Friday, July 14, 2006

Mid-Year Review , Part I

You can look at the Sox' performance in the first half of 2006 several ways. The glass-is-half-full view is that they're in good shape to finally supplant the Yankees as AL East kings. They're three games up at the break and the schedule (nine games against KC) is favorable. The negative nellies in the Nation, however, can point to the fact that the Red Sox went on that huge winning streak, are 20 games over .500, and yet those dreaded New Yorkers are still hanging around. If we've learned one thing over all these years, it's don't let the Yankees lurk.

Let's take a look at the starting position players. We'll do pitcher recaps in a separate post.

Kevin Youkilis, 1B:Right now, Youk's one of two or three guys who would get strong consideration for the 10th player award. He's finally gotten the chance to become more than a character from "Moneyball" and he's seized it in a big way. We knew he was a disciplined hitter, but we didn't know he'd be a good leadoff man and we certainly had our doubts about his switch to play first base full-time. The Greek God of Walks has answered his doubters resoundingly. Big question going forward is how he can handle the full 162-game grind. He slumped badly right before the break.

Mark Loretta, 2B: Sure, Theo's made some questionable moves, but you can't question this one. Loretta for Mirabelli, and now we've got Mirabelli back. I initially liked the pickup because of Loretta's offense, but I didn't know how solid he was defensively. Not the best range, but if he can get to it, it's an out. Also, when you hear about how 'professional' the Sox have become - through their conscious Idiotectomy - this is one of the guys leading the charge. Would be nice to see a little more pop from his bat in the second half.

Alex Gonzalez, SS:He went from A-Gone to Gonzo in about a month or so. Historically a weak hitter but one of the best we'll ever see playing shortstop. Smooth like butt-ah. The bonus is that he's started to swing the bat with a little more confidence, and in a short period of time has raised his average from Mendoza territory to above .275. If he keeps it up, he may have a new long-term contract to ponder.

Mike Lowell, 3B:10th player award is between Lowell and Youk. Another well-respected professional. Entering this season, all we heard from the sky-is-falling Boston media was that his bat speed was slow as molasses. He was all washed up. To be fair, he didn't have a good year last year with the Marlins - but what a difference a year makes. He's a doubles machine, occasionally hits the timely home run, and is stellar at third. A pretty good throw-in in the Beckett deal, wouldn't you say?

Jason Varitek, C:Not the best of halves for the captain, particularly with the lumber. If he can pick the offense up a notch in the second half, it would be a huge plus. Still can't figure out why Tito had him play all 19 against the White Sox in the last game before the break.

Manny Ramirez, LF:All-Stargate aside, Manny has been a pleasant surprise both on and off the field so far in 2006. On the field, he's seemed as focused as he's ever been. He's playing good defense and has been his normal imposing self in the cleanup spot. Sure, he still lollygags it down to first, or doesn't back up his fellow outfielders, but I think it's safe to say we're all glad he didn't leave. Papi needs the protection.

Coco Crisp, CF:Tough to grade Covelli Loyce Crisp at this stage. He missed a couple of months with the wrist problem, and some have questioned - based on his performance since he's been back - whether he's fully healed. Youk's done such a nice job batting leadoff that Tito has been able to drop Coco down in the order to take some pressure off. Logic would indicate that as he gets healthier, the hits - and SB's - will come. And maybe he goes back into the leadoff slot. His highlight of the first half was far and away the Superman catch he made off David Wright to beat the Mets.

Trot Nixon, RF:Not hitting for much power, but Trot's had a good half average-wise. Would love to see him or Lowell step up and be the solid No. 5 hitter this team badly needs. He's in a contract year, so hopefully that serves as a nice carrot down the stretch. He's gone 30 games without homering.

David Ortiz, DH:If Papi duplicates what he's done in the first half, he might need some space on his mantle for an MVP Award. The shift has certainly had a negative impact on his batting average, but the shift don't work when he's blasting balls into the bleachers. He's on track to become the first Sox basher to swat 50 since ol' Double X, Jimmie Foxx, did it back in 1938.

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