How they’ve gotten here, though, has been entirely unpredictable.
On pace for about 94 wins and right in the thick of the AL East and wild-card races, the Red Sox have overcome an incredible amount of injuries to some of their most important players.
Boston also was able to push through a bleak 11-14 start, culminated by a three-game sweep to the lowly Orioles in the beginning of May.
Now, Terry Francona’s squad enters the All-Star break at 51-37, five games behind the Yankees and three behind the Rays in the AL East.
A new segment of this roller-coaster Red Sox season is about to begin.
And while the Red Sox have been anything but predictable in 2010, here’s what we can expect in the second half.
1. Jon Lester will win the AL Cy Young Award.
This might just be the year that Lester, who has an incredible 53-19 record in his five-year big league career, takes home some hardware for his efforts on the mound. The southpaw was named to his first AL All-Star team this year and takes an 11-3 record with a 2.78 ERA and 124 strikeouts into the break.
Lester’s ERA currently ranks fifth in the AL (Tampa Bay’s David Price leads with a 2.42 ERA), while his strikeouts rank third (Anaheim’s Jered Weaver has 137). But what makes Lester’s chances of winning the award so good is the fact that he’s been the hottest pitcher in the AL since May. Lester, who struggled in April, is 10-1 with a 2.26 ERA since May 4.
And if you want yet another trend, Lester’s career ERA after the All-Star break (3.33) is 29 points better than his career mark before the break (3.62).
2. Kevin Youkilis will prove All-Star voters wrong.
While Nick Swisher gets his All-Star groove on in Anaheim on Tuesday, Youkilis will get to rest his tired bones (specifically his injured right ankle). Red Sox fans may be upset that their beloved first baseman was snubbed from the AL All-Star team, but it will just make “Youk” play that much harder in the second half.
Youkilis has been the one consistent piece of the Red Sox lineup all year, ever since he went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a triple on Opening Night against the Yankees. The 31 year-old is fifth in the AL with a .981 OPS, tied for eighth with 18 homers and tied with his teammate, David Ortiz, for 12th in the league with 57 RBIs. More importantly, he leads Swisher in all three of those categories.
Youkilis is putting up these numbers without the protection of many of his star teammates, like Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez. Imagine the stats he’ll start putting up when those guys get healthy.
3. The Red Sox will not make a blockbuster trade before the July 31 deadline.
It may seem like the Red Sox are conceding a chance at the playoffs if they don’t make a trade before the deadline. But that doesn’t mean they won’t make any moves.
The Red Sox are 14 games over .500 right now, and right in the playoff hunt. And they’re doing it without Pedroia, Martinez and Josh Beckett, among other notable players.
When these guys all get healthy, it will be like adding half a roster full of great ballplayers — and it won’t cost Theo Epstein a dime (or prospects).
Epstein was clearly content with the roster that the Red Sox put onto the field on Opening Night. Judging by the success the team has had, in midst of a devastating season injury-wise, you have to think that Theo and his crew knew what they were doing when they assembled this team.
4. Daniel Bard will challenge Jonathan Papelbon for the closer’s role.
There’s no question that Papelbon has not been himself this year. His 3.50 ERA is much higher than his career 2.02 mark, while his 2.58 strikeout-to-walk ratio is far worse than his career 4.24.
On the other side of the equation, Bard has been nothing short of lights-out for the Red Sox in 2010. In fact, with a 1.90 ERA and 0.82 WHIP (best among AL relievers), Bard has been one of the top relief pitchers in baseball this year.
But the main difference between the two fireballers has been the walks. They each have 12, but Papelbon has only thrown 36 innings as opposed to Bard, who has thrown 42 2/3 innings. Bard also has 45 strikeouts, compared to Papelbon’s 31.
Francona is usually one to stick with his guns, and is unlikely to remove a star player from his role if he’s struggling. That said, if September rolls around and Bard looks like the better option in the ninth inning, don’t be surprised if Tito decides to experiment a little bit.
5. The AL East champion will be decided in the final weekend of the season.
This year’s AL East race is not the usual Red Sox-Yankees brawl to the finish, where one wins the division and the other wins the wild card.
The Tampa Bay Rays, who at 54-34 are currently sandwiched between New York and Boston in the division, have made it a three-horse race.
One team will win the AL East. One team will most likely win the wild card. The other, unfortunately, will be one of the best AL teams in recent history to miss the playoffs entirely.
The race should come down to the final weekend of the season, and it should be an epic one. While the Rays head to Kansas City to face the much-improved Royals for a four-game set, the Red Sox and Yankees will close it out against each other with a three-game series at Fenway Park.
No one knows who will come out of the pile on top, because this 2010 season has just been too unpredictable, specifically when talking about the Red Sox.
But like all suspenseful movies, this Red Sox season is sure to have a spectacular ending.