Todd: It’s always been a hot ticket when the Red Sox and Yankees play at Fenway Park, but that will take on a literal feeling later today when temperatures in the Boston area approach triple digits.  The weather is certainly appropriate, as the Sox not only begin the unofficial second half of the baseball season with the most wins in the major leagues, but for some recent perspective their 58 victories are just 11 less than their entire win total last season.

What has been responsible for the incredible turnaround from 2012?  To start, much better starting pitching, particularly from the back end of the rotation.  There’s also been improved hitting in the clutch and in the late innings—the 2013 Sox already have eight walk-off wins.  Compare that to only three such wins all of last year.

The all-star recognition of both David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia was much deserved, as the duo has carried the team offensively during the first half.  But what has made the Sox start all the more remarkable is that every other hitter on the roster has either under-performed to expectations (Napoli, Ellsbury) or has done much more than ever expected (Nava, Iglesias).  A prime example of this was last Sunday, when two of the top performances came from Brock Holt and Brandon Workman (and no, those are not names I just made up).

Another unappreciated aspect of this year’s Sox is the return of respect and credibility to the managerial post.  The other day I heard a radio interview with John Farrell where he was asked how he would grade himself for the first half of the season, and he immediately deflected credit to his team, saying it was all about them and not himself.  Any chance Bobby Valentine would have responded in similar fashion to such a question?  I’ll give you a minute to step away from your laptop/tablet and roll on the floor laughing.

So what can we expect from Boston in the second half?  While I don’t think they’ll continue to win games at the same clip that currently has them atop the American League East, there’s enough talent on this team to keep them in the playoff hunt deep into September.  A huge key to future success rests with their top two starting pitchers.  Clay Buchholz needs to get back on the mound sooner rather than later, although recent news does not sound encouraging on that front (what’s up with his ‘I don’t want to pitch until I’m 100 percent’ comments?).  As for Jon Lester, he needs to rediscover the mojo that helped him to a 6-0 start this season.

Ben Cherington has already made one deal to help the bullpen, trading for southpaw specialist Matt Thornton.  I wouldn’t mind seeing another veteran setup relief arm brought in, but regarding other potential trades I think the price might be too high for players like SP Matt Garza, 3B Michael Young and especially SP Cliff Lee.  If Cherington wants to stand by his plan to keep his top prospects, than I say try to win this season with the kids.

I brought up Rubby De La Rosa a couple weeks ago as the possible solution for a bullpen closer, and history shows that Jonathan Papelbon and yes, even Calvin Schiraldi had long stretches of success in the pen after being called up from AAA.  The early success of 20-year old shortstop Xander Bogaerts down at Pawtucket doesn’t make it sound too far-fetched to predict he could contribute to the big league club in the second half, maybe at third base.  Don’t forget that Will Middlebrooks is still down on the farm rediscovering the swing that made him all the rage as a rookie last year.  As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think the Sox should mortgage the future for a quick fix now.

Mike: Am I one of the only ones who thinks the Red Sox/Yankee rivalry has lost some of its luster? Perhaps it comes from the fact that the Yankees aren’t playing up to their usual high standard this season, but their visit to Fenway (the first one this season BTW), doesn’t have the same buzz that it normally does.

But all that aside, this has been a remarkable year for the Red Sox, and like you said Todd, they are getting some big performances from some unlikely faces like Brock Holt and Brandon Workman.

As for the rest of the season, I think the upcoming trade deadline will tell a lot. I don’t expect a big splash like last year, when the Sox dumped a huge amount of money to the Dodgers, but I think they’ll make a couple of small deals to help strengthen the pitching staff. We don’t always agree, but I think Todd said it best when he said he didn’t think the Sox should mortgage their future for a quick fix.

Face it, this season is a bonus. No one expected Boston to do anything after last year’s 63-win debacle, and the fact that they are in first place at the All-Star break is a gift from the sports gods.
But, there will be a temptation to try and win it all this year, and I think that could be a step back, especially if you trade some good prospects for a “rent-a-player.” The team has tried that in the past (see Andersen, Larry for Bagwell, Jeff) and they’ve regretted it down the road.

I really think the team is better-managed then they were in the 80s and 90s, so there will be less of a temptation to make that bad trade that you regret 5,6 or 7 years down the road.

The fact of the matter is, the team is good enough to be in contention this year with some key young players getting some valuable Major League experience, imagine how good they’ll be in a year or two.

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