Let record show, Sox pretty good

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / July 15, 2010

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The All-Star break seems like the natural time to take stock of a baseball team. The season is a little more than half finished, meaning ample time has passed to make a legitimate assessment of what has transpired.

But Red Sox manager Terry Francona is a man with little use for reflection. The only segment of the season he cares to focus on is the next game. Celebrating success and mourning failure does not aid his mission.

“Regardless of what we did yesterday, I don’t know that it makes sense to come in the next day and, if you won be real up, or if you lost be real down,’’ he said. “It’s a bad way to go through [the season]. I never understood that. That’s not productive.

“Whatever our record is, that’s what’s important. It doesn’t matter how you got there.’’

The Red Sox are 51-37, which matches the San Diego Padres for the fourth-best record in baseball. But it’s only the third-best record in the American League East. The Sox are five games behind the Yankees and three behind the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Sox face the real possibility of fielding one of the best teams in the game yet not going to the postseason, thanks to a series of injuries that have forced them to use an astonishing 77 different lineups over 88 games.

There are 11 Sox on the disabled list, including Opening Day starter Josh Beckett, second baseman Dustin Pedroia, catcher Victor Martinez, and left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

Yet only three teams have won more games.

“You find out what kind of organization you have as a whole when you’re without some of your best players,’’ general manager Theo Epstein said. “Things are a lot easier in general when you have no injuries. In ’04 and ’07, for the most part, we stayed healthy all year and good things happened. But fighting through the tough times makes it more rewarding to see where we get.’’

Darnell McDonald and Daniel Nava, players who did not merit mention in spring training, are now regulars. Catcher Kevin Cash, obtained from Houston July 1, suddenly became a critical component. The same is true of onetime reserve Bill Hall.

Tim Wakefield, who didn’t have a set role at the start of spring training, has thrown the third-most innings on the team.

“I like this team. A lot of them aren’t playing, but the guys that are playing are trying to do the right thing all the time,’’ Francona said. “I’ve got no beef with anybody. We’re trying to play the game right, that’s a good quality . . . We’ve gotten contributions from all over the map.’’

The one portion of the season Francona does look back on were first four weeks, when the Sox got off to an 11-14 start.

“The first month was hard on everybody, myself included,’’ he said. “We had moving parts, people in different roles; we weren’t playing very well. It took a while.

“In spring training we want guys to know how we expect the game played and then we let them go play. With the amount of new guys we had, I don’t know that maybe everybody was quite as clear on things. And that’s my fault. I think there was some uncertainty there for a while. It took everybody a while to get a comfort level where they could play.’’

First baseman Kevin Youkilis agreed with that assessment.

“It took us some time to get on the same page,’’ he said. “But once we did, early in May, we’ve been playing good baseball. Now we need some guys to get healthy. I think we’ll be OK.’’

A trade is a distinct possibility, given that Epstein has obtained a significant player (or players) at or near the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline in five of the last seven seasons.

His deadline acquisitions have included Martinez (2009), Jason Bay (2008), Eric Gagne (2007), Orlando Cabrera, Doug Mientkiewicz, and Dave Roberts (2004), and Scott Williamson, Brandon Lyon, and Jeff Suppan (2003).

“We’re always looking. It’s the same position we’ve been in every year,’’ Epstein said. “I do think we’re going to get so many guys back off the DL that we’re going to get a boost no matter what we do. But we’d like to find the right fit.’’

But of the 30 major league teams, 17 lead a division or wild-card race or are within five games of a playoff spot. That could serve to limit the number and quality of available players.

“I think it’s pretty active out there because there are teams with needs,’’ Epstein said. “I don’t think it’s the greatest crop in the world of available players if you compare this year’s likely crop to last year’s.’’

If the Red Sox elect not to make a move, Francona won’t complain.

“I love this team. They’re easy to like,’’ he said. “The first month of the season was really difficult for a lot of reasons. But we got through that. It’s not perfect. I recognize that. But the level of intensity in trying to do the right thing is off the charts. It’s a challenge, but it’s one we’re all kind of enjoying.’’

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