When Dustin Pedroia reported to spring training on Feb. 12, he made clear his mission for this season.
“Our goal,” he said, “is to win the World Series.”
Then, perhaps anticipating the snickers from all who witnessed last year’s 93-loss humiliation, Pedroia continued.
“I know everybody thinks that’s not a (realistic) goal right now,” the All-Star second baseman said. “But it is.”
Five months later, nobody is laughing anymore. With a club-record 58 wins before the All-Star break, the Red Sox are legit playoff contenders.
Just don’t expect Pedroia to pound his chest and say, “I told you so.”
“We’ve been putting our head down all year and just played every game,” Pedroia told the Boston Herald before the Red Sox completed a pre-All-Star break series with an 11-inning, 3-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics. “So, I don’t think we’re going to do things any differently or look up and say, ‘Oh, we’re having a great year.’ We’ve got a long way to go. Just got to continue to get better and play the game right.”
And the second half will be filled with tests, including 10 straight AL East games out of the All-Star break against the Yankees, Rays and Orioles. The Sox still have to make another West Coast trip, six interleague games against the Giants and Dodgers in late August, and six of their final 11 games will be against the always-tough Orioles.
Ultimately, the Red Sox’s ability to reach the postseason may rest on the right shoulder of Clay Buchholz, the oft-injured ace who is 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA but hasn’t pitched since June 8. Likewise, they’d like to get Andrew Bailey pitching effectively again in the closer role and Jon Lester back to his ace-like form at the top of the rotation.
But the Red Sox eclipsed the 1978 and 2008 teams in wins before the All-Star break mostly because of their depth. They have gotten contributions from all corners of the roster, most recently right-hander Brandon Workman, who delivered six no-hit innings Sunday in his first major league start. Rookie shortstop Jose Iglesias batted better than .400 through June, and recently recalled third baseman Brock Holt has filled in nicely since being called up from Triple-A Pawtucket.
“Every team goes through things during the course of a season,” Pedroia said. “It’s how your team responds, how the guys who come up and fill in, how they perform. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve become successful.”
Despite spending the season’s first two weeks on the disabled list, DH David Ortiz leads the Red Sox with 19 homers and 65 RBIs. RHP Clay Buchholz was the best pitcher in the American League until a shoulder injury caused him to miss the past six weeks. But for consistent excellence, nobody has been better than Pedroia, who started all but one game for the Red Sox and entered the All-Star break batting .315 with a .393 on-base percentage. Additionally, he has played Gold Glove-caliber defense at second base and helped set the tone for the Red Sox with his usual all-out hustle. Pedroia is the Red Sox’s de facto captain, and with his contract running through a team option in 2015, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him sign a long-term extension before next season.
To manager John Farrell, RHP Clay Buchholz is the “biggest key” for the Red Sox in the second half. It’s hard to argue. For two months, Buchholz was the majors’ best pitcher, but he hasn’t made a start since June 8 because of a nagging shoulder injury. Equally important, though, is LHP Jon Lester, albeit for different reasons. Lester was 6-0 with a 2.72 ERA through his first nine starts before going 2-6 with a 6.27 ERA in his last 11 starts. “Stuff’s the same, mindset’s the same, bad execution,” Lester said. “So, take the break, get away for a little bit and come back fresh, almost like it’s a new season for me.” Indeed, if Lester is able to turn things around, the Red Sox rotation will be as strong as ever.
Buy or sell?
How about stand pat? Given that they’re leading the AL East at the All-Star break, the Red Sox will be buyers before the July 31 trade deadline. But after acquiring LHP Matt Thornton last week to bolster the bullpen, it’s possible GM Ben Cherington won’t make any additional moves depending on how the market shapes up. The Sox are seeking upgrades at third base and have checked in on the Phillies’ Michael Young. They’re also monitoring the starting pitching market, with an eye on the Cubs’ Matt Garza. And while they’re still on the lookout for bullpen help, Cherington is hoping the Red Sox can fill their needs with in-house options.
With 16 players having made a total of 19 trips to the disabled list, the Red Sox’s depth has been tested. No injury has been more significant than Buchholz, who hasn’t pitched since June 8 and has made only two starts since May 22 because of inflammation in the bursa sac in his right shoulder. The Red Sox are hopeful that he will be able to return in late July, and they need him. Buchholz was 9-0 with a league-leading 1.71 ERA at the time of his injury. Meanwhile, another big blow came last week when LHP Andrew Miller was lost for the season with ligament damage in his left foot.
Despite their lofty spot in the standings, the Red Sox already have called up several of their top prospects, including RHP Allen Webster and SS Jose Iglesias. In the second half, RHP Rubby De La Rosa could follow, especially if the Red Sox determine that he can help out of the bullpen. The real headliner, however, would be if the Sox decide to call up SS Xander Bogaerts, their top prospect, who recently was promoted to Triple-A Pawtucket. Bogaerts, only 20, could be in line for a taste of the majors once rosters expand in September.