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article imageOp-Ed: Red Sox continue to gain momentum heading toward all star break

By Matthew Coughlan     Jul 6, 2013 in Sports
Boston - The Red Sox are 88 games into the season and they look like a much different team than they were last season, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Anybody who even casually follows the Boston Red Sox is probably aware of what a train-wreck the team was last season. The Sox finished 78-84, their first losing season since 1997. They lost their final 8 games and 12 out of their last 13. As much as I love baseball, I couldn't help but be relieved when the season finally came to an end. The team's troubles, however, had actually started in 2011. Going into September it looked like a lock that the Red Sox would make the playoffs. Then they went 7-20 during the month. Their final game ended in a 4-3 loss to the Orioles. Boston still had a chance to make the playoffs. All they needed was for their most-hated rival, the Yankees, to beat the Tampa Bay Rays. It was horrible enough that the baseball gods had put the hopes of Red Sox Nation in the hands of the Yankees, but when the Yankees blew a 7-0 lead to the Rays, losing 8-7, it was absolutely sickening. A historic collapse to what looked like could have been a very promising season. Worse, however, was yet to come.
Manager Terry Francona was fired at the end of the season. It was tough to see him go. He had lead the Red Sox to two world series championships in 2004 and 2007. The last time the Red Sox had won before that was 1918. To make matters worse, rumors leaked that he had addictions to painkillers as well as marital problems. Many of these rumors were believed to have originated in Boston's front office. It was completely disrespectful to shame a manager who had done so much for the team. Theo Epstein, the general manager, also bolted for Chicago. He left behind players with monster contracts, and the team with little cap space. The dominoes just kept falling. The Sox hired Bobby Valentine. To put it mildly, he was not the right fit. As early as training camp there were rumors that he was overly harsh toward shortstop Mike Aviles. Things only went downhill from there. Boston's season was plagued with drama (the bad kind) and defeat. Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzales were traded to the LA Dodgers to free up cap space. The end of the season marked the end of the Valentine era, as the brass fired him shortly after the last game. The disaster that was the 2012 season can't be blamed solely on Bobby V. The players did not perform and injuries hit the team hard. That said, his presence certainly didn't help any.
The 2013 season has so far been a breath of fresh air. The Red Sox snagged John Farrell, who had once been a pitching coach for them, from the Toronto Blue Jays. He has a more reserved style than his predecessor and he seems to be more in sync with the players. Perhaps more importantly, the players are performing. David Ortiz, who was sidelined by injury toward the end of last season, has come back strong, batting .321 with 17 home runs and 61 RBIs. Jacoby Ellsbury who has spent significant time on the DL in previous seasons, is getting his swing back. Going into June he was struggling. His contract is up after this season, it looked like the Red Sox must have been planning to part ways with the center fielder. Recently, however, Ellsbury has been on a hot streak. He is now batting .302 with 54 runs scored and 34 stolen bases. Dustin Pedroia, who seemed absolutely miserable last season, appears to be enjoying himself. His numbers are excellent. The former AL MVP is batting .323 with 49 RBIs and an on base percentage of .404. His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is 3.4, the best at his position and third best in the AL. Pedroia's defense continues to be stellar. Finally, there is Jose Iglesias. The 23-year-old shortstop has earned a starting spot on the team. His defense is spectacular and he has provided a steady bat as well. As a team the Red Sox lead the MLB in runs scored, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. They are second in batting average.
In terms of pitching, the Red Sox have also improved from last year. The biggest surprise has been John Lackey. He has been absolutely resurgent lately. He has won three of his last four games and has an extremely respectable 2.81 ERA for the season. He had been a source of much frustration last year. He finished a disappointing 12-12 with an ERA of 6.41. The last few games I can hardly believe it is the same guy. Clay Buchholz, before being put on the DL with a strained neck, was absolutely lights out. He has a 9-0 record with an absurdly low 1.71 ERA. If he was not the best pitcher is baseball during this span, he was very close to it. Jon Lester has been somewhat inconsistent this year, but the Sox have won the last three games he has started, and his last start he only gave up one run in seven innings. In recent weeks , Koji Uehara has emerged as a strong closer for the team In the last ten games Uehara has two holds, three saves, and two wins. His ERA is 1.95. As a team the Red Sox pitching staff is tenth in ERA and 6th in quality starts.
The Red Sox have won nine of their last 10 games. They are 54-34 and heading into the all-star break with confidence and momentum. It is difficult to give credit to everyone that deserves it in one article but there is a lot to go around. Certainly John Farrell deserves quite a bit for turning the team around. That said there is a lot of baseball left to be played. Red Sox fans remember only too well the 2011 season that went from good to atrocious in a month's time. Older Sox fans have seen many seasons where good teams tunred out to be disappointments. Boston has a 5.5 game lead in the division and a 6 game lead over the New York Yankees. New York, however, has just announced that Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are to begin minor league stints shortly, as they work their way back from injuries. The Yankees have been battling injuries all season, but are from elimination.
The 2013 season began with disappointing news. CBS Boston reported that the record sell out streak at Fenway Park came to an end at 794 games (granted the statistic is controversial to begin with). Aside from that there has not been too much disappointment. The team started strong, something it had failed to do the past two seasons, and it has kept the momentum going. As the Red Sox play their next game tonight against the Los Angeles Angels, Sox fans will most likely hope that this level of play continues, while realizing how quickly a season can change for the worse.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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