2012 is beginning to look a lot like 2010 for the Boston Red Sox.
In 2010 the team entered the year with reasonably high hopes, but found themselves ruined by injuries. Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Kevin Youkilis--all lost significant time to the disabled list throughout the season, leaving the Red Sox fielding a team of prospects and replacement players.
It wasn't a great year. For the first time in three years the Sox missed out on October baseball, reaching just 89 wins. Fans had to watch players like Adrian Beltre provide big numbers knowing the team wasn't really going to be able to take advantage of their good find. When the season finally came to an end with the Sox in third place, it was not welcomed with shock or anger, but a shrug. What could the Sox have done, missing so many of their best players?
There is no such resignation this year. Whether it's because they're hoping for a postseason push from the Red Sox or because they're upset about how the team reached this point of struggle (admittedly one much improved from a week ago), there are no shrugs for this season. What is similar, however, is the silver lining--one that shone through Thursday night--found in the performances of the players who have replaced the injured or struggling stars.
In 2010, it was the likes of Darnell McDonald and Bill Hall making surprising contributions when so little was expected out of them to start the year, but this year it's even better, because of what these performances could mean for the team down the line. First and foremost is Will MIddlebrooks, a top prospect who has so far completely lived up to his billing with eight homers and a .903 OPS in his first 136 at bats. With third base finally drying up for the Sox after years of Lowell, Beltre, and Youkilis, the Sox seem to already have their long-term answer lined up. That he's come through in the clutch so often this year is a terrific added bonus.
But beyond the man expected to perform, the Sox have also gotten production out of two of the men who made contributions in 2010: Daniel Nava and Ryan Kalish. The latter's contributions have been admittedly minimal with his return coming just a few short days ago, but he showed why he's going to be a fan favorite down the line by going from first-to-third on a ground out Thursday, putting the go-ahead run just 90 feet away with only one out. It's that sort of all-out attitude which has seen him succeed so often in the minors.
But the man who knocked him in is the one who's really gone crazy. We all remember Daniel Nava's first at bat with the Red Sox: a first-pitch grand slam off of Jamie Moyer that suggested big things. Unfortunately, the 2010 season quickly went south for Nava. Now, in 2012, he's fighting to stay for good. While he once again started hot with a 7-game hitting streak, this time he's kept it up. Through 106 at bats, Nava is hitting a remarkable .340/.455/.519--a line good for the third highest OPS amongst American League outfielders with at least 100 at bats. Right now major league pitchers don't know how to get this 5'10" outfielder with an official picture that shows he's ecstatic just to be wearing a uniform out. It's unbelievable.
It's these sort of performances that have not only kept the Red Sox in the chase despite their dismal start, but also give Sox fans something to watch for. Because as difficult as it is to watch Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia chase everything thrown their way for out after out, the moments of magic from these players who weren't necessarily even expected to make an appearance before September call-ups are enough to make up for it.