Red Sox on top at the All-Star break
BOSTON -- The expensive flops are gone. So is the misfit manager. And the Boston Red Sox are winning again.
Winning more than any other team in Major League Baseball.
That's 58 wins, most in the majors and just 11 fewer than they had all last season.
Keep up the .598 pace they have at the All-Star break and they'll finish with 97 wins, 28 more than last year when they had their worst record in 52 years.
"Overall, very proud of the way this team has played," manager John Farrell said in his usual low-key manner. "The number of guys that we've called upon have contributed. Our guys deserve a much-needed couple of days off here."
His steady style and reluctance to criticize players is just what the Red Sox needed after one disastrous season under Bobby Valentine, who rarely wandered far from the spotlight even if it meant knocking his players publicly.
The Red Sox also needed a more cohesive clubhouse.
They got that by trading disgruntled Adrian Gonzalez, injured Carl Crawford and declining Josh Beckett -- and unloading more than $250 million in salaries -- to the Los Angeles Dodgers last August and adding consistent, if unspectacular, contributors like Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp and Koji Uehara.
And with Clay Buchholz sidelined since improving to 9-0 on June 8, Allen Webster, Alfredo Aceves and Brad Workman helped fill the void.
When third baseman Will Middlebrooks was sent to the minors after struggling and shortstop Stephen Drew was injured, there were solid reinforcements. Slick-fielding Jose Iglesias is batting .367 as Drew's replacement, and Brock Holt and Brandon Snyder have combined for 14 RBI in 19 games at third.
"We're at 42 players and counting," Farrell said. "Seventeen above and beyond the 25 players who began the season. We have a number of talented guys. We can tap into a good group of players who have made significant contributions."
The Red Sox lead the majors in many major offensive categories -- runs, hits, doubles, RBI, walks and on-base percentage. They're second in batting average, triples and slugging percentage.
At .277, they trail only the Detroit Tigers in batting average. And six players who started Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics, the Red Sox's last game before the break, are batting .300 or higher.
Last year, the Red Sox hit .260 and didn't spend a single day in first place. This year, they've led their division for 87 days, including the last 49.
Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz all made the All-Star game, although Buchholz was replaced because of injury.
Pedroia has been outstanding all season. He's hitting .317 and has been spectacular on defense at second base. Ortiz missed the early part of the season with a heel problem. Since returning, he's been a dangerous slugger with a .316 batting average and leads the team with 19 homers and 65 RBI.
"The All-Star break comes at a good time," said Gomes, whose presence has helped knit a once-fraying clubhouse. "We've got some guys heading up there to New York who will hopefully get us some home-field advantage and give us an opportunity to lick our wounds and get back to work."
Farrell's influence has been significant on the pitchers. He worked with some of them in his four years as Terry Francona's pitching coach from 2007-10.
Buchholz's turnaround has been the most impressive after he went 11-8 last year. Jon Lester won his first six decisions but has struggled since then. John Lackey, who missed all last season following Tommy John elbow surgery, leads Boston with a 2.78 ERA in 16 starts while walking just 23 in 100 1/3 innings.
The biggest problem has been finding a reliable closer.
Joel Hanrahan started in that role and struggled before also being lost for the season to Tommy John surgery. Andrew Bailey was ineffective. Now, Uehara has the job and has been strong, although the Red Sox have blown 14 of their 34 save opportunities, one of the worst averages in the majors.
They're 58-39 and lead the Tampa Bay Rays by 2 1/2 games in the AL East. But the division's top four teams are all at least seven games over .500, and only six games separate them in the standings.
One of them, the New York Yankees, visit the Red Sox for the first time this season when play resumes Friday.
"We get back to a division that is deep and strong," Farrell said after Sunday's loss. "We look forward to getting back to Fenway and getting off the West Coast."
A victory would have given the Red Sox their 20th series win, matching their total for all last season.
Some other impressive numbers:
-- No losing streak has been longer than three games.
-- 58 wins is the most in their history at the All-Star break.
-- And that same total is the most at that point in the majors since Detroit had 59 in 2006.
"I think we're all right," Gomes said. "The wins and losses speak for themselves. Health is the main thing. We're a little banged up, but no one's out for the year or anything. We'll get everyone back."
And, they hope, to keep playing the way they have.
"There are a lot of games left and we face a tough schedule," Farrell said. "We play more than half our remaining games against teams who are at .500 or better.
"The challenge is not any less."
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