Midseason report: Boston Red Sox earn a passing grade, barely

It's been that kind of first half for Bobby Valentine and the Boston Red Sox.

REPORT CARD: Boston Red Sox

Offense: B+

It is fun to look at the breakdown of the Red Sox offensive stats and leaders this year and see David Ortiz at the top of every category. His continuance of last year’s success will make a good case if he intends to resign with Boston this offseason. Ortiz’ play on the field has also punctuated his comments this offseason that Boston media failed to highlight him as a leader in the Red Sox clubhouse, and this production has earned him Boston’s lone All-Star bid. Potentially overlooked by All-Star voters, however, has been catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who has hit for career best numbers in home runs already, as well as significantly diminishing his passed ball rate from 26 a year ago to five so far this year. With the amount of injuries sustained, as well, the performances of Daniel Nava and Scott Podsednik have showcased depth and helped to keep this team afloat. The offense sputtered on the West coast going into the end of the first half of the season, but overall the production has been there for the Red Sox, who are second only to Texas in runs scored this season.

Defense: B+

Defensively, Boston is sixth in the MLB with a .986 fielding percentage and 47 errors on the season. The biggest question coming into this season was the situation at shortstop, where top prospect Jose Iglesias did not seem ready to hit at a major league level, yet the Red Sox did not have another full-time shortstop on their roster to replace him. Enter Mike Aviles, a utility infielder who had proven his offensive ability, but was a question mark as an everyday shortstop. Winning the job over Iglesias out of spring training, Aviles has been nothing short of brilliant defensively, with just seven errors in 386 total chances so far this season. Where Boston potentially loses points defensively is at third base, where the shift of Kevin Youkilis back to third base did not produce the type of Gold Glove consistency that he had at first base, nor has his successor, rookie Will Middlebrooks, demonstrated any brilliance with the leather. Middlebrooks, who was initially left off the major league roster at the start of the year to allow him time to work on his skills defensively, also has seven errors, but in only 107 chances. Nevertheless, he has earned his starting position at third base and has entered the Rookie of the Year conversation because of his inspired offense, rather than his defense.

Starting Pitching: C

Red Sox starters are (33-31) and Jon Lester’s ERA leads the team at 4.33. Those numbers alone epitomize the struggles for the Red Sox this season, who, as a team, are only (43-43). What is more discouraging is that the best ERA on the team is so high, especially when it is owned by someone who is allegedly the ace of this pitching staff. Neither of the Red Sox’ top two starters own a winning record: Lester (5-6) and Beckett (4-7). Production from Boston starters has come almost exclusively from third and fourth starters, Clay Buchholz (8-2) and early season surprise, Felix Doubront (9-4). The experiment to convert Daniel Bard from reliever to starter sufficiently failed as Bard has been demoted to triple-A Pawtucket, returned to the bullpen, and remains wildly inconsistent at the minor league level. Honorable mention must be given to Aaron Cook and Franklin Morales who have both shined in spot starts over the last month.

Bullpen: A

Despite some shaky appearances early on, after Alfredo Aceves took over for injured Andrew Bailey, and expected set-up man, Mark Melancon, was demoted after failing to pitch a clean inning at the major league level, the Red Sox bullpen has been one of the most impressive parts of this team. Not only has Melancon returned to the staff with a vengeance, pitching multiple innings per appearance and allowing only one run since his return, Aceves has converted 19 of 23 save opportunities. The most notable performances in middle relief have been the consistency and versatility of Franklin Morales, the resurgence of Matt Albers after a 2011 season where many thought he had run out of steam, and the shocking dominance of Scott Atchison who posts a 1.76 ERA over 45.1 innings this season after never having an ERA under three in his entire career. In 2010 with Boston, Atchison allowed 37 runs over 43 games, where he has only allowed nine this season in 36 appearances. Boston has also showcased pitching depth strong performances from Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, and Clayton Mortensen, in tight, specialty situations.

Manager: B-

Bobby Valentine remains tough to gauge at this point in the season. Boston is third in the league with 42 players used this season, and this balancing act is something to be lauded. However, Valentine’s large personality remains a concern as it did leading up to this season. No doubt, Bobby V’s relationship with Youkilis played into the eventual decision to trade the fan-favorite third baseman to Chicago, but Youkilis is not exempt from fault either, and has been criticized by Boston media well before the Red Sox had cut ties with Terry Francona. Listening to Boston sports talk, the phrase of the day concerning Bobby V is “communicates poorly.” That may be true, and the Youkilis saga illustrates that, but, for as polarizing as Bobby Valentine was at the start of this season, since the Red Sox were swept by New York in a rain-shortened series during Fenway’s 100th Anniversary celebration, Valentine seems to have shifted his staunch approach and became much more complimentary and loose with players, even joking with Aceves on the mound in Minnesota when it seemed as though he had almost allowed a walk-off home run that ultimately fell harmlessly into the glove of Darnell McDonald. Despite it all, Boston is still 9.5 games out of first place in the East and if Valentine wants to be looked on favorably, getting above .500 in an effort to reach the playoffs, even if it means exploiting the second wild card slot, would be a good way to do so.

Front Office: B-

Ben Cherington, in his first season at the helm for Boston has been rather even-keeled so far with nothing major to speak of. Although he recognized the need to move Youkilis – and make no mistake, this was a need much as it was a need for Theo Epstein to trade Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 and Manny Ramirez in 2007; Youkilis had reached that same boiling point – the return from this deal has been rather controversial amongst many in Red Sox Nation. RHP Zach Stewart was immediately optioned to triple-A Pawtucket and utility man, Brent Lillibridge, was, and remains, below the Mendoza Line this season. However, maybe the best barometer of Cherington’s ability has been the signings he didn’t make. Mark Buehrle (8-8), Edwin Jackson (5-4), and Gio Gonzalez (12-3), who were all free agents this past offseason and were approached by Boston, all own ERAs that would be leading the Red Sox. Chiefly among them is Gonzalez, whose 2.92 ERA has helped to lead Washington to first place in a strong NL East, but pales that of Jon Lester. With the Red Sox’ pitching staff as weak and inconsistent as it has been this year, not signing one of these players this past offseason has made an obvious impact.

Overall: C

It is not very difficult to give Boston an overall grade at this point in the season; an average record of (43-43) begets an average grade. Perhaps the biggest problem with the Red Sox this season has been the level of inconsistency they have displayed over the past three months and the last eleven games have been a microcosm of that imbalance: When pitchers put in quality starts in Seattle and Oakland, the offense was nowhere to be found. Against New York, only Doubront earned a win, while Beckett and Lester allowed 10 runs between them. What has resulted on the field is a record that is exactly average, and that is what the performance of the Red Sox has been so far this season.

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