Tomorrow the first place Boston Red Sox resume their attempt to march into the playoffs after the All Star Break. Despite this being the unofficial second "half" of the season, the Sox are actually about 60% into their schedule with only 65 games to go. At the break the Red Sox are 58-39 putting them 2 1/2 games up on the Rays, 4 1/2 over Baltimore and 6 over the Yankees (and the Jays 11 1/2 out). Here are a few random thoughts about the last 65 games.
1. Red Sox still have same questions as Opening Day despite the great first half. All winter long we all kept saying the 2013 Sox would only contend if Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz starred at the front of the rotation. And as of today, despite both guys roaring out of the gate, the same question exists. Due to Lester's bad last two months and Buchholz being out since June 8, both pitchers are still unknowns going forward. At least one and ideally both need to get back in action and at least resemble the aces they were in early 2013.
Another remaining question: Who is the closer? Last winter it was Hanrahan vs. Bailey. Now after Hanrahan's season ending surgery and Bailey's scattered injuries and suckitude, is the closer Koji Uehara, Bailey( who seems to be rebounding as a set up guy), or an import at the deadline?
A few other questions not answered include what can Stephen Drew bring to the Sox offense?, is Mike Napoli the needed power threat behind Papi, and will Jacoby Ellsbury put up a big contract walk year?And of course we may have an answer (unfortunately) to the question will the sophomore jinx bite Will Middlebrooks.
There are other questions as well, but if you could tell me Jon and Clay will pitch like April and May, I would tell you to buy your playoff tickets today.
2. The Red Sox can take AL East control in the next week or two. Look at this schedule coming up. A seven game home stand, three with New York and four more with the Rays. Then onto Baltimore for three. That is ten straight games versus the three teams closest to Boston. An 8-2 stretch would likely give the Sox some daylight. In addition after the brief stop in Baltimore, the Sox have six more at home, three each with Seattle and Arizona.
3. The trade deadline beckons . One of my favorite times of the year. But this year's supply and demand could cause slow going in the trade market. This being the second year of the second wild card for each league, teams are still having troubles deciding is they are sellers or buyers. These are the only teams that are more than ten games out in their division and are not considered some sort of contender ( this last clause eliminates teams such as the Angels and Jays as sellers, likely.) Those teams are Twins, White Sox, Mariners, Astros, Mets, Marlins, Cubs, and Brewers. That makes only eight teams to be feeding the other 22. Now the Jays ( won't help Boston), Angels, Giants, Padres, and maybe Phillies??? will join the sellers market.
4. Red Sox Rumors. Of course here in Red Sox Nation we look at the deadline through the eyes of the Sox. Only a few names have been floated in the media as Red Sox targets ( Matt Thornton was one but the Sox have pulled that trigger all ready). Mostly mentioned have been Matt Garza and Michael Young, so let's start there. First by many accounts Texas is the leading Garza suitor. They are one of a few systems better than Boston, and if the Rangers want him I think he will go there and soon. It is widely reported Theo wants to trade Garza right now. And this illustrates the main reason I do not want Garza. Theo is hoping to deal him while he is healthy. At last year's deadline and again last winter Theo wanted to shop him and he was hurt both times. Due to the reported high price tag and this injury worry, I would pass on Garza. As far as Michael Young goes, if the Phillies want to send Young and his remaining salary this way for nothing but a bag of baseballs, I might consider it if I were Ben C. But at this point in their careers, I think I would rather have Brock Holt on this team than Michael Young.
Other rumors have included the Red Sox scouting both the White Sox and Brewers for relief help. Even after acquiring Thornton, the Red Sox would have interest in Jesse Crain ( who is on the DL currently, by reportedly just for a minor mid season rest stop). From Milwaukee the trio of John Axford, Francisco Rodriguez, and lefty Mike Gonzalez could be targets.
There has been one other rumor mentioned a time or two, that I am really on board with. But any deal involving this pitcher may have taken a big hit ( or big no hit) last week. Tim Linecum, and the remainder of his $22M deal, was possibly available according to some. For Boston I felt he could be Buchholz insurance or he could pitch out of the bullpen as he did for Frisco last post season. But with the Giants not definitely out of the race, how in the world do you trade a guy who just pitched a no hitter. Of course considering he threw 148 pitches in the no-no, the Giants may want to get him out of town before his arm falls off. Of course, the other names out there are both from Philadelphia. Jonathan Paplebon and Cliff Lee. There is no indication the Phils plan to blow it up and deal Lee's huge contract, although that is exactly the type of move this aging roster needs. Lee is likely the only guy the Sox would move a kid pitcher of two for ( Webster, Barnes, plus??). The Red Sox will not trade for Paplebon. They are more likely to deal for one of the Red Sox Maineiacs than Paps. He is expensive and heading into the most unreliable years of his long deal, and more importantly he has blown about five saves in the last week or two. The Sox will hand the closer's keys to Rubby De LaRosa before giving up anything for our old friend Jonathan Paplebon.
5. Sox will not trade the kids. And because of this I see the only upcoming Sox deal as another mid level kid for a reliever, a la Thornton for Jacobs. Instead of trading the kids, I predict the Red Sox will fortify their pennant drive WITH the kids. Brandon Workman, and Drake Britton who are currently up both can help the pen ( if Workman does not grab a starter's job). So too could Rubby De La Rosa and / or Allen Webster. With Shane Victorino continually hobbled, I still think Jackie Bradley, Jr. will contribute. And with teams such as St. Louis and the Pirates having holes at shortstop, I would deal Stephen Drew on July 31 if he can prove he is healthy and insert Jose Iglesias at short. And at that time I would promote either Will Middlebrooks or Xander Bogaerts to play third ( with Brock Holt as the utility guy). I do not not really think the Sox would move Drew while in a race, but they should if they can add another prospect.
6. Xander Bogarts is just weeks away from playing for Boston. There is no need to rush Bogaerts, but he is not overmatched at all in AAA, and his numbers are improving steadily. I really get the idea, the Sox want Middlebrooks to stay in AAA for an extended period, this may help create the opening Xander needs. Xander can be this year's Manny Machado. Today, Keith Law of ESPN came out with his updated Top 50 prospects in MLB and Bogaerts was #3. He is going to be special. Who would you rather have helping out in August and September ( and October?) Michael Young or Xander Bogaerts?
7. The Red Sox had better figure out the secret to beating Baltimore. By the morning of July 26, the Sox will have only three games remaining with Tampa Bay and nine with the Yanks. But beginning with that day's three games set in Birdtown, the Sox will have 12 more games with the O's. Nine of those are from August 27 on, including the last three games of the year in Baltimore. I am not under estimating the talent on the Orioles at all, but there is no way Boston should be able to at least split these 12 games. I really, really do not want to see another Red Sox pennant drive end in Baltimore.
8. John Lackey. All together now. " I was wrong about John Lackey". Lackey, after Tommy John surgery and after obviously working very hard to lose a bunch of weight, is morphing back into the Angels' version of the ace John Lackey. If just one of Buchholz and Lester can rebound, Lackey could be the other top line starter needed in October. ( And Felix Doubront may becoming one of those types of pitchers as well) .
9. ENJOY the next 2 1/2 months. We all hope the Sox can continue the brand of baseball that has them in first place. But no matter what happens from here on out, just remember ONE stinkin' year ago. The upcoming pennant race was unforeseen by nearly all. Follow our established stars ( Pedey, Papi, and Ellsbury, ) the role players who have had so much to do with this turnaround ( Gomes, Napoli, Victorino, Uehara, etc.) and watch for the kids to emerge as mentioned above. ENJOY