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With the 2010 Midsummer Classic in the books, after Joe Girardi screwed the American League out of homefield advantage in the World Series, it’s time to look ahead. The unofficial second half of the season will get underway for your Boston Red Sox Thursday night at Fenway Park, with the opener of a four-game series against the Texas Rangers and their gargantuan lineup. Things do not get much easier after that, with the Sox headed out on a 10-game west coast swing that will all but bring them to the July 31st trade deadline.
But if the first half of the season has proven anything about this team, it’s that they are close-knit bunch of scrappers and gamers (save for one Jacoby Ellsbury), that have fought through an unimaginable rash of injuries to keep them in a division race that requires them to have the fourth best record in the majors (51-37). It’s no exaggeration to call what this team has done to this point remarkable, but for all that went wrong for them in the first half, that much more will have to go right in the second half for the Red Sox to secure another trip to the postseason.
It all starts with getting most of the walking wounded back on the field. With a league-leading 11 players on the disabled list (nine if you don’t count Jed Lowrie and Junichi Tazawa, who weren’t expected to be key contributors), the Red Sox have been devoid of a consistent starting lineup pretty much from the get-go. The starting pitching has done well to keep this team afloat, but the bullpen has also cost this team in the late innings, and remains the biggest question mark. As we look ahead into the crystal ball, let’s break down the parts that make the Red Sox a whole.
Despite not having the opening day one-through-nine that was envisioned for this season available, this is still a line-up that leads the American League in runs with 481, is third in hits and batting average with 845 and .276 respectively, and tops in slugging percentage and OPS by wide margins. The whole idea of “run prevention” instead of “run production” seemed quite acidic to many Sox fans before the season got underway, but this lineup has proved it can hold it’s own with the league’s best.
If Jacoby Ellsbury can get back atop the order soon (but who has a timeline? anyone?) and spark the offense like he is capable, this team is in very good shape. Marco Scutaro has filled in quite admirably at lead-off (.283/.348/.727) for a guy who was acquired to be the No. 9 hitter in this lineup, so the idea of him bringing up the rear once again is quite an enviable one.
The keys are going to be Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez. Getting them back, healthy and producing, will be critical to protecting the core of this lineup from exposure, and the bullpen from overtaxing and overexposure. As it stands now, if a starter fails to go five solid innings, this lineup will have to spot any bullpen pitcher not named Bard or Papelbon a good cushion. Once Pedroia and Martinez are back in their respective spots, and Jeremy Hermida can return to help take pressure of Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald, the Red Sox have plenty of reasons for optimism. The only question that remains: can Adrian Beltre and, more urgently, David Ortiz continue true to their first half form?
Even with Josh Beckett on the shelf, and John Lackey delivering anything but an impressive first half, the starting pitching has been the crutch for a team that has limped through an inconsistent lineup and bullpen. The two all-stars, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, have both risen to double-digits in wins while sporting sub-3.00 ERAs, with Lackey lagging (that term is generous) behind with nine wins.
Tim Wakefield will be his normal self, and the Daisuke Matsuzaka experiment continues. Assuming Buchholz can come back from his hamstring injury at the same clip as co-ace with Lester, then the fate of the starting rotation lies in Beckett and Lackey’s hands. You have to expect that an $80-plus million dollar free agent will show up in the second half, lowering his 4.78 ERA and helping to carry the Red Sox into the playoffs, where he will really earn his money. Beckett, fresh off a contract extension and another long stint on the DL, will have to prove he is up to the task of anchoring this rotation, as he headed off the roster with a 7.29 ERA and a record of 1-1 in eight mediocre starts. Anything you get from Wake and Dice at this point is a bonus.
As a true and glaring weakness they share with the other division contenders, the bullpen looks as if it’s the make-or-break element to the Red Sox’ success down the stretch. While Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon are constants as your eighth-t0-ninth performers, there are questions abound for six and seven. Scott Atchison has been a lone bright spot, but with Hideki Okajima (your only left-hander) and Manny Delcarmen lost to injury and inconsistency, and Ramon Ramirez continuing to instill zero confidence in his ability in anything but mop-up duty, where does this team turn?
News has recently come down that Red Sox will look for some relief in-house. Michael Bowden, who so far this season is 6-3 with a 3.60 ERA in 16 starts and 19 overall appearances for the Pawtucket Red Sox, has been moved from the starting rotation the bullpen down in AAA in anticipation of his move to the major league club. Bowden has failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him a few years ago, but has shown flashes of the potential that many in the organization believe he still possesses. And, of course, the other option would be…
This does not seem to be the most practical route. The Red Sox in recent years have shown hesitance to part with farm talent on a whim, and you will be competing with just about every other team (except for the Padres) for the limited middle relief help that is available, not to mention the Yankees and Rays. While names like Kerry Wood, Octavio Dotel, Chad Qualls, and Kyle Farnsworth would intrigue some, would it really be worth it to mortgage farm talent or even major-league-ready talent for the most puzzling position on the roster? There’s a reason middle relief pitchers don’t get locked into long-term deals.
Starting with this second half, the Red Sox have seven more road games than home games left on their schedule. This ten-game west coast trip to start the road schedule is certainly a tough test to open the second half, and they are looking at seven game trip away from Fenway against the Yankees and White Sox to finish out the season, who are both division leaders coming out of the All-Star break. The Sox actually do not have a home game left against New York this season. Certainly a tough test. But most would not be crazy to think that the Sox are up to it, given the first half they have had and what they have managed to overcome so far.
Tags: Adrian Beltre, American League, Boston Red Sox, Chad Qualls, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Daniel Bard, Daniel Nava, Darnell McDonald, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Fenway Park, Hideki Okajima, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jed Lowrie, Jeremy Hermida, Joe Girardi, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Junichi Tazawa, Kerry Wood, Kyle Farnsworth, Manny Delcarmen, Marco Scutaro, Michael Bowden, Octavio Dotel, Pawtucket Red Sox, Ramon Ramirez, Scott Atchison, Texas Rangers, Tim Wakefield, Victor Martinez, World Series