BOSTON (AP) – The Boston Red Sox have the same record this year that they did at this point in the 2006 season.
But there’s one big difference.
The Red Sox have a 10-game lead over the New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays with 75 games to play, an advantage that could give them a cushion to fall back on if they are struck by injuries again. Last year, the team fell apart in August and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
This year, strong pitching from Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka, with help from Tim Wakefield, has helped them overcome the injury that has put Curt Schilling on the disabled list for at least a month. All-Stars Jonathan Papelbon and Hideki Okajima have essentially shortened the game to seven innings.
That’s allowed Boston to speed ahead of the slumping AL East even though half of the Boston lineup has yet to hit its stride. Manny Ramirez (11 homers and 45 RBIs this year, 35 and 102 last year) and David Ortiz (14 and 52 one season after 54 and 137) might still come through.
Free agent acquisitions J.D. Drew (6, 33, .258) and Julio Lugo (5, 40, .197) have not really produced, either. Red Sox manager Terry Francona said he expects the slumping players to show their old form in the second half.
“I wouldn’t rely on the law of averages,” Francona said. “They’re just good players.”
But thanks in part to Kevin Youkilis (9, 44, .328) and Dustin Pedroia (3, 25, .318), Boston is still eighth in the majors in runs, with 435, thanks in part to a major league-leading on-base percentage of .358.
“We’ve had guys step in and play key roles and getting key hits,” Drew said after the Red Sox finished the first half by getting swept by the Detroit Tigers. “And in terms of camaraderie of the team, that’s what you want.”
Despite winning just five of their last eight games before the break, and playing .500 for more than a month, the Red Sox have the best record in baseball. The starting rotation is the biggest reason why.
Beckett (12-2, 3.44 ERA) is tied for the league lead in wins, earning him the right to be one of six Red Sox on the All-Star team. Schilling (6-4, 4.20) has been up-and-down, pitching a one-hitter before landing on the DL with a sore right shoulder.
Julian Tavarez has filled in well while Schilling was out. But the best news for the Boston rotation has been the arrival of Matsuzaka, who cost the team $103 million in the offseason.
The Japanese right-hander pitched well even while adjusting to his new surroundings, but he’s warmed up with the weather. He won three straight starts before losing to Detroit in the first half finale, going six starts in a row without allowing more than two runs.
“We didn’t have to remake him when we got him,” Francona said. “He was already pretty polished.”