Summer get hot, Papi get hot. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE
And just like that, it's July. The Red Sox have now played 79 games, and they enter today at 42-37, half a game out of a playoff spot. Given the way the season started, this seems just short of a miracle. Boston has crawled its way back into contention, and they've done so in ways we really weren't expecting coming into the year.
So, since halfway points are psychologically satisfying, figured it would be worthwhile to go over the Sox roster and see how it is that Boston's gotten to where they are. We'll take a look at the leader in starts at each position and how they've done through the first half. We'll then try to figure out whether they're likely to regress, and if so, which way. Also, in the case of the outfield, we'll figure out whether or not the guys we're waiting on to return might do any better. Let's get looking.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C: .254/.302/.537, 15 HR, 119 OPS+, 1.6 oWAR
With one more home run, Salty will tie his career high. His 15 HR lead all major-league catchers. His OPS is third in the AL among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances. I think we all hoped to see big numbers from Salty, but this power surge has been really impressive. Odds are pretty strong he'll regress at some point, but so far it's been fun to watch.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: .274/.324/.410, 6 HR, 96 OPS+, 0.0 oWAR
Gonzalez has been a less great story this year. His six homers have him tied with Casey Kotchman, and his .730 OPS is lower than Carlos Lee's. It's been immensely frustrating watching Adrian struggle this year, although he has shown some signs of coming around lately. A big second half from him would go a long way in getting the Red Sox into October.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B: .265/.325/.403, 6 HR, 94 OPS+, 1.0 oWAR
Another one of the Red Sox' core players who's been underperforming to this point. Pedey's actually been hitting pretty well over the last few weeks, and yesterday he finally broke a long homerless streak. But that thumb injury he battled for much of May and June clearly limited his effectiveness offensively. Pedroia's a strong candidate for a big second half, assuming health.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B: .298/.335/.538, 10 HR, 129 OPS+, 1.1 oWAR
Obviously most of us were figuring on seeing Youk get the bulk of third base starts, but he got hurt (not surprising), and Middlebrooks turned out to be a pretty good major-league hitter (fairly surprising). It's certainly been fun to watch him tear the cover off the ball, but he is a rookie, and rookies have an unfortunate tendency to regress with a vengeance as the league figures them out. We saw him go through one slump earlier, and he seems stuck in another right now. Hopefully he can hit his way through it.
Mike Aviles, SS: .266/.285/.420, 9 HR, 86 OPS+, 0.8 oWAR
Aviles started the season hitting amazingly well, hitting .291/.330/.535 with five of his nine home runs in April. He's cooled off considerably since then, although his June was slightly better than his May. None of his current numbers are way out of line with his career norms, so it seems likely this is what we've got. Another well-timed hot month would be nice.
Daniel Nava, LF: .294/.411/.462, 3 HR, 134 OPS+, 1.4 oWAR
Yeah, Daniel Nava's seen the most time in left field this year. Raise your hand if you had that one predicted in March. If you also predicted he'd have the best on-base percentage on the team, why don't you go ahead and crack a beer, your prophetic powers deserve a drink. Nava's probably not actually this good, and Carl Crawford is very likely to return soon. But Nava's hit well enough that even vintage Crawford might not be much of an improvement.
Marlon Byrd, CF: .270/.286/.320, 1 HR, 62 OPS+, -0.3 oWAR
I somehow doubt, between Byrd's DFA and his subsequent positive drug test, that we need to worry about whether he'll regress in the second half. More importantly, Byrd was actually the most frequent starting center fielder for Boston this year. The Red Sox have started nine different men in center in 2012, led by Byrd's 26 starts. Last year, Jacoby Ellsbury started 152 games in center. I guess what I'm saying is that I really, really hate Reid Brignac.
Cody Ross, RF: .287/.358/.575, 12 HR, 144 OPS+, 1.3 oWAR
Technically Ryan Sweeney's started one more game in right than Ross, but with Sweeney on the DL and Ross the most likely starter the rest of the season, it seemed worth cheating a bit on this one. I think we're all blown away by how good Ross has been for Boston. Given his past splits, and his performance in spring training, it seemed likely that he'd be a good fit at Fenway, but right now he's fourth in the AL in homers among right fielders, behind only Jose Bautista, Mark Trumbo, and Josh Reddick (yeah, I know, why can't we get guys like that). And he's done it despite missing six weeks with a broken foot. Looking more and more like the steal of the offseason.
David Ortiz. DH: .302/.390/.607, 21 HR, 162 OPS+, 2.4 oWAR
What more can we possibly say about Papi at this point? He leads the AL in extra-base hits, he's behind only Josh Hamilton in OPS, he's only struck out 43 times, he's smacking the ball to the opposite field... It's just been astounding to watch him reinvent himself at this age. Most lumbering DH types are cooked at 36, and Papi might be having the best year of his career. Incredible.
So, taking a look at the offensive starters, the thing that leaps out is how little overperformance there seems to have been. Salty probably won't hit 30 HR, and Ross and Ortiz seem likely to hit slumps at some point, just out of sheer probability. Nava's unlikely to keep that OBP north of .400, but he's also likely to be replaced by Carl Crawford pretty soon. Center field can't help but improve, and both Pedroia and Gonzalez's career numbers suggest stronger second half performances.
Boston's coming to the mid-point of the season trailing only Texas in runs scored. They've done it without Jacoby Ellsbury, and with Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia hitting well below their abilities. The second half doesn't look to hold any relief for American League pitching staffs, and that bodes well as the Sox get back into the hunt.