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We're at exactly the midway point of the 2008 season for most teams around Major League Baseball, so I decided to issue the inaugural Boston Red Sox Report Card courtesy of the Sports Brief. With a 49-32 record, the Red Sox currently hold the 3rd highest winning percentage in all of baseball. The team is one game off the pace of last year's record at the midpoint of the season, but lest we forget, this has been done despite a slew of injuries. But without further ado, I take you position by position starting with…

Offense

Catcher – Jason Varitek (.231/7/25)

Grade: C

I understand the nuthuggers who point to Varitek's due diligence as captain and starting catcher of the Red Sox. He does his homework, always has his pitchers prepared, and caught the 4th no-hitter of his career earlier this season with Jon Lester on the hill. Sure, I give him all the credit in the world for that. But the guy has been miserable offensively, and it's pissed me off two-fold because I tolerated it for most of the first-half on one of my fantasy teams. The last three years have been woeful for 'Tek at the plate, starting in 2006 when he hit .238 and missed 59 games due to injury. He bounced back, ever so slightly, with a .255 clip and 17 homeruns in '07, but a .131 average this June is downright paltry. Theo better be searching for the heir apparent, because this is becoming a trend, and not one that can be tolerated much further.

First Base – Kevin Youkilis (.303/13/47)

Grade: A-

Personally, I hate the guy after having dealt with him last season as a member of the media. But I'll give him his props, because he's delivered so far in '08. The average and defense are becoming somewhat expected, but the power has been a pleasant surprise as he's 2nd on the team in RBI while slugging at .539 and has an OPS of .913. Pretty solid numbers that could very well earn him a spot on the All-Star team. While he isn't a bona fide slugger at that position, he delivers in the field to make up for it. The question, as always, will be whether or not he can continue at this torrid pace. I seem to think he'll turn the corner this year, especially with Sean Casey backing up. A serviceable veteran who can deliver will allow Terry Francona to be more liberal in giving Youkilis much needed days off. I think he finishes right around .300 with 25 homers and 90 RBI to go with it.

Second Base – Dustin Pedroia (.289/7/34)

Grade: B

Pedroia struggled throughout May, hitting .260 and seeing his average hit as low as .260 on June 12 and 13. He's been leading the All-Star voting at 2nd for most of the season, and at that time, I couldn’t believe people would actually give him the nod with such brutal numbers. However, he's been on a tear of late, hitting .442 over the last twelve games (23-for-52) and you have to appreciate his intensity, although like Youkilis, it's a tired act at times. But Pedroia is a gamer, and while his average is down from last season, the power is up  and he's been more of a run producer. A grade of B might be a bit harsh, but after his ROY campaign in '07, it's difficult to let May's production – or lack thereof – slip without a slap on the wrist.

Third Base – Mike Lowell (.287/11/41)

Grade: A-

I grade Lowell a little higher than I probably should here, solely because I think he's been phenomenal since returning from his wrist injury that sidelined him for almost all of April. At the time of the injury, he was 6-for-30 and hitting a lowly .200. Since returning, he's hitting .300 (60-for-200) and has 11 homeruns in 230 at-bats on the season. To put it in perspective, his current numbers in '08, when matched up with the number at-bats he had last season (589) would have him on pace for 28 HR, 41 2B, and 105 RBI; that's seven more bombs, four more doubles and 15 less RBI. While the average is lower, let’s not forget the early hole he was climbing out of.

I mention this for those of you that thought last year was a fluke and more a testament to it being a contract year. I think Lowell is showing he’s got plenty of juice left in that swing. And with his defense seemingly more consistent that last season, I’m quite happy with his production thus far.

Shortstop – Julio Lugo (.274/1/17)

Grade: C-

Consider this me officially clamoring for Jed Lowrie as the new everyday shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. Lugo's average may be almost 40 points higher than last year's final tally, but he was driving in runs in '07; this year he's not. He’s a punching Judy hitter and that’s it. He’s not stealing bases or scoring runs as frequently as a guy making $9M/year should. Consider this: he's second to last in runs scored among regular starters, Coco Crisp has more stolen bases despite considerably less playing time, and Dustin Pedroia, who is by no means known for his speed, has only two less steals than Lugo (8 to Lugo's 10). Lugo sucks, and so does his contract.

Left Field – Manny Ramirez (.291/15/49)

Grade: B+

I'm actually quite pleased with the way Manny has played so far in '08. His power numbers are up considerably from last year, when he only hit 20 HR and drove in 88 runs. Right now he's on pace for 30/98, which is still a bit low for Manny standards, but if he stays healthy, I think he'll finish similar to his 2006 campaign when he finished at .321/35/107. He had a rough month of May, which is why the average is down a bit, but before the season I said he'd be the MVP of the American League, and there's still half a season to go. He may not quite reach that level, but I think he'll be in the discussion when all is said and done.

Center Field – Jacoby Ellsbury (.275/5/23 and 34 stolen bases)

Grade: A

As a leadoff hitter, you need a guy who can get on base and score runs. That's exactly what Ellsbury has done. He's 7th in OBP among leadoff hitters, which is modest. But he leads the AL in steals and is second to Willy Taveras (35) in all of baseball. As far as scoring runs, Ellsbury has crossed the plate 53 times, good for 5th in the AL and 16th overall. This is more than impressive for a guy playing in his first full Major League season. Let's not forget, he's doing all this for the 3rd best team in all of baseball, the defending World Series champs, and after a two month stint at the end of last season in which he could have arguably been World Series MVP and saw his stock rise dramatically. That's a lot of pressure for a 24-year-old kid, but add in the way he's utilized that speed to cover ground in the outfield and that's some electrifying stuff.

Right Field – J.D. Drew (.308/14/45)

Grade: A

Drew has been my favorite player for years because he's a five tool guy that makes the game look easy when he wants to. Last year was tough to watch, especially since I had a first hand glimpse at the field and in the clubhouse. But this year, Drew has lived up to the hype and delivered when the Sox need him most with the absence of David Ortiz. His OBP (.414) and OPS (.987) are the highest since his 2004 season, when he put up a .436 and 1.005, respectively. And his average and slugging (.573) are the highest since '01 when he finished with a line of .323/27/73/.613. He's only on pace for 134 games, but the depth of the Red Sox outfield allowed Francona to sit Drew some days when otherwise he might have asked the $15M man to play. And in the month of June, Drew has been hot at a .359 clip with 10 homers and 23 RBI. I think by season’s end, barring any significant injury, Drew will finish as a .300/30/100 guy, and his resurgence will also allow the Red Sox to slow the recovery process of David Ortiz and ensure that the burly DH is fully healthy before returning this season. When he does, that will be a scary offense with four significant run producers in the 3-6 spots of the order.

Outfield – Coco Crisp (.271/5/22)

Grade: B-

Crisp has been respectable filling in as a 4th outfield for the Red Sox thus far, and the fact that management has convinced him to co-exist with heir apparent Jacoby Ellsbury speaks volumes about that clubhouse. I don't think he's done much in raising his stock significantly, but I'm not sure the Sox are looking to deal him anymore considering the injury to Ortiz. It seems to be at least a month before he returns, and even then, it's tough to say how significant his playing time will be to start. The Sox need Crisp to solidify the outfield late in games and also give Ramirez a spell as DH now and then. And with his speed (12 of 15), it makes pitchers fret even more when he's in the lineup along with Ellsbury and Lugo.

DH – David Ortiz (.252/13/43)

Grade: B

He's been injured and missed all of June, so it's hard to say. But I'll grade him for his body of work up until that point. After a horrific month of April, during which he his .198, hit only 5 homeruns and drove in 21 runs, Ortiz acquitted himself well in May. He hit .318, clubbed 8 bombs and drove in 22. That month of April certainly skewed his overall numbers, particularly his average, but he was coming on strong offensively. His walk and strikeout numbers were no different than the norm, so it’s safe to say that Ortiz was putting the ball in play as consistently as he had in the past; it was just a matter of getting them to fall. It will be interesting to see how effective he is when he returns, but the offense has not missed a beat without him, so hopefully that will afford him more time to fully recover and rehabilitate.

Bench – Kevin Cash, Sean Casey, Brandon Moss, Alex Cora, Jed Lowrie

Grade: B

Cash has been a significant upgrade from Doug Mirabelli, who couldn't crack the Mendoza line in 2006 and barely made it in '07. Casey is hitting .350 in a part-time role, but his addition to the clubhouse has been tremendous. I think Moss needs more playing time to truly show his ability at this level, but he won't find that in Boston for a couple years. In the interim, I think he's been serviceable at best, but is still a threat as a left-handed bat off the bench. Cora is certainly invaluable now for his defense late in games with Lugo's troubles in the field. He's a professional, and as always has filled in wherever and whenever. And let's not forget Lowrie, whose out of .310/1/7 over 17 games more than impressed me. As I said earlier, I wish this kid was the everyday shortstop, but at $9M/year, it'll be tough to supplant Lugo unless he pulls a Shawn Chacon on Theo Epstein, who can't be far away from having an Ed Wade moment in the dining hall at Fenway.

Starting Pitching

Josh Beckett – (7-5, 3.73, 97K, 1.11 WHIP)

Grade: B

I said from the beginning of spring training that my concern was Beckett did not apply himself this past offseason. After a lower back injury that forced him to start 2008 on the DL and some instances of inconsistency since his return, it appears that may have been the case. Nonetheless, Beckett has begun to acquit himself of late, turning in a solid month of June during which he’s gone 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA. He’s posted quality starts in three of his four starts and surrendered only 26 hits in 27 innings to go with a 22:5 K to walk ratio.

Jon Lester – (6-3, 3.13, 65K, 1.33 WHIP)

Grade: A-

He threw a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals on May 19 and has been absolutely superb in the month of June. Over his last four starts, Lester is 3-0 with a 1.63 ERA. He's only walked 3 batters in 27.2 IP, and his 39 walks in 103.2 IP this season is a big reason he's found success. Lester is no longer falling behind in counts, nibbling on the corners when he's ahead or getting rattled as easy. He's pitching to contact and working deeper into games, which is a far cry from the Jon Lester of old, who at times needed 100-plus pitches just to qualify for a win. It's been a significant boost to the rotation, particularly with the absence of Curt Schilling and injuries to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz.

Daisuke Matsuzaka – (8-1, 3.46, 56K, 1.42 WHIP)

Grade: B-

I'm still not sold on Daisuke being more than a decent 2 or solid 3 starter in the American League. His record is deceiving, in my opinion, because he hasn't been able to make it past the 5th our out of the 6th inning in 7 of his 12 starts due to high pitch counts. His K:BB ratio (65:46) is pathetic, especially given that he's pitched 65 innings this season. And to top it off, he got lit up in his first start back from the DL. Thankfully, the Red Sox have considerable depth in starting pitching, or else this would have been a costly top of the rotation guy. Hopefully he settles down and pitches to his capabilities, but for now, I'm still disappointed thus far.

Tim Wakefield – (5-5, 3.88, 69K, 1.25 WHIP)

Grade: A-

This guy is like everyone's favorite pet dog. No matter what happens in the world around you, he'll always be there right by your side. Quality starts in 11 of 16 games, his lowest ERA since 2002 and he's gone seven or more innings eight times. Every year it seems he may be the odd man out, but injuries happen and they rarely seem to happen to Wake. Thus, he remains in the rotation and not only that, but he delivers. These are solid numbers for any Major League pitcher, never mind a 41-year old knuckleballer. He's been so good of late, I keep thinking about adding him to my fantasy team, but never pull the trigger. After his 5th quality start in a row, it may be time, but regardless, it's hard not to appreciate his consistency year in and year out. To have him pitching above expectations is an added bonus, especially given the rash of injuries.

Justin Masterson – (3-1, 3.43, 32K, 1.19 WHIP)

Grade: A-

I'd say Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks was Masterson's first true test of adversity, and he delivered. After surrendering a 2-run shot to Chad Tracy in the 3rd inning, the youngster was facing a 4-1 deficit and en route to his worst performance as a big leaguer thus far. But he answered the bell with three consecutive shutout innings, keeping his team in the game. The result? Boston came back with four in the 8th to take a 5-4 win.

Masterson has shown tremendous stuff so far in his rookie campaign, and I think the Red Sox brass will be hard pressed to send him back to the Minors. When Bartolo Colon returns, I'd like to see Masterson move to the bullpen and shore up innings 6-8 with Delcarmen, Hansen, and Okajima. If Colon fails to return and deliver, Masterson should stay in the rotation while Clay Buchholz continues his development in Triple-A. I said it last year and I'll say it again. Throwing a no-hitter is a tremendous accomplishment, but it’s not a right of passage. Just ask Bud Smith.

Bartolo Colon – (4-2, 4.09, 26K, 1.39 WHIP)

Grade: B+

No one was expecting much, but Colon has been a welcomed addition to the staff. Until his recent stint on the DL, he'd been solid and serviceable as a back of the rotation guy. While he still hasn't shown glimpses of his Cy Young stuff from 2005, he was progressing nicely and settling in. I was watching the game against the Philadelphia Phillies which eventually put him on the DL, and I could see in the 1st inning, during which he surrendered homeruns to Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, that something was wrong. He was only throwing 84-87 and the ball was up. Hopefully the DL stay will cure what ails him, because the Sox were enjoying the depth with him in the mix. For little to no money at all, this has been an absolute steal. Let’s hope he returns to form.

Bullpen – Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin, Craig Hansen, Javier Lopez, David Aardsma

Grade: B

It's been a case of good and bad for the Red Sox bullpen. Papelbon has been good all season despite a few minor hiccups that typically happen with closers. But he's reliable and about as much of a shutdown closer as you'll see in baseball. Delcarmen was terrible to start the season, but with 10 shutout innings in June and 11 straight scoreless appearances, he's returning to old form. Okajima, however, has been awful. I hate to say teams have figured him out, but he's been awful in June averaging 2 hits per inning pitched. Francona simply can't rely on him in the 8th inning at this point, and you have to wonder if he needs more rest.

In the second tier of relievers, Hansen has delivered some encouraging outings, while others have shown he's still learning. His save against the Cincinnati Reds on FOX television impressed me, more so because he found himself in a tight jam and didn't crack. He appears to be maturing as a pitcher, and I think come September and October, he'll be a valuable piece of that bullpen.

Lopez and Aardsma have been nice complimentary pieces to the bullpen. Both have been consistent all season long and present solid options out of the bullpen for Francona. Particularly when regular late inning guys are in need of rest, it's comforting to see these back of the bullpen guys have put up solid numbers.

As far as Mike Timlin goes, I think it's time he joined Curt Schilling on the CNLP (Can No Longer Perform) list. He's finished, and has become more a liability than anything else in a big league game. I wouldn't trust him at my brother's little league practice. Offer a buyout and have him retire as a member of the Red Sox. They can put together a nice little ceremony and let the team honor him. All he’s doing now is taking up a roster spot that someone else deserves.

Overall – A-

The team has overcome several injuries including the loss of Ortiz. Despite that, it owns the 3rd best record in the Majors, has held off a first-half surge from the Tampa Bay Rays, solid play from the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees, and the Toronto Blue Jays are somewhat dormant, but possess enough talent to wreak havoc in the division. The AL East is as competitive as it has ever been, so to be in this position at the midway point, on pace for 98 wins, is certainly impressive. The Yankees have played much better over the last couple months and are 14-9 in the month of June. With Joba Chamberlain added to the rotation, I'm excited to see how Boston and New York match-up later this season. I'm also excited to see if the Rays can continue this play through the rest of the season. It should be an interesting second half, one that will leave at least a couple of these teams on the outside looking in come playoff time.

So there you have it. The mid-season report card for the Boston Red Sox. Let me know your thoughts on any of the grades, players, or comments above.

-Bess

For more from the Sports Brief, go to sportsbrief.blogspot.com or e-mail us at sportsbrief@gmail.com

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