A blog by WBZ-TV's Dan RocheBy Dan Roche

BOSTON (CBS) – Leave it to closer Jonathan Papelbon to come up with a catch-phrase for the 2011 Boston Red Sox:

“Grind and Shine”

That’s the approach this Sox team has taken inside the clubhouse as the team opens its second half Friday night in Tampa against the Rays.

This team just keeps plugging along and winning.

It begins with Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

Pedroia entered this season following foot surgery and is starting to take off. He’s played in 87 games hitting .284 with 19 doubles, 11 HR, 44 RBI, 63 walks, 59 runs, 16 stolen bases, an .OBP of .395, and a slugging percentage of .442. After hitting just .227 in May, Pedroia got re-assurances from the Sox medical staff that he was OK and hit .340 in June and .375 so far in July. When he’s playing well, the Sox seem like a different team.

As for Youkilis, he’s had to deal with various first half injuries. He’s hitting .285 with 13 home runs and 63 RBI. After a .218 April, Youk has hit .309 since and is driving in runs. Again, it’s promising that these two guys are trending upward and healthy. They make this team go both on- and off- the field.

Others have followed suit as well. Adrian Gonzalez has been better than anyone could have imagined. He sports a .354 batting average with 17 HR and 77 RBI. His OBP is .414 and his slugging percentage is .591. He’s hitting a ridiculous .383 at Fenway and using the wall to his advantage. He’s got a legitimate shot to win a batting crown in his first year. Kudos for Theo for getting this deal done. It should be a joy to watch this guy hit in a Sox uniform for years to come.

David Ortiz has followed the hitting path blazed by A-Gon. Big Papi is earning himself another nice contract by hitting .304 with 19 HR and 55 RBI, including an impressive .340 with 5 HR and 19 RBI against left-handed pitching. Last year Ortiz hit just .222 with 2 HR and 24 RBI TOTAL against southpaws. The presence of Gonzalez has clearly helped David versus lefties. No doubt.

Jacoby Ellsbury is having one heckuva prove-them-all-wrong bounce back 2011. He’s at .316 with a career-high 11 HR, 49 RBI, 62 runs, and 28 stolen bases. His .377 OBP makes him the leader of the offense on a nightly basis.

What makes you also feel good is that Carl Crawford hasn’t done much at all(.243, 6 HR, 31 RBI, 8 SB). If he comes back from his hamstring injury in the 2nd half and looks anything close to his normal self, then the Sox have themselves a huge almost trade-deadline type of acquisition. The catching combination of Jarrod Saltalamacchia(.251, 6, 24) and Jason Varitek(.252, 5, 18) has been improving after a rough start and should prove invaluable to the pitching staff as the second half unfolds.

You would think JD Drew(.229, 4, 21) would eventually play to his career form. And, if he doesn’t, red-hot rookie Josh Reddick(.393, 2, 15) is ready to take over as the starting right-fielder.

Do the Sox make a move at the trade deadline? I think they will try for a right-handed bat, especially if Darnell McDonald can’t get it going(.143, 2,9)

I would love to see 32-year-old Michael Cuddyer come to Boston from the twins. Cuddyer can play OF, 2B, 1B, Dh and his hitting .369 vs LHP this season.

Of course, the biggest question as the Sox start the second half is their starting pitching. Clay Buchholz(6-3, 3.48) hasn’t pitched since June 16th and looks like it may be the end of the month before he returns to due to a back injury. Jon Lester(10-4, 3.31) has been good when healthy. Hopefully, his strained lat won’t be a problem once he returns from the DL.

Meanwhile, Josh Beckett has bounced back quite nicely from last season going 8-3 with a 2.27 ERA. The only blip is his hyper-extended knee injury he suffered last week against Baltimore. He also warmed up in the All-Star game, but couldn’t go. Beckett suffered the injury in the rain against Baltimore last week. His injury woes of 2010 started on a rainy night in May at Yankee stadium. Let’s hope 2011 is different.

Daisuke Matsuzaka’s season is over, but Andrew Miller(3-0, 3.57), Tim Wakefield(5-3, 4.74), and Alfredo Aceves(4-1, 3.41) have all been huge in stepping in to start. If that trend continues, and the Big Three get healthy, then perhaps Theo Epstein won’t have to look for starting pitching at the MLB trade deadline.

The bullpen has been solid after a so-so start. Jonathan Papelbon(2-0, 3.93 ERA, 20 saves) has been brilliant so far and that has kicked up talk that perhaps the Sox should try now to ink the free-agent-to-be to a multi-year deal.

Daniel Bard(2.05 ERA, 21 holds) has been one of the best weapons in the game, again. Franklin Morales is getting healthier while Aceves and Matt Albers have thrown well too. If Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks can get it going then the Sox will have some depth for the stretch run. I’m also sure that Theo will look to booster the relief corps in either July or August.

Lastly, the schedule looks favorable for the Sox in the second half.

After three in Tampa Bay(49-41) this weekend, the Sox visit Baltimore(36-53) for three then come back to Fenway to host Seattle(43-48) for three and Kansas City(37-54) for four. They then close out July with three at the Chicago White Sox(44-48).

By August they hopefully will have the Big Three cranking it up and they’ll need it. The Sox begin the month by hosting Cleveland for four and the Yankees for three. After that, they play 12 of 14 on the road as they visit Minnesota, Seattle, Kansas City, and Texas wrapped around a two-game set with TB at Fenway. That may be the critical test of the season for the Sox.

How will they do? They have 72 games left to play. They are 55-35 as they start the second half. If they play .500 baseball they finish at 91-71. Not bad, but I think we all expect that. 95 wins should be a lock to make the postseason and that’s all this team needs to worry about as we’ve seen in recent history.

So get ready Sox fans. It should be a lot of fun over the next several months.

Comments (3)
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