By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
It was not the way the season was supposed to start.
After an offseason that was heralded unlike any in recent years, with the acquisitions of high-profile players includingfirst basemanAdrian Gonzalez in a trade with the Padres and left fielder Carl Crawford as a free agent, along with relievers Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, many preseason prognosticators were fitting the Red Sox for World Series rings.
They were not supposed to go a shocking 0-fer in their first six games.
But thats exactly what happened when they opened the season in Texas and then went on to Cleveland. It was their worst open to a season since the 1945 team went 0-8. The Sox returned to Fenway Park to face the Yankees for the home opener with a zero in the win column. Manager Terry Francona later joked that he wasnt sure what to expect when the team was introduced to the home crowd. Applause or boos for the manager. It could have gone either way.
The Sox won that game, but later fell to 2-10.
The palpable angst among Red Sox fans elicited an appeasement from Chili Davis, the first-year hitting coach for Triple-A Pawtucket.
Tell Red Sox Nation in 1991 the Twins started off 2-9, Davis said back in April. We did all right that year.''
The Twins did more than all right that year. They won the World Series, beating the Braves in seven games.
Just how prophetic Davis words may be remains to be seen. But, at least for the first half of this season, the Sox have done all right.
They entered the All-Star break in first place in the American League East, a game in front of the Yankees, with the best record in the A.L. at 55-35. Their .611 winning percentage is behind only Philadelphias .626 (57-34) in the majors.
When they took over sole possession of first place on May 27, the Sox became only the fifth team in history to do so after losing 10 of their first 12 games, and the first since the 1982 Orioles. None of the other four teams turned things around as quickly by games or days as the Sox did.
For the Sox, though, it was a matter of when, not if. Even if there was no specific date in sight.
It seemed a long way off, Francona said. I think I believed it. It was a very difficult start. Theres no getting around that. I think we needed to regroup, and pay attention to detail, be patient to believe in ourselves because its not easy.
We were taking some pretty good shots. We probably deserved them, but there were some things being written or said that I dont think I believed. And I think we went out and proved that we can be a good team. Were not done yet, not even close, but were playing better baseball.
If the teams turnaround was a surprise, it wasnt to anyone in the clubhouse.
Im not surprised, said David Ortiz. I knew we had a good ballclub. What surprised me was how people were panicking and going crazy when we only had played a small amount of games. Like I always say, its not how you start but how you finish.
Guys in the clubhouse and players in the clubhouse speak for themselves the way they go out and grind out at-bats and grind out innings, Jonathan Papelbon said. Its the way it is. Its the way our ballclub is put together.
I like that we grind. You grind, you shine.
The Sox, shining, head into the second half -- starting Friday with a three-game series against the Rays in Tampa Bay -- in an enviable position. They are a major-league best 55-29 (.655) since getting their first win on April 8. They have won six games in a row, including a four-game sweep of the Orioles just before the break, and 10 of 11, heading into the break.
Nice to be where we are given where we started, said general manager Theo Epstein. A testament to all the hard work of the players and coaching staff. So, were definitely happy with where we are considering where we started. But it doesnt mean anything. Weve got to come back and play good baseball. Were in a competitive division and we havent really proven anything yet, although, hopefully, weve answered some questions about how weve bounced back from adversity.
You never answer all the questions that need to be answered in the first half. Proud of the guys, but it wont mean anything if we dont come out in the second half and play good baseball.
I think we are where we deserve to be, Francona said. Whatever our record is. Weve been a little bit up and down-ish, more down than wed like. But the ups have been better than the downs. Wed like to keep the losing streaks a little more to a minimum but weve done a good job rallying and keeping some of these streaks together. I think we have room for improvement, which I think is good. I think we lead baseball in runs they do, with 482 which is something were thrilled about.
"Wed like to get our bullpen a little bit more in order so we dont have to rely on Daniel Bard and things like that, with Alfredo Aceves and Matt Albers. We need to get Bobby Jenks going, try to get Franklin Morales on a roll here. Theres things we need to take care of,but theres room for optimism.
There is room for optimism, but there are some concerns, too.
The rotation has been hit hard by injuries. Francona has used nine starting pitchers this season, while four-fifths of the planned rotation has been shelved by injuries. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz begin the second half on the disabled list. Daisuke Matsuzaka is done for the season after Tommy John surgery. John Lackey missed 21 games earlier this season on the DL and has been inconsistent at best when available. Josh Beckett has looked like his former self but left his last start, on Friday, after the fifth inning with a mildly hyperextended left knee and opted to not pitch in the All-Star Game Tuesday night because of that.
Were a long way from 2-10, but we got to shore up, said Jason Varitek. We got to get our pitching staff healthy. Its another huge key. Same as when we pitch well consistently we have a chance to win.
Production from right field has been lacking in the first half. J.D. Drew, in the final year of a five-year, 70 million contract, is hitting just .229, with 4 home runs and 21 RBI in 72 games. Altogether, Red Sox right fielders Drew, Mike Cameron (24 games), Darnell McDonald (nine), Josh Reddick (three), and Adrian Gonzalez (two) hit just .220 with 9 home runs and 39 RBI in the first half.
The Sox, who are always active at the trading deadline, could be in the market for a right-handed bat or possibly a pitcher. But, with several high-profile trades in the last few years, including the one for Gonzalez in December and another for Victor Martinez at the 2009 trading deadline, the Sox have depleted the number of prospects available to trade.
The Sox have still not seen what Crawford can do for them. He has been out since June 18 because of a left hamstring strain and offered limited production before that --- batting .243 with 6 home runs, 31 RBI, 8 stolen bases in 12 attempts (a 67 percent success rate, below the accepted 75 percent), a .275 on-base percentage and .384 slugging percentage.
No question, health in general, Papelbon said. Get the guys back that have had the ailments that have been bugging them. Hopefully, come back with a full squad.
It was an incredible first half, Ortiz said. But the most important part is the second half. Thats the one that determines if were going to the playoffs or not. Hopefully, we come back on the same page and hopefully the guys on the DL will come back healthy.
Yes, the Sox are a long way from 2-10. But, they know October is still a long way away.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen