Editor's note: Throughout August, ESPN.com will take a close look at various teams in the hunt for a playoff spot to assess whether they have what it takes to survive the dog days of August and remain in contention come October.
At the bottom of the page, each team will receive a dog bone rating based on our overall analysis: five bones = serious postseason contender; four bones = good contender; three bones = average contender; two bones = poor contender; one bone = no contender.
Who's the big dog?
While Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury have put together excellent seasons, the Red Sox's MVP race starts and ends with Dustin Pedroia. After a tough six-week stretch in which he struggled silently with a knee injury, he has been an offensive force, producing a .359 AVG/.438 OBP/.582 SLG
triple slash line with 12 home runs and 21 doubles. His .383 weighted on-base average (wOBA), +15.2 UZR (ultimate zone rating) and 6.9 WAR (wins above replacement) are tops among all players at his position. If advanced stats aren't your cup of tea, consider this: He has either set or is on pace to set career highs in home runs, RBIs, OBP, stolen bases and walks. So when you think about it, Pedroia not only is the team's "big dog" but also is a serious candidate to take home his second MVP award in three years.
Who needs to step up?
When word leaked out Clay Buchholz would likely miss the rest of the season because of a stress fracture in his lower back, it left the Red Sox without a clear option to fill the No. 3 slot in the rotation behind Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. Enter Erik Bedard. Since being obtained in a deadline deal July 31, Bedard's 3.02 SIERA (skill-interactive earned run average) and 21-5 strikeouts-walks ratio in 22 innings indicate that he has pitched much better than his 4.09 ERA would lead you to believe. Provided he can maintain his current pace, the left-hander should prove to be a superb option as the Red Sox's third starter, one who can help neutralize lefty-heavy lineups such as the Yankees' in the playoffs.
Key stat: wins above replacement (WAR)
AL WAR LEADERS
With a collection of some of the game's top players, it's no surprise the Red Sox again find themselves near the top of the AL East. WAR, a metric that measures how many wins a player contributes to his team over a replacement-level player, shows us that three of the top players in the American League this season play their home games at Fenway. WAR is calculated independently of a team's actual results, so Boston players don't get special consideration for playing for one of the top teams in the majors.
Dustin Pedroia is second in the AL with a WAR of 6.9, better than his 6.8 WAR in his AL MVP season of 2008. Jacoby Ellsbury, widely considered a top MVP candidate this season, is right behind his teammate with a WAR of 6.5. Adrian Gonzalez has adjusted quite nicely to AL pitching. His WAR of 5.3 is seventh in the AL.
So, Boston's lineup features three of the AL's top seven players in terms of WAR, and no other franchise can claim more than one player ranked in the AL's top 10.
-- Jason Vida, ESPN Stats & Info
Where are they going?
There were many reasons to think the Boston Red Sox were going to be among the best teams in baseball when the season began. Those reasons include, but are not limited to, a deep starting rotation, franchise players at second and third, and the addition of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, two players who finished in the top 10 of the MVP vote in their respective leagues last season. But even the most optimistic Sox fan wouldn't have included "Jacoby Ellsbury performing like Jim Edmonds circa 2000" among the possible scenarios that had Boston in line for its seventh trip to the playoffs in nine seasons.
Ellsbury was always a solid player who could get on base, chase 'em down in center field and steal some bases. What he couldn't do, however, was hit for power. Entering this season, the 27-year-old had just 20 career homers, and he already has 22 this year. Throw in a line of .312 AVG/.370 OBP/.515 SLG and 34 steals in 45 attempts, and he's a serious MVP contender.
So what changed? Is this just Bill James' mythical "age-27 season" at work? From the looks of it, Ellsbury appears to have figured out how to turn on pitches on the inner half of the plate.
For more of Matt Meyer's analysis, click here.