New-look Boston Red Sox taking test run
WHEN Ben Cherington was done with his dismantling for the day, and had turned his attention to the future, he looked more immediately than long term.
"These are now the most important 54 games of our season," the general manager from Meriden said on July 31, after executing a quartet of significant trades, "because we've got a lot to find out."
As of this morning, that reemphasized and revelatory segment of the season is halfway over. It hasn't been a particularly encouraging stretch so far, with the Sox losing 15 of its first 25 games, including eight in a row at one point - but, really, the record is almost irrelevant. As Cherington suggested, Boston's nightly emphasis has moved from outscoring the opponent to making evaluations of its own assets.
So what has Sox brass gleaned from these initial 27 glorified tryouts?
They've found out that the overhaul of the pitching staff will need to be the top priority in the fast-coming offseason, considering the inconsistency of the internal options.
They've found out that Clay Buchholz can still be brilliant on a given day, but also that his 5.77 earned run average isn't fluky. They've found out that Joe Kelly probably deserves a place in the 2015 rotation, but certainly not as a No. 1 or 2.
They've found out that Rubby De La Rosa might be the only up-and-comer worthy of a starting spot at the beginning of next year. They've found out that Allen Webster, with his 5.81 ERA, remains very much a work in progress. And they've found out that Brandon Workman's future might be brighter as a reliever than with him taking a regular turn.
They've found out that Edward Mujica, who's been good since the All-Star break, might not yet be a completely lost cause - which is good because they've also found out they'll need to be careful about overuse, and have a contingency plan, if they re-sign Koji Uehara to close for them at age 40.
They've found out that they can't go into next season with Will Middlebrooks as their Plan A at third base, not after he took a .196 average and .270 on-base percentage into Saturday, while still looking for his long lost power stroke.
But there's less pressure to hold out hope for that thunder to arrive because they've found out that Yoenis Cespedes is a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat. And they've found out that David Ortiz is still an offensive centerpiece.
They've found out that center field will be as unsettled a position as it was last winter, given that Jackie Bradley Jr. is struggling to hit at Triple-A, Mookie Betts' defense offers occasional reminders that he's transitioning from the infield, and Cuban defector Rusney Castillo is undergoing an even bigger transition of his own.
They've found out that Allen Craig and Shane Victorino could both be constant injury concerns. They've found out that an offseason priority must be making sure the hands and fingers and wrists of Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia are fully healthy by February.
They've found out that, even though he's back at his familiar shortstop, Xander Bogaerts should be handled more like a 22-year-old than a cornerstone in his second season.
They've found out that Christian Vazquez is ready to be an everyday big-league catcher. They've found out that Daniel Nava's early struggles were an aberration. They've found that Brock Holt belongs in the big leagues - wherever there's a spot for him.
They've found out that it is, indeed, possible for a team to struggle with runners in scoring position for an entire season. They've found out that a decent on-base percentage (8th in the AL) matters less when a team's batting average (14th) and slugging percentage (15th) is lacking.
They've found that Cherington was right: With the amount of work to be done in putting this thing back together between now and next April, a third of a season was time they couldn't afford to waste.
How are the players the Sox dealt in the week leading up to the deadline faring in their new locales?
Here's a look:Jake Peavy: Those who predicted the righty would thrive by returning to the National League have been spot-on so far, with Peavy posting a 3.18 ERA in six Giants starts before taking the bump on Saturday against the Brewers. He's been more aggressive against NL lineups, walking fewer and thereby regularly working through the seventh inning.
Felix Doubront: After a mediocre rehab start in Double-A, Doubront was set to make his Cubs debut on Saturday against the Cardinals. He's been on the disabled list with a calf strain since Chicago acquired the lefty.
Jonny Gomes: Through Friday he'd made only nine starts for the Athletics this season, and while reaching base at a .368 clip, he was still seeking his first extra-base hit since the deal. Durham's Sam Fuld, who hit a game-winning homer in the ninth inning Wednesday, has to this point proven the bigger pre-deadline pickup.
Jon Lester: The A's are 4-2 in his starts after the lefty surrendered three runs (two earned) over six innings in a loss to the Angels on Friday. His ERA with Oakland is 2.66, and he's given his new team a chance to win each time, though through Friday the Athletics had seen a 2.5-game lead become a three-game deficit.
John Lackey: He allowed nine runs on 13 hits over five innings to the Orioles in an interleague game, but Lackey has given the Cardinals a quality start - and helped them win - in each of his four other starts. That includes seven excellent innings against both the Brewers and the Pirates, with whom the Cards are tussling for position atop the NL Central.
Andrew Miller: The 29-year-old has continued his emergence as one of the game's premier left-handed relievers since getting to Baltimore. In 11 innings through Friday he'd allowed just a run on three hits, with 14 strikeouts and a 0.55 rate of walks and hits per inning pitched.Stephen Drew: His offense was a major disappointment for the Red Sox - and it's been no better with the Yankees, for whom he began Saturday hitting .173 with a .248 OBP.
Stat of the week: Through Friday, five of the Sox' seven minor-league affiliates owned winning records, with an aggregate mark of 410-339 (.547), and with as many as five teams in position to reach the playoffs.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is email@example.com.