Red Sox remain optimistic as first half of season ends

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BOSTON - If we're splitting the Red Sox season into quarters, there's reason for at least some optimism heading into the All-Star break.

Yes, the Sox are in last place in the A.L. East. Yes, they sit 6 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the division, who just took two out of three in Boston.

Yes, they're now five games under .500 (42-47) and dipped below .500 at home (22-23).

So where's the optimism? Well, if you're asking that, perhaps you've successfully blocked out the first quarter of the season -- the one in which the Sox played an abysmal brand of baseball.

At least over the last few weeks you can point to some signs of life. Take, for instance, the fact that while they are currently 42-47, they're 15-9 since June 16.

Or the fact that while they did lose the series against the Yankees, it's the first series loss over their last five series.

The home record? Well, they're 14-11 since May 23, anyways.

Maybe it's reaching just a bit. Okay, it's definitely reaching. But there are at least tangible signs of improvement, especially at the plate (not that it could have gotten worse).

"Granted, we can't deny where we stand," John Farrell said. "But I will focus on the way we've been playing of late, and that is much improved. We've got some guys that have come back to us. Young players have taken a major step forward. But (with Clay Buchholz being injured, we have) to add some arms to the group that we have."

Brock Holt has a 10-game hitting streak while Xander Bogaerts has an 11-game hitting streak. Mookie Betts has raised his average from .234 to .277 since June 11. The top of the order has been coming through, and they'll get another member back on Friday in Dustin Pedroia, who was hitting .306 before his hamstring injury.

Alejandro De Aza has provided the extra outfield production the team was missing, and the returns of Shane Victorino and Ryan Hanigan have lengthened the lineup.

"Just keep playing like we've been playing," Holt said. "We've been playing good baseball. We've been getting good starting pitching, having good competitive at-bats and playing good defense. So if we keep doing those three things we'll be in good shape."

The Sox are going to begin the second half of the season against a really hot team in the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels are 15-7 since June 17, and have won 11 of their last 14. With their win on Sunday, the Angels took over first place in the A.L. West from the Houston Astros.

There's certainly no time to ease back into the second half of the season. But the Sox can be glad to move on from the first half.

"I'm super optimistic," Wade Miley said of the second half. "We have a good club in here. All we can do is put this first half behind us, it is what it is, and come out on Friday and start all over. In this division, it's definitely anybody's league to win right now. We just have to do what we can do and go from there."

It's going to be even harder for the Sox to gain ground in the division once they return to action, as they don't play a division team until July 31, the same day as the MLB's trade deadline. Not only that, but they'll play the Angels, Astros, and Tigers before then.

If they can continue to win some game, perhaps they'll actually be buyers at the deadline. That also could be around the time Buchholz returns from the disabled list, meaning the Sox could get two capable starting pitchers to add to their rotation as they hope to make a run at the division.

But with some tough teams standing in their way, it's going to take a lot more than optimism over the next few weeks.

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