Is Red Sox' glass half full? Or half empty?


This is the first in a series of stories examining where the Red Sox stand at the All-Star break, and what to expect in the second half of the season.

BOSTON -- The Red Sox arrive at the All-Star break with a mixture of regret, optimism and uncertainty.

Regret, because they played poorly for the first two months, consigning themselves to the American League East basement thanks to their stumbles in April and May.

Optimism, because a turnaround that began in early June and stretched right up until the final series of the first half has, at the very least, bought them additional time in the race for the postseason.

And uncertainty because, some three weeks before the non-waiver trade deadline, the Red Sox can't decide if they're in or out, if they should be buyers or sellers -- or somewhere in between.

For now, the best that be said about the first half is that -- and this would have seemed improbable as recently as a month ago - the Red Sox somehow survived it.

In early June, trailing by double digits in the standings and lagging behind an otherwise bunched-together collection of teams in the division, the Sox seemed destined for a second straight last-place finish.

The starting rotation, suspect to begin with, began the year well through the first turn, then began a long stretch of declining performances. It wasn't just that the team lacked an ace; for a while, it appeared to lack competence. Justin Masterson pitched poorly enough that the team took a minor shoulder ailment and turned it into a month-long timeout. Eventually, Joe Kelly's lethal combination of poor command and subpar efficiency got him sent to Pawtucket.

From the start of the season through mid-May, Boston's collective starter's ERA was an unsustainable 5.34. Ultimately, the poor job turned in by the rotation cost pitching coach Juan Nieves his job.

Not that the early-season problems were limited solely to the rotation.

Despite a lineup upgrade and more than $40 million committed to Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval this season alone, the offense sputtered.

For a time, the Sox seemed to lack a leadoff hitter. Sandoval appeared helpless against left-handed pitching, and so did David Ortiz. Worse, the problems the team experienced with runners in scoring position resurfaced, like a pest the team thought it had exterminated with its offseason upgrades.

Too often in the first two months the Red Sox typified the characteristics of a bad team: When they hit, they didn't pitch; and when they pitched, they didn't hit.

On June 2, returning from a dismal 1-6 road trip, principal owner John Henry felt compelled to issue votes of confidence to general manager Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell, while conceding that the product on the field through the first two months was disressing and represented "terrible television.''

Soon after, a turnaround of sorts began. The starters, with the notable exception of Rick Porcello, began taking the team deeper into games. The top-of-the-order trio of Dustin Pedroia, Mookie Betts and Brock Holt began to provide table-setting for the middle of the order. Ramirez, limited through the month of May by a jammed left shoulder, heated up. Ortiz rediscovered his power stroke.

But even as the team began the long uphill climb back to respectability, there were stumbles along the way. Sandoval was found to have been on Instagram in the middle of a game in Atlanta, resulting in an one-game sitdown.

Equally troubling was a series of mental miscues in the field. Once, Ramirez lost track of the number of outs and was cut down at third. Another time, the slugger could barely feign interest in attempting to slide back into second to avoid being doubled up on a line drive.

Twice on the same road trip, first Jackie Bradley Jr. and then Betts lost track of the fact that they had recorded the third out.

Still, progress was made. After a 5-2 road trip to Tampa Bay and Toronto, the Red Sox returned home and continued to make up ground, winning series against Houston and Miami.

By the time the first-place Yankees arrived in town for a climactic series to end the first half, the Red Sox had won four straight games (for the first time all year) and four straight series.

A chance to close the gap further slipped away when the Sox dropped two of three against the Yankees, leaving them 6 1/2 games out of first. The loss of starting pitcher Clay Buchholz (strained flextor muscle) presents another challenge, weakening a rotation that was just beginning to show improvement.

"Granted, we can't deny where we stand,'' said Farrell. "But I'll focus on the way we've been playing of late. And that's much improved. We've dealt with a lot, whether it's been self-inflicted or otherwise. In addition to some injuries, I think we've showed quite a bit of resilliency as a team, knowing that our job is still ahead of us.

"We still have a lot of work to do and in light of the situation with Clay, that's going to be hole in our rotation for the time being. But there's some momentum and further genuine relief in our group.''

In the bigger picture, the most positive developments from the first half concerned Bogaerts and Betts establishing themselves not only as bona fide major leaguers but, beyond that, as foundational pieces at two critical positions around which the Red Sox can build. That's a considerable achievement in and off itself.

But with four days off to contemplate their fate, the Red Sox have to hope that is not the only positive to come out of 2015.

Even with the series loss to the Yankees, the Red Sox have -- at the very least - bought themselves additional time to prove their mettle in a division in which no team has pulled away.

How long they remain part of the race could be determined in the first two weeks of the second half, when they play 10 straight games against teams with winning records.

A successful road trip to Anaheim and Houston could position them to add at the trading deadline. Or it could convince them that, for the second straight year, this is not their season.

COMING TUESDAY: Sean McAdam's first-half report card, and how the Red Sox' top prospects fared in the first three months of the season.

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