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Sunday Discussion: Bright Spots

Winning: better than losing.  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Winning: better than losing. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
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The Boston Red Sox are no longer in last place. Break out the fireworks, strike up the band, and pop open your finest beers. Sure, fourth place isn't the greatest of spots, but it's an improvement. And with the AL East as tight as it is, fourth place is far from out of it. It's only just now June, and talking about the playoffs either way is fairly ridiculous. But that it's ridiculous either way is a vast improvement over a month ago, when we were all beginning to wonder whether this team might well fall into oblivion.

So today, we honor the guys who've come out of the shadows to pull the team back from the brink. Sure, David Ortiz is having perhaps the finest year of his borderline-HoF career (yeah, I said it, come at me), but we've all loved Papi for a good long while now. As we head into June, I want to give the new guys a bit of praise. Three players stand out for me as unexpected pillars of the current team:

Felix Doubront

Expectations for Doubront this year ranged from "adequate fifth starter" to "he'll be passable until Aaron Cook is healthy." And really, we'd probably have been happy with either of those outcomes, given how shaky the rotation looked going into the year. Two months in, what have we gotten from Felix? A 6-2 record, 66 strikeouts in 62.1 innings, and a 3.75 ERA. The 66 strikeouts are eighth-best in the AL, tied with Dan Haren and two behind Jake Peavy and Yu Darvish. The only AL starters ahead of Doubront (9.53) in K/9 are Darvish (9.74) and Max Scherzer (a frankly terrifying 11.7). He hasn't been as efficient as we might want him to be, but when he's been on the mound, he's been terrific, and far better than I think anyone expected.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Salty's spent a good half-decade as one of those players who was bound for greatness but never quite made it. Touted for years as a top prospect, a centerpiece of the deal that sent Mark Teixeira to Atlanta, expectations have always pursued him. And yet when Boston acquired him in 2010, it was for two low-level prospects, a PTBNL, and some cash. Basically nothing. He started 101 games at catcher, and was fine, putting up a 95 OPS+. This year, though, he's found his power stroke. He's currently second on the Sox with 10 home runs, more than any other catcher in the AL. He's slugging .563, good for seventh in the league. That's the entire AL, not just catchers. Sure, his .310 OBP could stand improving, but when your catcher's outslugging Miguel Cabrera, it's hard to complain.

Mike Aviles

The Red Sox got Aviles from Kansas City for Yamaico Navarro (now in Pittsburgh) and Kendal Volz (in Double-A). This offseason, they traded away both Jed Lowrie and Marco Scutaro, all but handing the starting shortstop job to Aviles. And he's done very little to make Boston regret it. He's hit eight home runs already. To put that in perspective, the last time a Boston shortstop hit more than ten home runs in a season was 2003, when Nomar hit 28. We all know shortstop's been a black hole of suck for the Red Sox ever since 2004, but it's a bit staggering to realize how long it's been since we've seen a shortstop who could put the ball over the fence with anything approaching regularity. He doesn't get on base enough, and he's mighty streaky, but his power has been a huge asset.

I'll hand it off here. Who's been your unexpected hero of the 2012 season? One of these guys? Suddenly solid closer Alfredo Aceves? Any of the various outfield stopgaps? New hotness Will Middlebrooks? Chat it up.