Bobby Valentine must be taking credit for this, right?

Maybe not in front of someone with a camera or a notebook, but he has to have told someone he had something — no, everything — to do with the resurrection of the Boston Red Sox.

One can imagine Bobby V, in his current capacity as Sacred Heart University athletic director, sipping cocktails wih boosters and convincing them that he recommended Tommy John surgery for John Lackey, even though he wasn’t hired until a month after Lackey had the operation.

No doubt he’s pulled an exercise major aside in the quad and demonstrated the stretches and workouts he showed Jacoby Ellsbury to keep him healthy for more than half a season.

He’s probably offered to be a guest lecturer in the business school so he could instruct students on the art of the deal, breaking down step-by-step how he engineered the mega-trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that his only regret was that he couldn’t get Magic Johnson to throw Shane Victorino into the transaction.

Perhaps he’s rolled into a fraternity or sorority bonfire on his bicycle, helped himself to a red Solo cup, draped his arm around the kegmaster and regaled the revelers in tales of how he knew Will Middlebrooks couldn’t hit big-league pitching and tried to tell everyone they would be better off having Jose Iglesias play third because he would hit .400.

As horrible a manager as Bobby Valentine was, he had a boundless imagination. But even he couldn’t have imagined the Red Sox would head into the All-Star break with the most wins in baseball after the disaster he presided over in 2012.

But here they are, at the end of what can only be termed a successful West Coast swing, with every other team in the American League chasing them.

The Red Sox enter the break having scored by far the most runs in baseball, but more importantly, having pitched well enough despite their top two starters either being on the shelf or ineffective for over a month and while not having a dependable, proven closer.

Man-for-man, the offense has had the most surprises. The lineup revolves around David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, and while both are having terrific bounce-back seasons, it is not unreasonable to expect All-Star caliber seasons from perennial All-Stars.

The table-setters in front of them, Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino, are reminiscent of the one-two top of the order of Ellsbury and Pedroia, circa late 2007-08. Ellsbury’s health, whether tied to his salary drive or just plain better luck, has been the key, of course.

Health has not been Victorino’s calling card, but when he’s been in the lineup, he’s usually been in the middle of things, and he’s played a solid right field. Perhaps the best way to grade his performance is to note that no one is complaining about his contract or pining for Cody Ross anymore.

Fellow outfielder Daniel Nava and Iglesias have been the biggest surprises among the everyday players. Nava, who served as Santa Clara University’s equipment manager after he failed to make the team, has been underestimated at every level of baseball. But he has solidified left field and been one of the most consistently productive and clutch bats despite riding the elevator up and down the lineup.

Iglesias is the real revelation. Some fans said they would be happy to have his glove at shortstop even if he only hit .200. Well, he’s been over .400 most of the season despite playing third base, a position he played once in the minor leagues. He has saved the front office from the embarrassment of putting so many eggs in the Middlebrooks basket this year. 

With Middlebrooks struggling, Iglesias has gone from utility player to a mainstay in the lineup. Hopefully Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp won’t see their roles evolve in the same fashion. They’re doing just fine as they are.

While it’s safe to say Iglesias won’t be hovering around .400 for long,  what lies ahead for some other contributors in the second half isn’t as predictable. Some of the players playing over their head will drop back, but others who have underachieved (Mike Napoli the past two months, and Stephen Drew) could pick up the slack. It basically comes down to whether or not Ellsbury, Pedoria and Ortiz stay healthy. If they do, the Red Sox will find a way to score runs.

Just how many runs they will need to score depends on the pitching. And, boy, is John Farrell going to make or break his bones on his area of expertise?

We have no idea of what to expect from Jon Lester the rest of the season. After a strong start, he’s reverted to his 2012 form. Regardless of how quickly or strong he returns from his latest DL stint, Clay Buchholz’s durability is a question mark the rest of the year.

Yet the Red Sox have survived, even thrived, without their best because Lackey has become the pitcher Theo Epstein hoped he would be. He is the ace for now and likely the rest of the season.

Red Sox fans have a right to be nervous about this, which means they will be clamoring for more pitching help before the trade deadline. But there doesn’t seem to be much from which Cherington can choose. It’s more likely that he’ll bolster the back of the rotation and hope for the best with his top three pitchers.

I would suggest Cherington should take the same approach with his bullpen —   make more moves like the one he just made for Matt Thornton and keep the pillaging of prospects to a minimum for guys who won’t pitch more than 30 or 40 innings in the second half. Trading for “proven” closers is folly. As has been demonstrated time and time again, most relievers are unpredictable from month to month, let alone year to year.

Cherington knows this and will consider it before he trades for the next Eric Gagne. Jonathan Papelbon would be tempting, since he’s proven he can handle the pressure, but the Phillies’ price will be high. Better to try to convince them to part with Cliff Lee and stick with Koji Uehara, with Andrew Bailey and even a prospect like Rubby De La Rosa waiting in the wings in case he falters.

Cherington and Farrell will have their work cut out for them the rest of the way. Winning the East isn’t going to be easy. Settling for a wild card spot is risky.

On top of all of that, they have a chance to make everyone forget the collapse of 2011 and the debacle of 2012. They can rewrite history in a way even Bobby Valentine would envy.

Randy Whitehouse is a staff writer. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @RAWMaterial33.


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