Best and Worst: First half of Red Sox 2015 season


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. OK, it was mostly the worst of times. But the first half of the Red Sox 2015 is finally over. And as the dust settles, the Sox find themselves in last place in the A.L. East, 6.5 games behind the Yankees, who lead the division. So how did they get here? There are plenty of ways, some good and some bad. So let's take a look back as the team hits the All-Star break.

There were high hopes for these Boston Red Sox heading into the 2015 season, and what better way to start the year than against one of the pitchers you've been linked to in trade talks -- with a price that reportedly would cost half the farm? The Red Sox rocked Phillies ace Cole Hamels in their season opener, as Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez each belted two home runs. And on the other side of the ball, Clay Buchholz did his own impression of an ace. Buchholz got lit up his next time out, but has pitched much more along the lines of the guy from the first start than the second start this season. And how about that Red Sox offense? (Uh, um . . . can you please repeat the question? )

It was all fun in games the first month of the year when Hanley Ramirez stumbled around the outfield and botched a play or two almost every night. Why was it fun and games? Because he was mashing home runs almost every night, too. Then May came around and the home runs stopped, though the ineptitude in the outfield continued. Hanley being Manny became Hanley being a liability. Has he improved in the field over the last couple of months? Yes. Will he ever be a great fielder? No. Will he ever be a good fielder? No. But as long as he keeps mashing -- and as long as David Ortiz is a member of the Red Sox, blocking the Hanley-to-DH path -- Ramirez is your left fielder. So deal with it.

You already know what this one is about. Instaface, MyGram, FaceSpace etc. etc. Listen, we're all guilty of a little social media while on the toilet. It's replaced baseball as America's pastime -- and we have baseball players proving it. But there's a time and a place for everything, and in the middle of a Major League Baseball game is not the time to be on social media if you're an actual player in that game. So yeah, Pablo Sandoval, you win this award. With everything going wrong with the Sox then, the Instagram "likes" by Panda really felt like the tipping point. Just a bizarre 24 hours.

It's a bird . . . it's a plane . . . it's a right fielder . . . it's a third baseman . . . it's Brock Holt! The man does it all. He's been able to play every position from 3-9 this year (and last year) for the Sox, and have proved to be an invaluable chess piece for John Farrell. What's more? The dude even hit for the cycle this year, breaking a record held by JOHN VALENTIN. That's an old record. How many people have started at seven different positions AND hit for the cycle in the same year? I feel like the answer could be nobody. I also feel like that means Holt just beat baseball. Like, what else does the guy have to prove? He did it all in the field. He did it all at the plate. No wonder he's an All-Star. I'm convinced Bill Belichick could turn him into a cornerback, too.

The Red Sox didn't go out and get an ace, but that didn't stop them from paying somebody like one. Rick Porcello, while his most recent start can be called a success, has been anything but a success this year. And the scary thing is that they're locked into him for the next four years at over $20 million a season. It has some people wondering if it's the worst contract they'll ever be stuck with -- and this is before it even kicks in. It's obviously too soon to give up on Porcello, but he's a groundball pitcher who spends more time serving up baseballs to the moon.

Oh man. I consider myself a glass half-full kind of guy, but even I'm having trouble with this one. I'll say this, we won't see much of Rusney Castillo this season, making the first year of his deal a complete waste. If Shane Victorino stays healthy (big if, I know) and Alejandro De Aza keeps doing his thing, they'll stay ahead of Castillo on the depth chart. He just doesn't seem comfortable in the majors yet. And based on the limited media access we have, he seems a bit out of the loop. Could be a language barrier thing. Castillo is not built like fellow Cubans Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jose Abreu and doesn't possess that power. His strengths are TBD . . . and he's been hurt numerous times.

I fully admit I was okay with this trade when it was made. I think a lot of us were. But let's make one thing clear: John Lackey is pitching on a $500,000 contract this year and you haven't heard him say boo about it. Not a peep. The talk around here was that he'd make a stink -- or even consider retiring! - before he honored that last year of his deal. So that was way off. Lackey is 7-5 with a 2.99 ERA and 1.22 WHIP for the Cardinals. The Sox would be a better team today if they hadn't made that trade; that's a fact. Instead, they got Allen Craig, who's no longer even on the 40-man roster, and Joe Kelly, who's also down in Pawtucket trying to get his you-know-what together. Grade: F.

If we're gonna bash Ben Cherington for the worst trade, we have to give him credit for the best one. And you know what? If you had to make the bad trade in order to make the good trade, I'd do it. That's how important Eduardo Rodriguez can be for the Red Sox not only this year but for years to come. The Sox traded trusty reliever Andrew Miller to the Orioles for Eddie Ballgame, but Miller was in the last year of his deal. He was a rental for the O's. He was effective for them, but they didn't win the World Series, so losing Rodriguez could haunt them. Now, Miller is closing for the Yanks -- and doing a heck of a job -- but Rodriguez is the Sox' best pitcher in the rotation with Buchholz down.

The Red Sox had a bit of a revolving door out in right field for quite some time as Daniel Nava struggled, Rusney Castillo struggled, Allen Craig struggled, Jackie Bradley struggled, Shane Victorino couldn't stay healthy, etc., etc. Brock Holt could do it, but what if he was needed in one of the other six positions that night? When Alejandro De Aza was put on waivers, the Sox, having one of the worst records in the Majors at that time, had high priority to claim him, and did. Since then, he's been a nice little spark at the plate, on the base paths, and in the field. He's pretty much exactly what the team was looking for.

Literally nobody knows why Mike Napoli is struggling as badly as he is. Not Ben Cherington, not John Farrell, not Cherington, not Napoli himself. Nap is by all accounts an extremely hard worker and dedicated to the game, so you know his dismal season is eating away at him. It's gotten so bad that Farrell has even put David Ortiz at first base in order to maximize the Sox offense. But now it's turned into a sideshow as to why Ortiz won't commit to playing first base more often. I'll tell you why: Because he's 39 years old, hasn't really played first base regularly in over a decade, and probably feels a little awkward talking about taking over his teammates position. And yeah, he's David Ortiz and just wants to DH. So be it. (And can we just please, please, pleaseeee stop throwing out the idea that Hanley Ramirez can play first base? He can't, and it won't happen.) Napoli needs to figure it out, and fast.

It's a damn shame that Xander Bogaerts isn't going to his first All-Star game. But if things keep trending in the direction that they are for Bogaerts, it might be the last All-Star week he misses for a long time. Maybe he should enjoy the time off this year. But facts are facts, Bogaerts is the best American League shortstop. Alcides Escobar got the votes. Jose Iglesias has the edge in batting average. But neither of those guys are good hitters. Bogaerts is slapping the ball all over the place, and if I'm an American Leaguer and want to win the game, I trust Bogaerts at the plate over those two. He's also gotten much better in the field. Though he didn't make the team, the fact we're even discussing it is a 180-degree turn from last year. Also, this isn't a slight at Brock Holt, who also deserved All-Star consideration and just as he helps the Sox with his versatility can help the All-Star team. But that being said, #BoycottforBogey

Not now Clay . . . not now! Hey, Clay, way to prove everybody right. Everybody said it was a matter of time before you went down with an injury. I said no way. I said he's in the best shape of his life and this year is gonna be different. Well, I was wrong. But I'm not willing to admit defeat yet. It sounds like the Sox may have caught a break with Buch's injury, as it was called a strained flexor muscle and it was caught early. The hope is that Buchholz will miss just a few starts and get back to the team in August. But by the time August rolls around, this team's fate may already be sealed. They'll miss him the next few weeks as they try to get in the playoff hunt.

Sure, the Sox are 42-47, but they're 15-9 since June 16 and find themselves 6 1/2 games behind the Yankees for first place in the A.L. East. Considering they were back 10 games in June, this is a good thing. The pitching is sketchy -- and Buchholz's injury only compounds that -- but the hitting is what really seems to be coming around for a team that went quietly into the night all the way through May and half of June. Now, we're seeing a little fight as they stage comebacks in games that their pitchers can't hold together. You've gotta give credit to the kids, Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts specifically, for injecting some life into this squad at the top of the order.

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