 5½. Grade: B+

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Thanks to MVP-caliber performances from David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez (despite a slow start) and Johnny Damon, the slugging Sox are near the top of virtually every offensive category in the American League. They're first in batting average (.282), second in on-base percentage, and third in runs scored (just five runs behind the Yankees). Boston has at least two players in the top 10 in the AL in almost every major category, including batting average, on-base percentage, hits, runs, RBIs (Ramirez and Ortiz are 1-2), homers, doubles, and walks. If you combine the first-half numbers of Ortiz and Ramirez, you get one heck of a full season: a .294 average with 43 homers and 155 RBIs. Damon, meanwhile, is off to the best start of his career, leading the league in hits (119) and ranking second in average (.343). He currently has the majors' longest hit streak at 25 games. The news, however, wasn't all good for the Sox offense in the first half -- the Boston infield didn't exactly pull its weight. The Sox got a combined 22 homers from the four infield positions; that's the same number Ramirez hit out of the yard by himself. Mark Bellhorn (102 strikeouts), Kevin Millar (just four homers), and newcomer Edgar Renteria (31 RBIs) have all been first-half disappointments. Jason Varitek (.302, 13 homers) had a stellar first half at the pate; his batting average didn't dip below .300 once in the first three-plus months of the season. Grade: A-

Poll survey: What's your grade for the Sox offense?

Renteria hasn't been as productive at the plate as the Sox would have liked, but it's his poor fielding that's been the biggest disappointment. He leads all major leaguers with 17 errors -- that's six more than he made all last year in St. Louis. On the flip side, Ramirez has been a pleasant surprise in left field. Sure, he still has his Manny moments; but those moments were accompanied by flashes of brilliance in the first half. He's made a handful of diving catches, but the most surprising stat is this: He leads the majors with 10 assists. The skeptics will say it's because more runners will test him because of his reputation for being a sub-par outfielder, but we aren't buying it. Most of his throws are on the money, and he seems to have quickened his delivery after fielding balls in the outfield. Ramirez, Damon, and Trot Nixon each made one error in the first half. In the infield, Mueller and Bellhorn were solid at third and second, and the addition of John Olerud gave the Sox a great late-innings defensive replacement for the mediocre Millar at first. Grade: B+

Poll survey: What's your grade for the Sox defense?

Starting pitchers:

Eight players started games for the Sox in the first half, combining for a 36 wins and 25 losses for a winning percentage of .590 (30 points higher than the team's winning percentage). Curt Schilling (ankle injury) won just one of those games and made just three starts in the first half. Schilling's saga promises to be the story of the second half. In the meantime, though, here's a recap of the team's five primary starters:

Matt Clement (10-2, 3.85 ERA, 18 starts): The Sox "settled" for Clement this offseason when the bigger fish in the free-agent pond got away, and boy are they glad they did. Clement has been the rock of the rotation, giving up more than three earned runs in just three of his 18 starts and going at least six innings 13 times. His 10 victories give him one more than he compiled all last season with the Cubs, and earned him a much-deserved spot on the All-Star team.

Tim Wakefield (8-7, 4.05 ERA, 18 starts): Perhaps the most telling stat of Wakefield's first half is this one: In the four-start stretch without personal catcher Doug Mirabelli (disabled list), he gave up 21 runs in 21 1/3 innings for an 8.95 ERA. In his 14 other starts, his ERA is 2.99.

Bronson Arroyo (7-5, 4.02 ERA, 17 starts): Arroyo went his first eight starts without a loss (the unbeaten streak was at 17 dating back to 2004), establishing a 3.21 ERA and appearing on his way to a breakthrough season. He then lost three of his next four starts and saw his ERA balloon to 4.54. Since then, though, he's worked his ERA back down a half point. He'll start the second half in the rotation, but when Schilling's ready to rejoin the starting staff, Arroyo's first on the list for the bullpen.

David Wells (6-5, 5.00 ERA, 15 starts): The lefty has been either fantastic or downright awful this season; there's no in between. He's had nine starts in which he's given up four or more earned runs. In those starts, he's given up a total of 45 earned runs in 45 2/3 innings for an ERA of 8.96. On the flip side, Wells has had six starts in which he's surrendered three earned runs or fewer. In those starts, he's let in a total of five earned runs in 44 1/3 innings for a 1.02 ERA.

Wade Miller (2-3, 5.03 ERA, 12 starts): He clearly doesn't have the same stuff he had before his shoulder injury, but you have to hand it to him for doing as well as he has on sheer guts. Still, he has just two wins in 12 starts and the rotation's worst ERA.

Grade: B

Poll survey: What's your grade for the Sox starters?

(Record and ERA are through Sunday)

Easily the biggest weakness on the team, the Red Sox bullpen might have been the worst in the majors in the first half of the season. Five relievers have ERAs above 6.00. Need we say more? We will anyway. The problem starts with closer Keith Foulke, who blew four saves before undergoing knee surgery that could keep him out up to 6 weeks, but it doesn't end there. Terry Francona has lost all confidence in typically reliable setup man Alan Embree, who owns a 7.82 ERA. Newcomer Matt Mantei (6.24 ERA) couldn't control his stuff and landed on the disabled list with an ankle strain that will likely end his season. John Halama (6.05 ERA) hasn't been able to keep the Sox in games as a long reliever, and Cla Meredith and Baline Neel were experiments gone bad. Ready for the good news? Mike Myers (2.65 ERA) has done an admirable job taking over as the team's go-to lefty, and Mike Timlin (1.69 ERA) has single-handedly kept the ship afloat with one of the best seasons of his long career. There's help on the way in the form of Schilling and Chad Bradford (to be acquired soon from Oakland in a trade), but there are still many more questions than answers: Will Schilling be able to successfully transition from starter to reliever? How long will this experiment last? Will Theo Epstein make any other moves to plug the holes? If the Sox turn to Timlin as much as they did in the first half, can his 39-year-old arm hold up? Stay tuned. Grade: D-

Poll survey: What's your grade for the Sox bullpen?


Francona has his team in first place at the All-Star break, something he couldn't do last year when he had a healthy Martinez-Schilling combo at the front of the rotation and a dominant Foulke at the back of the bullpen. The Sox skipper has to be commended for keeping this cast of characters focused on the task at hand, and for putting out brush fires quickly. Sure, he'll get criticized for resting players too much and every now and then he'll make a move that will have you scratching your head, but the bottom line is this: He has successfully navigated this team through a distraction-filled first half to the top of the AL East. What else can you ask of a manager? Grade: A-

Poll survey: What's your grade for the Sox coaching staff?

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