One of this year's most persistent themes seems to be ripping the Red Sox: the way the team was constructed, the lack of a big bat, the lack of chemistry, the poor start, etc.
While much of this criticism was, and is, valid to some degree, a lot of it ignores fact.
See, this team is not as bad as popular opinion would have you think—and by popular opinion, I mean the opinions that get recycled and bashed over our heads during the 24-hour news cycle.
Unfortunately, fresh and original ideas in the world of sports reporting/journalism have gone the way of the dodo bird. (That is one of those phrases people use and are probably not even sure what it means, but apparently it is a bird, native to the island of Mauritius, that went extinct around 300 years ago. Thanks Wikipedia! How did we pick the dodo as our reference for things that have gone extinct? Whatever.)
Well, here is a fresh take: The Red Sox are a lot better than you think.
Don't believe me? Well, you shouldn't; we don't even know each other. But at least let me explain why.
We all know this was supposed to be a team built around pitching and defense. Right. Well, they are second in the AL in home runs, third in runs, tied for fourth in BA, second in slugging percentage, and fourth in OBP. So much for having no offense!
What is particularly telling is that no one is really playing over his head. It's not like those rankings are skewed by overachievers on hot streaks; rather, everyone is pretty much playing as expected. Never mind the fact that they have been without two starting outfielders for quite a while now (more on that later).
Yeah, um, not so good. The bullpen has been shaky, the starters have been erratic, and there have been injuries to deal with.
That being said, this is an area where, if you actually watch the team, you know that the situation is not quite as bleak.
After a slow start, Jon Lester has been excellent. Clay Buchholz has been pretty damn good, as has John Lackey. Tim Wakefield has done what has been asked of him (and all that can be expected). The only red flags among the starters are Josh Beckett (injuries and inconsistency) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (injuries, ineffectiveness, and mind-numbingly slow outings). Four out of six isn't bad.
Watching this staff, you get the sense that the best is yet to come, and for some of them, it has already begun coming.
Well...okay, so the defense experiment has gone a bit awry—to say the least. Adrian Beltre has been alternately amazing and unreliable. The outfield seems to have turned misplaying balls into a fashion trend. And of course, there is the minor issue of any team with a hint of speed being able to run all over the Red Sox. All real issues.
However, the Sox are missing two of their three outfielders: Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron. Not insignificantly, those are considered two of the better defensive outfielders in the game. Oh, and Ellsbury happens to be their leadoff man, one who stole 70 bases last year (see above). There is nowhere to go but up defensively.
There is a weird vibe with this team right now. At times earlier in the season they seemed lackadaisical and sullen. Now, over the past few weeks, they seem to be enjoying the game and playing more focused baseball.
Also, as any Red Sox fan can attest, a team needs a certain amount of fight and perseverance to succeed over the course of 162 games and beyond. This team has been displaying that. They seem to have already had an inordinate number of games where they have come back from large deficits.
Granted, they didn't seal the deal in all of them (see Mon., May 17 vs. NYY), but the fact that they seem to always have a chance shows that this offense has heart—and my friends, heart is a good thing.
While it is true that the Red Sox sit in fourth place in the AL East and are 8.5 games out of first, their season is far from over. Well, maybe not according to the New England and national media. But their record has them squarely within the wild card hunt, and with a little luck, they may even make a run at the division.
Do they have enough to win? Maybe not. But maybe...