Debriefing late-comers on the 2012 Red Sox before a big showdown against the Yankees

Like it or not, there isn’t a whole lot else for Boston sports fans to consume during July aside from baseball. Developments involving the Patriots are usually minimal during the period between mini-camp and training camp. Most of the Celtics’ offseason moves are ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ propositions. And while Uncle Donnie might still want to talk your ear off about the Bruins’ defensive rotations and the goaltender situation at this weekend’s cookout, hockey can probably wait until at least September.

So hop on the baseball bandwagon for a while. After a rough start, the Sox return to Fenway Park this weekend for a series against the New York Yankees that will have all, or most, of the requisite overanalysis and exaggerated provincial hatred. It’s not 2003 anymore, but hell, this will do for a summer sports fling, no?

Here are some critical Cliff Notes from the first three months:

Who’s the gray-haired cheerleader in the dugout?

The first three months of his tenure as Red Sox manager haven’t been a whiz for Bobby Valentine, but things could have been worse… (Photo from Newsday).

That’s Bobby Valentine. You should recognize him by now, but OK. He does have a certain ‘I got lost on the way to the set of a Flomax commercial shoot’ vibe going. Strategically speaking, Valentine’s been fine. His tactical usage of the pitching staff has been surprisingly astute in most cases. He’s not afraid to use two or three relievers to get through a tight spot in a later inning. And he’s gotten the most out of the no-name guys like Scott Atchison, Matt Albers, Franklin Morales, who have all settled in nicely as key role players. In terms of the 2012 season being a metaphoric scenic drive with a car full of geriatrics with enlarged prostates, Bobby V has avoided group-wide pants-pissing more times than not.

Who’s the cheerleader next to the dugout who dresses like a grandma?

That’s NESN’s Jenny Dell. Still a learning-on-the-fly talent, Dell pieces together high necklines and long-sleeves like she’s a first grade teacher trying to stave off divorced dads during parent-teacher conferences.

Wait a second, you mean to imply that Jenny Dell is downplaying the size of her cans in favor of letting her reportorial skills do the heavy lifting?

Yeah, it’s a bizarre experiment but it seems to fit in nicely with the club’s recurring attempts at fitting square pegs in round holes this year: Daniel Bard’s failed conversion to a full-time starter; Mark Melancon as a premiere setup guy in the AL East; Darnell McDonald as a high-leverage reliever.

Who takes over Youk’s role as official Team Hardass?

John Lackey: always ready to throw down in case of a bench-clearing scrum (Boston Herald photo).

John Lackey has begun throwing off a mound again as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. But he’s unlikely to contribute anything to the team on the mound until 2013. Given his high per annum salary of $17m; his propensity to draw ire from people simply for being alive; and his pudgy physique, Lackey should have the common decency to assume Youkilis’ Team Hardass role. It is a position that can easily be fulfilled from the top step of the dugout and Lackey doesn’t even have to tuck his shirt into his uniform pants unless he feels like it.

Is there any residual shortstop controversy leftover from spring training?

No, the position has been manned by Mike Aviles nearly exclusively. Aviles hit so well during the first month of the season that it’s only recently become apparent in his statistics that he’s still the same poorly disciplined hitter this year that he’s always been. The gaudy start has by and large earned him a pass not only with the media but with Valentine. The alternatives aren’t much better, anyway.

I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about Adrian Gonzalez having an awful year. With their best all-around hitter having an off-year, the Sox pitching must be carrying the day, right?

Actually, this has been a bit of a nod to retro Sox teams in the pre-Pedro days that were dependent on bludgeoning teams with offense and getting by with so-so starting pitching. Thus far, the Sox have ridden their offense and managed to keep contact with the division lead despite an abortive first half for Gonzalez at the plate, a quiet offensive season from a banged up Dustin Pedroia and only anecdotal evidence that Jacoby Ellsbury is still alive.

As for Gonzalez, he has at the very least had the decency to fit in this prolonged power outage within a period when the team doesn’t necessarily need his bat. Having a warm body to man right field as he did during a brutal two-week stretch in June when all the alternatives were dropping like flies has probably been his most notable contribution to date this season. If his last name didn’t end in a ‘z,’ local media members would probably be stumbling over themselves to gush over his willingness to do ‘the little things’ like hitting sacrifice flies and playing out of position for the team in a pinch.

I saw Nick Punto slide into first base on a close play in Oakland on Tuesday night. Is he the best player on the team?

No. He’s only the second-best…Don’t forget: David Ortiz made the all-star team.

What’s going on with David Ortiz, anyway? Is it true he briefly quit the team and joined the Black Panthers?

No, it just seems that way if you expose yourself to local TV news broadcasts. Ortiz’s at-bats have had a vintage 2005 feel during the first three months of 2012. Every time he steps to the plate, there is a reasonable chance he’ll pop a home run, regardless of who is on the mound or which arm he throws with. It’s been a Kevin Garnett-like renaissance; yet for whatever reason, KG was allowed to get prickly with reporters this spring while Papi gets damned as a malcontent.

OK, fine. But I know I heard something about Josh Beckett hurting himself playing golf and so I should boo him if he starts a game I attend this summer?

Well, not exactly. There’s no need to rehash any of the Beckett hate-fest now that the smoke is cleared. The discrepancy between media uproar versus actual public concern over the issue was enormous. With Jon Lester taking a step back this season, Beckett could very well still be the team’s most trusted starter by the time September/October rolls around.

Alfredo Aceves is still the closer?

Despite blowing a save on Tuesday night, Aceves has generally been fine as the team’s ninth inning man. After a rocky April, Alfredo returned to his 2011 form during May (1.02 WHIP) and June (0.91 WHIP), blowing just one save during that time prior to this past week’s meltdown in Oakland. The assumption is that Aceves’ time as closer is likely going to come to an end within the next month once Daniel Bard is recalled from Pawtucket and Andrew Bailey returns from injury. However, neither alternative promises to make ninth innings any less interesting.

Bard’s Thursday night appearance in Rochester included four batters, zero outs, two hit batsmen, two wild pitches and two hits. He even changed his mind in the middle of an intentional walk and gave up a single on a 3-1 count.

Will Vicente Padilla haunt my dreams?

Not any more than Daniel Bard’s outing in Rochester ought to. Padilla’s been one of the most consistent high-leverage relievers on the team. Just because he’s got the same haircut and crazed look as Heath Ledger’s Joker in Dark Knight doesn’t mean anything at all. It can only work to Boston’s advantage that the team has a pitcher that resembles a Batman villain minus the face makeup…

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