If you are looking for reasons why the 2010 Red Sox are inching back to the top of the division, a couple things jump out. First of all, you've got two pitchers looking like legit aces and potential 20-game winners: Lester (7-2, 2.73 ERA, 3.23 FIP) and Buchholz (8-3, 2.39, 3.49 FIP). You've got a resurgent Big Papi (.915 OPS) on pace for 34 home-runs, and a Youkilis* (1.064 OPS) on pace for 122 walks and a similar number of jacks. Boston's offense has been the best in the league - ranked first in OPS, second in HR and OBP, and first in runs scored.
But one of the least-heralded reasons for our success is the performance of our bench players. With two thirds of the outfield lost to injury, not to mention the underperformance of 3/5s of the starting rotation (3/6 if you count Josh Beckett), we've needed all the help we can get. Getting average or above-average play from fill-ins has gone a long way towards keeping us in the race.
Although some won't be convinced, Bill Hall has done pretty well for us so far. A .253 / .352 / .473 line from someone we expected nothing from isn't bad. Nor is the fact that he can cover a bunch of positions. Baseball Prospectus gives him a 5.7 Value over Replacement Player (VORP), and Fangraphs has a 0.4 wins above replacement player for Hall.
For most teams, losing two major-league centerfielders for nearly two months would be an unmitigated disaster. Thankfully, the emergence of Darnell MacDonald has done much to offset this disaster. He's quietly provided solid offensive production at a key position (.752 OPS). The defense hasn't been superb (-4.5 UZR) but he hasn't been a total butcher either. Now, I may not be the most objective when it comes to DMac / Fish Filet, but I believe that if we were depending on Jonathan Van Every or another AAA player, the team would not be contending right now.
Don't tell me you expected 7 homers and a .933 OPS from Jason Varitek two months in. After two atrocious seasons, the Corpse has been a revelation so far, with a 6.0 VORP and 0.6 wins above replacement. Perhaps most impressive has been his work behind the plate: he has a 3.59 Catcher ERA (VMart's is 4.84). The cynical will say that Tek was just as streaky last year, hitting with authority in April and May and then vanishing off the face of the earth. Luckily, this year we have VMart already to take over if/as Tek fades.
Jeremy Hermida has an .869 OPS with RISP, but his overall numbers have treaded downward lately (.657 OPS). Given his career thus far (.761 career OPS, in the NL no less), he's due for some improvement, but not too much, especially after the recent collision with Adrian "Kamikaze" Beltre sidelined him. Jonathan Van Every hasn't gotten and won't get much playing time, especially with Josh Reddick up. Because of the presence of veterans like MacDonald, Hermida and Hall, Reddick has no added pressure to produce beyond what all young players feel.
Overall, our bench has been a pleasant surprise, and one integral to the Sox success so far. Hopefully with Mike Cameron returning, they can gain even more ground on New York and Tampa.
*Manny who? Yeah, I said it.