Somehow, Boston fans are adapting well to finding the Red Sox ten games up in the standings in the American League East. For all the pathetic griping and whining from the A-Rod Apologists (aka Yankees fans), the Red Sox have done a damned good job overcoming the obstacles laid out in their path. At mid-season, let us take a chance to show where the Red Sox are:

Jason Varitek, who spent most of 2006 trying to rediscover his stroke after puling a muscle in his ass, has bounced back to the consistent, but in no way awe-aspiring role of steady performer behind the plate and at the bottom of the line-up. The Chicken Parm man continues to struggle at the plate for the fourth straight season while playing personal caddy to Shakey-Wakey. Personally, I would like Josh Bard and Cla Meredith back, please.

Kevin Youkilis has finally blossomed. Youk has shown gold-glove ability at first to go along with his impressive on-base and slugging numbers. His intensity at the plate is welcome (if anyone can intensely take a pitch, it is Youk) in the line-up, be it at the top or middle. Youk looks like he is finally hitting his comfort zone and is in stride at the major league level (remember, this is really only year three up here).

April? Huh? Forget April. Dustin Pedroia is the toast of the town right now. All the WEEIdiots who were prepared to run him out of town on a rail and promote Alex Not Joey to starting second baseman should be continually reminded of how wrong they were. The stats do not lie: I wrote on April 4 about Pedroia:

PECOTA says: .294 9 62 .791 OBPSThe big beer gut says: .300 10 60 .800 OBPSPECOTA loves Pedroia. His VORP (value-over-replacement-player) is third on the team at 22.2, which says as much about how many crappy 2B there are in the majors as much as how good Pedroia could be.

Mike Lowell is deservedly going to the all-star game. Of course, last year at this time, he looked like a bounce-back star as well. Then he swooned through July, August, and September. I would like to think that in his Fenway swan song he can pick-up the slack in the second half and earn himself some big bucks in the off-season as a free agent.

I go. You go. We go. Lugo. For a guy that generates as much excitement with my daughter (turning four tomorrow) as Manny and Big Papi, he sure as had a lot of trouble living up to the hype. Lugo has driven in a fair number of runs, but considering RBIs are one of those stats that merely measures the ability of the batters ahead of you to get on base, it really holds no water (I will let rip the RBI as a statistic as they do such a better job of it). Lugo has struggled mightily, but has been a good defensive shortstop (not A-Gon, but equal to or better than the Messiah of the Bronx, aka the Joe DiMaggio reincarnate). Lugo will end up at around .275/.350/.425 as he moves back toward what he should and will do statistically this season. Alex (Not Joey) Cora did a fine job filling in as usual, but please Sox Nation, the guy is a utility infielder: no more, no less.

Big Papi is a gamer. Obviously, the man is not hitting like he did last year, and yet he is still the most feared hitter in the line-up. With fading protection behind him, Ortiz gamely pounds grounders through the shift and is driving enough pitches to left field to negate any outfield shift. On that note, I was intrigued enough that I took a look at the BIP Chart over at the Baseball Prospectus site and found through some comparisons with other sluggers that Ortiz really does not have an overt tendency to the pull the ball. In fact, his percentages and those for Manny break down as such:

Papi (2006): lf cf rf
Ground balls: 25% 13% 61%
Line drives: 39% 22% 39%
Pop-ups: 57% 11% 31%
Fly-balls: 40% 33% 27%

Manny (2006): lf cf rf
Ground balls: 74% 13% 13%
Line drives: 42% 29% 29%
Pop-ups: 12% 6% 81%
Fly-balls: 27% 32% 41%

Now, remember that Big Papi bats left-handed and Manny from the right side, and we see that as far as ground ball, Manny is pulling them with more frequency, while the fly-balls are almost identical. Really, super-aggressive shifts only work with lefties who do not run fast, because even with Manny jogging down the line, not many shortstops will be in left-field trying to throw him out at first. So does Ortiz really pull the ball too much? No, I do not think so, but the numbers definitely give some food for thought.

Ok, Manny. We are more than half-way through the season, and the numbers are still lacking. Manny still does not catch-up to the high hard one (he never did), but this year I have been amazed at how many pitches he has watched sail down the middle of the plate for strike three. Now Manny is a professed guesser at the plate, going on pitcher tendencies to find that one fastball or hanging curve right where he wants it. This year, he has been guessing wrong and looks downright foolish. The nadir has been his woeful performance in the final series where Ortiz was intentionally walked three times and each time up Manny failed to do anything at the plate. That is reason enough for intestinal turmoil if you ask me. The gist of this is that the Sox are not doing anything in the second-half or post-season without a big run of power and production out of the number four spot. If Manny continues his lackluster play in the second-half, I would expect this may finally be the season he gets his ticket punched out of town in the off-season.

Finally! For the first time since a brief two-week period in early 2006, we get to see the REAL Coco Crisp. Overall, his stats are still underwhelming, but he has been the most dynamic defensive center-fielder since (Reid Nichols? Gary Miller? Otis My Man Nixon?) Freddy Lynn. As his bat has heated-up in the past month or so, he has been an asset to the line-up: hitting the ball with authority, stealing bases, and providing a much needed spark to both the top and bottom of the line-up.

The jury is decidedly still out on J.D. Drew (thought not with my kids, who find it hysterical that his name is made-up of Zach Braff’s character from Scrubs and their 16-year old cousin’s name). I think the J.D. Drew of June and July is the true Drew, but how he fights through nagging injuries and is strong at the end of the season is the true measure of him right now.

The bullpen has been at times the strongest part of the team in the first half of the season, and yet at times a gigantic Achilles heel. Hideki Okajima has been a god-send and arguably the first half MVP. Jonathan Papelbon has been his usual dominating self when he gets enough work at the end of the bullpen. Everyone else has been in flux: Brendan Donnelly looked like an option at set-up until he got hurt; Manny Delcarmen has looked unhittable in his brief work in the majors, but no one knows if that will stand-up; Joel Pineiro has been alternately good and bad, and then hurt; Kyle Snyder has flashes of effectiveness, but is nothing special as the long-man; and the mix of other lefties has been a mixed bag as JC Romero already got his ticket punched and Javier Lopez seems unhittable some days and unable to find the strike zone on others.

The one constant, and the one thing that the fans need to hang their hats on in the second half of the season, has been the starting rotation. Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka have been as solid a 1-2 punch as could be asked for in. Tim Wakefield has been his usual adequate self, keeping his record near .500 and the team in games. I would like to see more seven and eight inning performances from Wakefield (where did this innings-eater myth come from?) Curt Schilling, if he can get healthy, should contribute again down the stretch. The Red Sox have been wise to make him take his time coming back from his stiff shoulder. If he comes back around August first, he could be the most useful addition of any team at the trade deadline (and costs the team nothing). As far as Yo-Yo Tavarez, well, I think the less said the better. He should be gone ASAP from the rotation. He is serviceable, and merely taking up space better used on Kason Gabbard or Jon Lester. The fact that you could swap him out with Kyle Snyder and lose nothing speaks volumes.

Overall, the Sox have impressed half-way through the season. They need more consistent production through the line-up (Runs scored continue to drop year after year), but the improved pitching and defense more than make-up for any line-up discrepancies. If Lugo, Crisp, and Drew continue to improve and Manny and Papi heat-up at all, the Sox should become a juggernaut in the second half of the season as their schedule, short of one extended trip out west, is pretty much full of underachievers.

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