At the All-Star break, here are how the Red Sox are trending:
Five promising signs
1. Through his first 44 games, Jacoby Ellsbury had posted a slash line of .241/.303/.335/.638 and had scored 24 runs. Then in his next two games in Chicago, he reached base six times, and has never looked back. In his last 44 games, Ellsbury has posted a slash line of .371/.433/.511, scored 35 runs and stolen 23 bases in 24 attempts. Those are All-Star numbers.
2. It’s not humanly possible to play better defensively at second base than Dustin Pedroia. He has handled the most chances, made the fewest errors (1), and has the highest defensive WAR in the majors at his position (1.5). That’s what the numbers tell you. The eyes tell you so much more, as barely a night goes by in which Pedroia doesn’t make a highlight-worthy play. All at max effort.
3. Since the start of the 2012 season, only one big-league player, reigning AL MVP Miguel Cabrera, has a higher slugging percentage than Sox DH David Ortiz (.631 to .609). Granted, Ortiz missed 71 of the team’s last 72 games last season because of a strained Achilles tendon, but he has played just over the equivalent of a full season since the start of 2012, and this is what his line looks like: 163 G, 611 ABs, .318 BA, .409 OBP, .609 SGP, 42 home runs, 48 doubles. Anyone still want to debate the merits of giving Ortiz a two-year extension?
4. John Lackey is getting a higher percentage of swings and misses (9.7 percent) than any season since 2005 (10.6 percent). According to Brooksbaseball.net, the average velocity of his four-seam fastball this July is 93.37 miles an hour, an average velocity he has exceeded in just one month since the start of the 2007 season.
Five red flags
1. Clay Buchholz has thrown only 11 2/3 innings since May 22. He’s supposedly on the road to recovery, but we’ve heard that before. And there’s no telling how the long layoff will impact his performance.
2. Over the last two months (since May 15), first baseman Mike Napoli has the lowest slugging percentage (.380) of any Sox player with at least 40 plate appearances. Napoli, who has 4 home runs since that date, had 7 home runs while slugging .523 in the team’s first 39 games.
3. Koji Uehara has been phenomenal for the Sox, but the 38-year-old reliever already has made more appearances and pitched more innings than he did last season for Texas, when he broke down, and is on a pace to finish the season with 69 innings, the most he has thrown since coming from the mainland. Uehara takes great care of himself, but the Sox, who already have been riddled with injuries in the bullpen, could ill afford to lose him.
4. Jose Iglesias wasn’t going to hit .400 all season, but he came back to earth hard on this 10-game trip, batting .205 (8 for 39) with 2 walks. All eight hits were singles. Meanwhile, Will Middlebrooks, who began the season as the starting third baseman before being demoted to Pawtucket, homered for the PawSox on Sunday, but is batting .175 (7 for 40) in his last 10 games. Will Ben Cherington borrow a page from one-time mentor Dan Duquette and promote 20-year-old Xander Bogaerts, the way Duquette promoted 20-year old Manny Machado to the Orioles late last season? The Sox will give Iglesias/Middlebrooks time to bounce back first, but it can’t be ruled out entirely.
5. In 11 starts since May 20, Jon Lester is 2-6 with a 6.27 ERA. He is learning to rely less on the cutter that made him so dominant earlier in his career, but it remains to be seen whether a greater dependency on his changeup will help restore him to his former preeminence.