87 games into the season and the Boston Red Sox have the best record in baseball. Do you want to re-read that? Do you remember how many games the Red Sox won in all of 2012? They won a derisory 69 games while almost losing one hundred. The entire season was an unmitigated disaster that threatened to alienate one of, if not the most loyal fan base in all of professional sports.
Yet, now, as of Friday afternoon, the Red Sox are 53-34, which is nearly 20 games over .500 and could not be more beloved in the city of Boston. In a rare dark time for Boston’s hometown teams the Red Sox have been shining light amidst the chaos of Aaron Hernandez, the Bruins gut-wrenching game six collapse, and the end of the Doc Rivers era. The product the Red Sox have placed on the field this year could not be more different than the Valentine led 2012 squad.
The epitome of this 2013 team is Jonny Gomes: the journeyman the Sox signed to be the everyday left fielder. Well, this everyday left fielder thing hasn’t really worked out for Gomes thanks to the emergence of Daniel Nava and Mike Carp. Instead of starting everyday, Gomes has been relegated to a 4th outfielder role and a bench bat that starts once a series at the most. Consequently, Gomes has every right to be a ticked off distraction in the clubhouse a la Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, etc. Instead Gomes has been the exact opposite and has come to embody the personality, toughness, and competitiveness of the 2013 Boston Red Sox.
To say it in more precise terms, Gomes epitomizes everything the Red Sox wanted this team to be; they are the antithesis of 2012. That is why it is so inspiring to see Gomes come off the bench and win the Red Sox multiple games. He has appeared in just 61 of the Red Sox games this season, and many of those appearances have been as a pinch hitter. Yet, Gomes has 5 go-ahead RBI and 5 game winning RBI. That is remarkable.
Coming off the bench and delivering clutch hit after clutch hit is one of the toughest tasks to accomplish as a baseball player and I don’t think it is a coincidence that Gomes continues to succeed in that role. It is safe to say that without Gomes the Red Sox would not have 53 wins. Maybe they would still be in first place, but the old adage of your only as strong as your weakest link holds court even on a 25 man baseball roster. Long live the legend of Jonny Gomes.
Guys, this wasn’t supposed to happen. You don’t have a 6.41 ERA one year, get Tommy John surgery the next, and then go out and have arguably the best year of your career the following year.
Yet, with Buchholz still rehabilitating is Lackey officially the unquestioned ace of the Red Sox staff? You would be hard pressed to argue otherwise. For starters Lackey’s ERA is 2.81, which is 6th best in the AL and 18th best in all of baseball. He is also throwing his fastball consistently in the 94-96 MPH range while striking out 8.2 batters per nine innings.
Golden solved the Lackey riddle pretty easily in his Wednesday column when he said, “In sum, it’s good, old fashioned fundamental pitching that’s put him back in the saddle: make hitters make choices, get strike one and don’t murder yourself with walks.” Thus, don’t expect this to end any time soon.
The Replacement Guys
Injuries can cripple a team if you don’t have positional depth and players who can step up and fill in admirably when a starter goes down. The Sox have had their fair share of injuries; they have just dealt with them better than any team in baseball.
Jose Iglesias is still hitting over .400 and playing phenomenal defense at SS and 3B. A guy named Brandon Snyder is delivering bases clearing doubles that result in the game winning runs crossing the plate. We all know the stories of Gomes and Carp.
Despite not making it out of the 2nd and then 5th innings in his 2nd and 3rd big league starts, Allen Webster has filled in nicely for Buchholz as the Sox have won his last two starts. Koji Uehara has become the closer and has run away with the job, and even Aceves has been solid in his few spot starts.
After missing almost the entire month of June, Buchholz may finally be on the brink of returning to the Sox rotation. Although the Sox have managed to win without Buchholz, we all know he will be one of the most important components of this team come August, September, and, hopefully, October.
After losing the closer gig a few weeks ago, Bailey had his first clean inning since June 15th yesterday afternoon against the Padres. Although he may never regain the closer role, a consistent and reliable Bailey would be another valuable weapon for the Sox pitching staff.
New York Yankees
Before sweeping the hapless Twins, the Yankees had endured a terrible month of June in which they went 11-16. They have fallen 6 games behind the Red Sox and now they have to deal with the circus that is A-Rod. Good luck, with that. Not much makes me happier than watching the Yankees suffer (beating Rex Ryan’s Jets is very close though).