Are the Boston Red Sox Actually Pennant Contenders?

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Are the Boston Red Sox Actually Pennant Contenders?
Leon Halip/Getty Images

As we near the halfway mark of the 2013 MLB season, the Boston Red Sox sit atop the AL East with a surprising two-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles.

What was supposed to be a “bridge” year has instead seen the Sox assert themselves as contenders in what has thus far been a crowded AL pennant race.

But are they for real?

Overachievers tend to fade over the course of the season and it would seem at first glance that the Sox would certainly fit that category. After all, expectations couldn’t have gotten much lower after the catastrophic 2012 season and their low-profile forays into free agency this past offseason.

It is certainly true that the Sox’s offense has gotten a bit lucky this year. While they lead MLB in runs scored, they also lead in BAbip.

The Sox currently have a .323 team average on balls in play, which is significantly higher than the median MLB average of .296. A regression (and subsequent dip in production) would seem inevitable at this point.

Like in several previous seasons as well, injuries also will loom over this team the rest of the way. The injuries to Clay Buchholz continue to cause concern, as do those to right fielder Shane Victorino.

The ineffectiveness and demotion of Andrew Bailey is also a big problem.

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But for a team without a No. 1 starter at the moment, no proven closer and a series of injuries to deal with, a lot of other pieces have fallen into place that look to be sustainable over the rest of the season.

The Sox’s overall pitching statistics, while middle-of-the-pack, are at least not deceiving. Advanced metrics like xFIP and WAR all suggest that the Sox’s pitching is exactly as it looks: average. We can thus expect that, so long as their starters remain healthy, they’ll stay that way.

Some might worry that, with average pitching, the Sox might have trouble beating MLB’s top teams. That certainly hasn’t been a problem so far, as the Sox have posted nearly identical winning percentages against teams above and below .500.

They are currently 31-23 when playing .500-plus teams (a .574 winning percentage) and 14-10 versus sub-.500 teams (.583).

Unlike, say, last year’s Orioles, the Sox have also been right around the norm in one-run games. They currently have a 10-8 record in such contests and most teams can expect to finish right around the .500 mark for a season.

The Sox, for all their pitching injuries, have had a really strong offensive season. They have the third-best run difference in MLB, trailing only St. Louis and Detroit, while only really having one or two players (David Ortiz and possibly Dustin Pedroia) producing truly superlative numbers.

It’s a team whose success has been built on the foundation of many different players. It has successfully managed to diversify its offense, and as a result, fans can expect the Sox to produce for the entire season.

So long as the pitching staff can avoid further injuries and at least tread water, this team will contend well into September and should be in prime position to grab at least a wild-card spot.

 

Advanced statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com.

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