If people had told you after the infamous Nick Punto trade (or even this March) that on June 30, 2013 the Red Sox would be 50-34 and first in the AL, you would be cautiously optimistic to say the least. Coming into this year, I was hopeful the Sox would at least be competitive for a while, and maybe over .500. I would be lying if I said I was expecting Boston to be in this position right now. How come they have exceeded expectations? Here are some reasons why:
-Success against AL East: The Sox record against the AL East is 23-15 good for a .605 winning percentage, slightly higher than Boston's overall winning percentage of .595. Against the Yankees they are 4-2. Rays, 9-3. Blue Jays, 8-5. The only ugly part of this is the 2-5 record against the Orioles. The Orioles always seem give the Sox fits these past 2 years, but against the other 3 teams, solid baseball has been played almost every game. In big games, the Sox have come out victorious.
-Starting pitching: Here are the following starter ERA's: Lester 4.61, Buchholz 1.71, Dempster 4.11, Lackey 2.99, Doubront 4.22. Their team ERA (3.91) is only 13th in the MLB, but last year they were 27th with a 4.70 ERA. That is a huge difference, and a big contribution to success. The Red Sox have always had good offence, and they are #1 in runs scored again this year. The only part of their downfall will be when their pitching is poor. They don't need to be fantastic, because there will always be run support. Buchholz has been Cy-Young worthy, and Lackey has been very solid. Lester is a bit concerning after a great start, but should still be a quality 2-3 starter. Doubront always has similar problems with control and a high pitch-count, but is still valuable. Dempster is a horse who can give you over 200 innings, and has been as good as he needs to be. Even though the bullpen has had some issues, and the pitching isn't as dominant as in April, the pitching has been up to par. And that is all the Sox need right now- - - solid but unspectacular pitching.
-Unexpected heroes: Put your hand up if you predicted 49 RBI's half way through the season for Daniel Nava. Ya...I thought so. He has been the best surprise this season. In March, I thought of him as an OK option to replace Gomes sometimes, but now it's the opposite. Another guy with surprising power is Mike Carp. With a .313 average, 8 HR and 25 RBI's, he has well exceeded expectations in limited playing time. He has played sparingly since an injury, but is still a valuable piece on the bench or if someone goes on the DL. Now what to say about Jose Iglesias? This man has been waving a magic wand all season long, defying the baseball gods with a staggering .465 BABIP. Sure, some people say he has been lucky with tons of infield hits, but he has shown real progress from previous seasons. He has some power, and his offence has been very good all season long. This is before I even mention his defence, which is better than most regulars in the league. If Iglesias can keep hitting around even .260 or .270 (but hopefully higher), he will be a very good shortstop/ third baseman. These three guys have been integral parts of the Red Sox success. That's not even mentioning some solid bullpen surprises like Andrew Miller and Alex Wilson.
-Offence on top once again: Earlier I mentioned that the Sox will always have good offence. This year that is true again. Overall the Red Sox offence last year was 9th in the majors, but they took a major dip after the Dodgers trade. Their lull in offence didn't last long, because they are first in runs scored this year. There were some questions about whether guys like Napoli and Victorino could replace the offence lost from Gonzalez and Crawford. In fact, they've out-produced them. They are 2nd in AVG, 2nd in SB, 1st in OBP, and 2nd in SLG. While some people would rather take other offensive lineups, the Red Sox have unquestionably been the best offensive team this season.
-Attitude in the clubhouse: I don't really like mentionning this, but it does have some validity. I'm not saying a postive atmosphere and uncontroversial coaching will lead to wins, but it does make the Red Sox a lot more likeable of a team and players are probably having a lot better time than last season. There is no stat to measure how much chemistry a team has, but when you hear no bad stories unlike last year, it can't be a bad thing.
The Red Sox have shocked me this season, and I really hope they continue to do so. I'm guessing they will need around 90 wins to get a playoff spot (potentially less), so they will only need to go about 40-38 the rest of the way. Can they continue doing the things that have made them successful? I think so, and I think at least a wildcard spot will be theres come October.