Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Short on all-stars, long on success
BOSTON -- When Major League Baseball announces its all-stars on Saturday night, Red Sox Nation is likely to see the American League roster as a bit disproportionate. David Ortiz is a lock to be on it, likely as the starting designated hitter. Dustin Pedroia is a pretty safe bet, too, probably as a reserve second baseman. But there's a good chance that'll be it for the team that owns the AL's best record.
Sox fans shouldn't see it as a sign of disrespect, though. Rather, they should embrace the lack of individual accolades as a testament to their team's collective and cohesive excellence. And the fact that through ups, downs, injuries and adversity, three months of evidence shows this to be first and foremost a team focused on doing whatever it takes to win.
It's been evident from the start, when they spent the first 40 days of the season in first place, and have so far lived there for all but two weeks. But it hasn't been easy. And it certainly hasn't gone according to plan.
They were carried through a 20-8 April by Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, though Buchholz has been battling an injury for more than a month and Lester's earned run average is 6.99 over eight starts since May 20. John Lackey left his first start with a biceps injury, sending him to the disabled list. Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster both struggled for stretches. Renegade Alfredo Aceves and rookie Allen Webster have combined to make 10 starts.
Both of their established closers have failed, depleting perceived bullpen depth, and in total their relievers have blown 13 of 29 save opportunities. Their young third baseman was sent to the minors after reaching base at a .228 clip and striking out 60 times in 53 games. Their star DH missed the first three weeks. Their shortstop joined him on the DL to start the year, and has since hit .233. Their regular right fielder has been on the DL twice. Their backup catcher was shut down indefinitely while recovering from a concussion.
Their leadoff hitter was batting .242 as late as May 21. Their first baseman and No. 5 hitter took the field Tuesday with six extra-base hits in the past seven weeks. One of their everyday corner outfielders is a guy who was on the fringe as far as even making the team midway through spring training.
They have already used 38 players and 20 pitchers at the big-league level, the latter total equaling the number they employed in the entire 2007 season. They had used 60 different batting orders through 84 games. And they made 35 transactions in June alone that affected their 25- or 40-man roster.
Yet they went 17-11 for that month — and so there they were, rolling into a three-game series with the Padres at 50-34. They opened July with a 2 ½-game lead in the East. They had 5 ½ games of padding on a playoff spot. They led the AL in runs scored. And they were better than average in runs allowed.
To put it plainly, with all they've been through they probably wouldn't be where they are if they were constantly counting on a small group of stars to carry the rest. Instead, they've gained this position by seeing guys step up to fill roles, by not asking anyone to perform at a level dramatically beyond their capabilities, and by being prepared for the moment that opportunity presents itself.
That's exactly how Ben Cherington built this team to function. And exactly the culture John Farrell has facilitated.
Of course, it helps to have stars. And with Ortiz and Pedroia, the Sox will have two of the brightest shining at New York's Citi Field on July 16. Independent of his fan-voted status as a starter, Ortiz has earned his ninth all-star appearance by bringing a .317 average into Tuesday night, and taking a 1.008 on-base plus slugging along with it. That OPS trails only the Orioles' Chris Davis and the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera among AL hitters, and despite his late start while rehabbing a persistent heel injury, he reached the midpoint on pace to finish with a .300 average, 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in for the first time since 2007.
Pedroia, alternately, isn't likely to start. But he probably should. Through June, he ranked third in the AL in average and hits, fourth in walks, fifth in doubles and on-base percentage, and sixth in runs scored. He's been as consistent as they come as the third hitter in the league's best lineup, then add all that to the stellar glove that gives him the second-best ultimate zone rating in the league, and he's been the best player at a position that has also seen high-quality seasons out of Yankee Robinson Cano and Indian Jason Kipnis.
In fact, Pedroia may be an MVP candidate. And he's done it all since completely tearing a thumb ligament in the season opener.
Beyond that, it's a stretch to see any others Sox being included. Buchholz is 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA, and might've started the game, but he's hurt. Jacoby Ellsbury might be the next-best bet, with a league-leading 32 steals through Monday, and with his average, total hits, OBP and runs scored all having improved to the point they're among the top-five for AL outfielders, but his lack of power might shuffle him back at that position.
Lackey and his 2.99 ERA might have an outside shot (perhaps as an injury replacement?), and Daniel Nava might appeal to the sentimental side of manager Jim Leyland, but more likely both of those players fall into the next tier: Not quite all-stars, though certainly having good seasons, surely among the reasons the Red Sox have the AL's best record — and absolutely appreciated, even in the absence of individual recognition.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.