Thursday, July 30, 2015

Red Sox Maineiacs Podcast - Trade Deadline Edition

Brandon and Barry sit down in this episode of the Red Sox Maineiacs podcast to discuss the current sad state of affairs in Red Sox Nation and the upcoming MLB trade deadline.
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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Trading Deadline Five Days Away- A Red Sox Look

Over the last month or so instead of specific rumors of players coming to Boston (other than the Cole Hamels talk ongoing since last winter) the trade deadline discussion centering around Boston has been are they buyers or sellers?  The Red Sox train wreck of a post All Star break road trip (0-7 in Anaheim and Houston) has seemingly answered that question.  But has it?

There seems little doubt the Sox are not realistically in the '15 playoff hunt and will be looking to sell off some veteran players.  And there seems to be no reason at all to be shopping for the rental names mentioned since last off season ( Cueto, Zimmerman, Samardjiza, Price, etc.).  But rather than simply moving some veterans out of the way, Ben Cherington seems to be on the hunt to find talent (likely pitching talent) that can be acquired and controlled for seasons beyond 2015.

The one rental name the Sox reportedly still had interest in was Johnny Cueto from the Reds.  The thinking was the Sox would pay the rental price and then have two months to court Cueto to sign and stay in Boston.  This method of acquiring Cueto ended today, when he was traded to Kansas City for three young lefty pitchers.  If ( a big if) the Sox are willing to pay Cueto the  $200M plus this winter, he will now be a free agent without a draft pick loss attached (there is no way KC shells out the $ to keep him from free agency).  Something to watch later.

In lieu of any specific rumors as of yet, let's take a look a some players the Sox could trade away.

Mike Napoli: the most likely to go, but does he have any trade value?  I think a marginal relief pitching prospect could be had for Nap.  If he has a good week this week that will improve the chances of getting something.  Tampa Bay is one team listed as shopping for a bat.  Would the Sox trade within the division?  Well the first three "deadline week" deals in MLB were all intradivision deals: the Kazmir deal, the Aramis Ramirez deal, and the Juan Uribe-Kelly Johnson to Mets.  In addition last year the Sox traded Stephen Drew to the Yankees and Andrew Miller to Baltimore.

Shane Victorino: if he can get through this week healthy there may be a market for Vic.  It has been reported the Sox were finding more of a market for Victorino than for Napoli.  The Mets for one has been mentioned.  Again, as with Napoli,  this would be a small deal to get marginal prospect and free up roster space

Justin Masterson:  Even more unlikely there is any market for Justin either  but maybe some team takes a flier on him as a bullpen arm.

Daniel Nava:  The Royals have interest in Nava as a lefty bat off the bench.

Criag Breslow, Robbie Ross, Jr., Tommy Layne: Any of all three could be moved, Layne reportedly has the most interest.

Now onto some players who could bring more back in return.  Not a blockbuster trade like last July 31, but deals that could bring back an useful arm or two.

Alejandro DeAza:  If Boston was contending Alejandro would stay in Boston.  But a team that is contending could certainly use his bat and outfield defense.

Koji Uehara: The fact Koji is signed through next year, could be a positive or negative in moving him.  But for a team desperate for a closer (Toronto?) you could get a good return.  But there are other younger closers on the market: Paplebon, Kimbrel, and maybe Aroldis Chapman.

Junichi Tazawa: Taz would seem like a pitcher to hang onto for 2016 and beyond, but maybe this is time to move him before the overuse he has gotten comes back to haunt him.

Jackie Bradley, Jr.:  I think this is the wrong time to trade JBJ instead move some veteran outfielders and give him a chance to play everyday.  But in recent days there have been reports of the Giants and Royals having moderate to strong interest in Bradley, Jr.

Wade Miley: Not every pitcher dealt at the deadline is an ace.  Miley is signed for two years beyond this at a very reasonable salary.  He would fit into the middle to back of any rotation, and the teams that miss out on the big names (or cannot afford them) may come calling for Miley.

Joe Kelly and Allen Craig: the two former Cardinals more likely should have been listed in the not much of a market category(at least Craig), but some NL team that remembers their efforts in St. Louis may be willing to trade for one or both of them.

Brock Holt: this is an idea I floated as a comment to Brandon's recent post.  Find a contender with a need at second base ( KC, Angels, Mets) and see if you can get a package of two or three good players for your All Star.  Ned Yost, the KC manager, seemed to love Holt when he picked him for the AL All Star team.  Holt could play left field while Alex Gordon is out injured and move back to second when Gordon comes back.  The Sox have recalled Jemile Weeks now that Dustin Pedroia is back on the DL. In spring training the Sox were grooming Weeks as another all over the field utility guy.  Could he be a Holt replacement??

The other type of Red Sox rumor making the rounds, as mentioned above, is that the Sox are searching for younger, controllable pitchers.  One name mentioned a lot is All Star Sonny Gray of Oakland.  It seems unlikely Gray is available, although Billy Beane has traded younger players unexpectedly before.  Even if Beane would deal Gray, it seems that the package would have to include Blake Swihart and Mookie Betts.

Other places the Sox have inquired per reports are the Mets (Zack Wheeler, out until'16 after Tommy John surgery), San Diego( Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross), maybe Seattle (Taijuan Walker), and Cleveland ( Carlos Carrasco, who the Indians will at least on according to multiple reports, and Danny Salazar or Trevor Bauer).

There were two other reports I read that did not mention Boston at all, but I found interesting.  The rebuilding Braves have been inquiring all over baseball about finding a young catcher. A seperate report, talking about all of the young pitching the Braves have been stockpiling since last winter, suggested the Braves may be willing to trade 24 year old right hander, Julio Teheran.  This year Teheran is 6-5 with a ERA of 4.49 with 102 K's.  But last year he was 14-13 with an ERA of 2.89 with 186 strikeouts., and was a NL All Star.  Would Boston trade Blake Swihart for Teheran?  Would Atlanta make the deal one for one, or would they want an arm or two included? I am in the keep Swihart camp, but acquring this type of pitcher would be awfully tempting.

As the week winds it way towards Friday's deadline RSM will continue to post any updated rumors or deals right here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Eulogy for the 2015 Red Sox

In our podcast on Sunday, July 12, Deacon Art and I agreed that the Red Sox had worked their way back into 2015 playoff contention. At the time of the podcast, the Red Sox sat 5.5 games out of first place in the AL East. They had a game that evening against the Yankees, and if they could win that game they would have headed into the All-Star Break a manageable 4.5 games back. They had won 9 of their last 12 games. They had a chance to head into the break 5-1-2 in their previous eight series. Instead, since that podcast, the following has happened:
  • The Sox lost the July 12th game to the Yankees. Our dumpster fire bullpen served up a two-run homer to a rookie playing in his third ever major league game and the Sox lost 8-6.
  • The Red Sox were swept by the Angels in a four game series
  • The Angels outscored the Sox 22-4 in the four-game shellacking
  • Eduardo Rodriguez, the rookie phenom, lasted 1.2 innings while surrendering 6 hits, 3 walks, 2 home runs, and 7 earned runs without recording a strikeout.
  • Clay Buchholz is scheduled to meet with Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday. The Red Sox are calling the exam “precautionary”, but this blogger is predicting that Andrews finds elbow ligament damage, Buchholz undergoes Tommy John surgery, Buchholz doesn’t pitch again until late 2016 or early 2017, and Buchholz has thrown his last pitch as a Red Sox.
  • The Red Sox are currently 9.0 games out of first place in the AL East and their playoff probability according to Baseball Prospectus is at 9.5%.
  • The Red Sox players exhibited body language during last night’s sweep-clenching beatdown that is usually reserved for people who have recently watched their beloved dog run over in the street in front of their own eyes. John Farrell has the look of a man on death row hoping that his execution comes quickly just to get it all over with.
Folks, the 2015 season is done. Over. Finished. At least in terms of contention for a playoff spot. The Red Sox brass have to realize this. Red Sox fans, judging by Twitter, already realize this. As we approach the 2015 trading deadline, the focus of the Red Sox organization should be shifting away from “what can we acquire to help us get into the playoffs” to “what we can trade away for the long term benefit of our organization”. 

It is time to focus on building towards 2016. And yes, it is July 21. That means another two and a half months of meaningless baseball being played by a last-place team auditioning talent and stockpiling major league reps for players looking ahead to 2016. For the second year in a row. All signs point towards a third last-place finish in four years. 

So where do we go from here? The Red Sox have a number of decisions to make. Let’s run through six of them:

1. Is Ben Cherington the GM we want leading our roster construction? 
The theory of baseball roster construction and game management is changing. This is not a new story. The era of working pitch counts, drawing walks, getting on base, and paying nine figures for established aces is fading, if not already gone. The new approach is to avoid striking out, putting the ball in play, running like hell, scoring early in the game to get a lead, compiling a rotation just good enough to get through five or maybe six innings, preventing hits by emphasizing defense and shifts, and investing in a lights-out bullpen to shorten games to six or seven inning affairs. If Ben Cherington watched the 2014 playoffs, he should have seen the Royals and Orioles among other teams moving towards this approach. Instead, Cherington zigged when the market was zagging. He spent his wad on hitting, signing the two best bats on the market in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, even though Ramirez had no apparent position to play. Cherington spent the rest of his cash to extend two pitchers who had yet to throw a pitch at Fenway in Wade Miley and Rick Porcello, which has turned out to be something between a shrug and a debacle. He “addressed” the bullpen with his leftovers, patching together Robbie Ross Jr, Anthony Varvaro, Edward Mujica, Tommy Layne, and Craig Breslow. On the surface, these moves made sense. I bought into the approach this offseason. If the game was moving towards low-scoring games, then why not invest in the scarce commodity of power hitters? If the trend is moving away from nine-figure aces, then why not invest in two middle-tier starters with potential to improve? Made sense on paper. Now with the benefit of hindsight, these moves look like a GM who is behind the times, won’t learn the lessons of baseball going on around him, or is just incompetent at his job. Will Cherington learn and change tack heading into 2016 and beyond? Should we trust him to learn these lessons and modernize the Red Sox roster? Cherington seems like a smart guy, and I almost always lean towards organizational stability over reactionary firings, so if it were up to me I would keep Cherington and give him a mandate to learn the lessons going on around him in baseball and adjust his priorities accordingly.

2. Is John Farrell the manager we want leading this team?
To me, no. As I said above, I almost always lean towards organizational stability over reactionary firings, but there comes a point when the firing isn’t reactionary any more and the body of evidence overcomes the benefits of stability. The time has come. Farrell’s career record as a manager is 364-377. And that’s including the 97-win 2013 season that is looking more and more like a miracle. If 2013 is taken off of Farrell’s resume, he’s 267-312 as a manger. Assuming the Red Sox finish last in 2015, without 2013 Farrell will have presided over two fourth-place finishes and two last-place finishes. As Bill Parcells once said, “you are what your record says you are”. Farrell’s reputation as a strong clubhouse leader and voice of reason with the media is also taking a hit. Yesterday, after Sandy Leon was DFA’s, Farrell actually looked into the camera and said with a straight face, “Sandy did an outstanding job for us”. Oh really John? Leon was outstanding? What games were you watching?!?!?! I know Leon was a serviceable major league backstop and he threw out some potential baserunners, but did you watch any of his at bats? If he had gone up there and bunted every single time he could have matched his .180 batting average. Leon had about as much of a chance of getting an extra base hit as I do of being elected the next pope. Come on. When Farrell spouts such non-sensical horse manure to Red Sox fans in the midst of his ship sinking into the abyss of meaninglessness, it’s time to go. Fire him now, replace him with Butterfield if he will stay through 2015, then open up a search to find the next Kevin Cash, A.J. Hinch, or Paul Molitor. Enough already.

3. Can the Red Sox trade Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino for anything worthwhile?
There’s no way that Napoli or Victorino get any at-bats in a Red Sox uniform come August, and other teams know this. What would a team give up to get a player who will probably be DFA’d anyways? Will a team take a flyer on Napoli regaining some pop with a change of scenery, maybe to the NL? Will a team want Victorino’s veteran presence in the clubhouse during a pennant race? Maybe. But they won’t give up more than a basement prospect, which is fine. Get what you can and move on.

4. Will the Red Sox consider trading Dustin Pedroia?
I hope so. It won’t be easy seeing the scrappy captain go, and it would certainly be tough seeing Pedroia playing in a different uniform, and it might not be easy to move his 6 year/$85 million contract, but I think it’s time. At this point in his career, Pedroia is a good defensive second baseman, he hits for average, and he reportedly is a clubhouse leader. That’s fine for a player with a reasonable contract and who is willing to hit seventh in a lineup. The Red Sox took off with their late June/early July winning streak with a top three of Betts, Holt, and Bogaerts in their batting order. As soon as Pedroia has come back, the Sox have plummeted. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Or maybe Pedroia’s brashness is grating on players in the locker room. Maybe his declarations that he’s still a top-ten player is causing him to think “me first” with his approach. Maybe Pedroia thinks too much of his ability at this point in his career. Maybe having a top three of all right-handed hitters is a bad idea and Betts and Bogaerts should hit first and third respectively for the next 15 years. 

And then there’s this: of all the Red Sox players on their roster, Pedroia would probably net the biggest haul in return, allowing the Sox to continue stockpiling assets for building a team or when they need to acquire talent in a pennant race. Several of the Sox’ recent prospects have busted: Will Middlebrooks, Garin Cecchini, Travis Shaw, Bryce Brentz, etc. Maybe it’s time to re-stock the upper levels.

While I was watching the Angels crush our souls over the weekend, I couldn’t help but notice that the Angels have Johnny Giavotella playing second base. The Angels want to win a title now, while Trout is still in his prime. Would they take on 6 years and $85 million of Pedroia to put their lineup over the top? Andrew Heaney looked really good on Monday. Maybe a deal headlined by Pedroia for Heaney could be worked out? Count me in.

5. Will the Red Sox consider trading David Ortiz?
Now this one would REALLY hurt. Nothing would hammer home the point that this era of Red Sox baseball is coming to a close like seeing Ortiz traded away to spend the rest of his career in a different uniform. But he’s still a productive hitter for an American League team in a pennant race, he’s a clubhouse genius, and his contract is favorable. Beyond that, I think the Red Sox would love to be able to slot Hanley Ramirez in as their DH for the future and replace his awful defense in LF. David Ortiz has ascended to the Boston sports Mount Rushmore with his presence through three World Series titles and his “this is our f***ing city” speech, but will the Sox consider moving him while he could still net some prospects in return? I can’t stomach this one, no matter if it does make sense on paper.

6. How can the Red Sox develop their young core?
Look, the Red Sox still have a very promising young core. Betts, Bogaerts, and Swihart look like cornerstones. But how can these guys be developed when they are in a culture of losing? How do you get better on a last place team with meaningless at bats? It’s tough. But once again, the Sox will look to get these three along with Rusney Castillo, Brian Johnson, Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens, Pat Light, and as many other young players as possible major league-level reps in 2015. I think a change in manager might help clear the air and allow these guys to focus on developing for 2016 and beyond rather than playing for a lame duck manager throughout 2015. 

As always, let’s hash out these decisions and any others in the comments section below.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Deacon Art and Brandon Podcast: The Red Sox at the Break

Deacon Art and Brandon sit down for a podcast where we talk about the Red Sox first half, the team's approach heading the trade deadline, the current series with the Yankees, the starting rotation, the dumpster fire...err, bullpen, Brian Johnson, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, and everything else related to the Sox that we can think of.

You can skip past the part where I bumble around and try to turn on the Deacon Art's microphone with faulty wi-fi while asking if he's there four times. SKIP TO THE 1:00 MARK OF THE PODCAST AND GO FROM THERE. Sorry about that folks.

Go Sox!

Go Sox!
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Friday, July 3, 2015

RSM Red Sox Top 30 Prospects- July 2015 Edition

We have hit the halfway mark of the MLB season and the Fourth of July weekend, and it is time to once again rank the top prospects of the Red Sox organization.  As anticipated we have some changes in our top 30 this month.  Two players have graduated from prospect status to big league rookies.  They are Matt Barnes {#9 last month} and our previously number one ranked prospect, catcher Blake Swihart.  Also some of the new draftees from the 2015 June amateur draft join our list after officially signing with Boston.

As always the team listed after the player's name is his current location and the number in { } is last month's ranking.  We use two stat lines:

Hitters: HR/RBI/BA/OBP/OPS
Pitchers: W-L/ERA/WHIP/ K-BB

Let's meet the new number one Red Sox prospect and check out how the players are ranked by RSM.

1. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP Boston {3} Since his recall to Boston on May 28, Rodriguez has been the Sox second best starter behind only Clay Buchholz.  Eduardo began red hot with a near historic first four games, with a combination of innings pitched, few hits allowed, and strikeouts rarely seen in all the years since 1914. He ran into two tough starts versus Toronto and Baltimore, which was attributed to pitch tipping.  If Eduardo can make the mechanical adjustments to eliminate this tipping of his pitches, he should be in line to complete a strong rookie season for Boston.  This is very likely Eduardo's first and last appearance at the top of our rankings.  Three more starts or so will also graduate Rodriguez into the big league rookie season category.

2. Rafael Devers, 3B Greenville {5} The 18 year old hitting phenom's June did not match his torrid May, but he still finished the month with a line of 6-36-.305-.336-.793 for the season to date with 19 doubles and a triple.  Devers was one of the Drive members to be named to the South Atlantic All Star team.  In addition Devers has been selected to play in World vs. USA Futures Game, played as part of MLB's All Star festivities.

3. Yoan Moncada, 2B Greenville {2} The Cuban star was edged out of the second spot by his Drive teammate, Devers.  The young switch hitter with the huge international reputation is still adjusting to playing in the States.  His line so far for the Drive is 1/11/.230/.315/.634 with five doubles and a triple.  Moncada has also stolen nine bases without being caught.  It will be very interesting to see if Moncada's game heats up as the second half of the minor league season continues.

4. Brian Johnson, LHP Pawtucket {4} The day of Johnson's big league debut should be right around the corner.  With Joe Kelly now in AAA,  Justin Masterson on a game by game leash, and Rick Porcello cratering, Brian Johnson's time should be now.  Johnson, the Paw Sox only IL All Star representative (which would have been beyond comprehension when 2015 began), has continued to produce: 8-5/2.38/1.08/76-24 with fifteen starts on the year.  His June stats closely mirror his year to date numbers.  It will be a very big surprise if Brian Johnson does not make his major league debut in July.

5. Manuel Margot, OF Portland {6} Around the halfway mark of the minor league season the Red Sox made several promotions within the system (several of which we will see later on this list). The biggest name was Margot, who recovered from an injury plagued May to hit .316 with two homers for Salem in June, and was promoted to AA.  In Manuel's first 39 at bats for Portland he has not skipped a beat.  His AA line is 1/5/.282/.300/.736 with three doubles and three stolen bags.  Margot's first AA home run came in his first game at Hadlock Field.  Manuel will be the second Sox player in the Futures game.  As the trade deadline comes at the end of this month, Margot's name is sure to be mentioned in any big Sox rumors.  But in the mean time, there is now a real Sox prospect to see when the fans visit Portland.

6. Henry Owens, LHP Pawtucket {8} Owens has not produced the eye popping numbers as he has done in the lower levels of the minors.  But Henry is still having a very important year in his development.  He has now made sixteen starts and pitched 90 innings at AAA this year, along with six starts and 38 innings there in 2014. His command improved in June with 27 strikeouts versus 13 walks,  a better rate than the first two months of 42-35.  As with other tall pitchers in the past the 6'6" lefty needs to work on repeating his delivery and commanding the zone.  This is why his June numbers are encouraging.

7. Rusney Castillo, OF Pawtucket {7} Castillo continues not to be able to earn and hold on to playing time in Boston.  He has 74 at bats for Boston with poor to mediocre results. The best plan going forward for 2015 would seem to be to get as many at bats in AAA as possible for Rusney.  So far in AAA his numbers are good; 3/11/.310/.364/.824 with six doubles and eight stolen bases in ten tries.

8. Andrew Benintendi, OF Lowell {N/A} The new number one draft pick ( #7 overall) of the Boston Red Sox debuts in our top ten.  Benintendi lead his Univ. of Arkansas team to the College World Series.  His tools include hitting for power and average with better than average speed and a strong throwing arm.  He throws and bats left handed.  Andrew played two seasons at Arkansas, and he truly exploded onto the scene this season, as illustrated by his two lines in college.

2014: 1/27/.276/.368      in 225 at bats

2015: 20/57/.376/.488     in 226 at bats

Benintendi won the 2015 Dick Howser Award symbolic of the college baseball player of the year and the Golden Spikes Award for amateur baseball player of the year.

Benintendi will begin his pro career at Lowell after officially signing with Boston this week.  Benintendi, who turns 21 on July 6,  is expected to make a brief stop at Lowell before moving onto Greenville or maybe even Salem.

9. Michael Kopech, RHP Greenville {10} June was more of the same for Kopech, as the 2014 first rounder  continues to put up a very solid first full pro season.  After pitching just 13 pro innings in '14, Kopech has a line of 3-5/3.06/1.22/58-17 in 50 innings , while lighting up the guns in the high 90's regularly.

10. Javier Guerra, SS Greenville {11} The nineteen year old shortstop from Panama is just one of many recent international signees who are exploding onto the Red Sox prospect scene.  Guerra, a SAL All Star, has put up an impressive line for the season: 8/36/.271/.328/.796 with 15 doubles for the plus rated defender.

11. Deven Marrero, INF Boston {12} The recent placement of Dustin Pedroia onto the disabled list led to the major league debut for Marrero.  Brock Holt took the starts at second, but Marrero was brought up as the utility infielder.  On July 1, Marrero started his first MLB game on Canada Day in Toronto.  Through that game Marrero started his big league career at 0-6.  Marrero is a great defender and his bat as always is the question.  But didn't we say that about Jose Iglesias as well?

12. Trey Ball, LHP Salem {14} 2013's first round, seventh overall pick continues to make steady progress through the system.  Trey had an outstanding June at Salem: 3-1/1.59/1.09/19-13 in five starts. In mid-June Ball put up 15 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. This brought his year to date won/loss record to 6-6 with an ERA of 3.70.  Ball's June seems to mirror his 2014 Greenville season when a poor first half was followed by a strong second half.  July and August could be important months for Ball.

Halfway Home

The Fourth of July is often considered the halfway mark of the MLB season although with the fluid Opening Day date from year to year, it is not really the case.  But this year for the Red Sox they will enter today's Independence Day weekend at exactly the halfway mark: 81 games in the book.  Here's a few quick thoughts about the Red Sox at the halfway marker.

*Of course, the first half of 2015 has been a massive disappointment for the Red Sox.  They are in last place in the AL East with a record of 37-44.  There has been a sliver of hope in the last week provided by a 5-2 road trip to Tampa Bay and Toronto.  This has cut the Sox deficit in the division from ten games out to six.  The other four teams are all bunched within one game of each other.  Despite many stories lately about how much better the AL East is than predicted, I still consider it a mediocre group, all teams with major flaws.  This may leave the door ajar for the Sox to to walk back in. Maybe.

* Here comes the math.  In order to get to 87 wins the Sox need to play 50-31, a .617 pace.  To get to 90 wins, 53-28, a clip of .654.  That leads to two questions: can the Red Sox play over .600 ball and would that be enough to win the AL East?  Based on their first half it would be hard to imagine an over .600 winning percentage.  In addition no AL team has played at that pace so far ( Houston .580 and KC .579 are tops).  But the Sox are not without talent ( enough talent??) and they are still due for that elusive winning streak.  As to 87-90 wins garnering the title:  As of today the Orioles and Yankees are tied for first, only five games over .500 ( they both have two more games to play until they reach 81). If those teams split the next two, they would both be on pace to finish twelve games over .500 or in other words: 87-75.  So 87 might do it, but the math for Boston to get to 87 is still daunting.

* If the Red Sox are going to climb back into the thick of the AL East race it is imperative they do at least one thing.  Beat the other AL East teams early and often ( especially often).  As amazing as it sounds the Red Sox reach the halfway mark with a winning record against all non-AL East teams: 21-19.  Now not a great record but a winning one.  But even after the 5-2 trip the Red Sox are 16-25 in the division.  If the Red Sox were only one game over in the division, their record would be 42-39 The same record as the Rays and Jays have today, and same number of wins as the other two teams (and of course five more Sox wins in the division would be allotted to some or all of the other teams lessening their marks).

* David Ortiz had a slow start to his season, especially versus left handed pitching.  Is Papi washed up?  Most certainly he is not.  His three run blast in the first inning at Toronto last night gave him 14 in the first half of '15.  This puts Ortiz on pace to hit 28.  In the previous seven seasons ( 08-14) Ortiz hit exactly 200 home runs. This is an average of 28.5 home runs per year, David is on target to match that number almost on the nose.  His batting average is down and he may or may not be the Big Papi of his prime, but he is still a presence in the middle of the order.  Anyone's order.

* In the last week with Dustin Pedroia (who by the way is having his best season in years, except for hitting with runners in scoring position) on the DL and Hanley Ramirez injured, John Farrell moved Xander Bogaerts in the three spot in the batting order.  This is where the Red Sox should leave the X Man for the next fifteen years or so.  Last night's four hit game brought his average to .297 and Xander has also been driving in big runs.  My prediction for Xander for the second half is the home runs come along like the rest of his game has and he finishes with fifteen of more home runs.

* Mookie Betts is another player who is continuing to blossom right in front of our eyes.  After a dip for a month or so that caused Farrell to drop Betts out of the leadoff spot, Mookie is back at the top and he should be there just about as long as Bogaerts hits third.  If the Sox make any kind of run in the second half, Betts and Bogaerts will lead the charge, and do not forget both of these guys are only 22.

* Hanley Ramirez is never going to win a Gold Glove in left field (or anywhere else), but I still maintain almost all of the screeching over his "worst left fielder of all time" defense, has just as much to do with his offense.  If Ramirez' bat heats up as in April, and he finishes with 35-40 home runs, the clamor over his D will die down a lot.

* Clay Buccholz is an enigma.  One of the black marks on his resume is he has never pitched over 200 innings in a season.  Well he is over 100 at the halfway mark, and he is having an All Star type campaign ( although I suspect he will not make the AL team).  If the Sox flounder for rest of July, and Buch continues to pitch as he has in 2015, Ben C will have a huge decision to make at the deadline: trade Clay Buchholz or keep him at very reasonable 13M options for each of the next two seasons?  If the Red Sox continue to play as they did on this last road trip the question is moot, you keep him.  But if the Sox are still last and further behind than they are today, I think he goes to either Houston or the Cubs.

* The team ERA is still last in the AL, and this will need to addressed internally or externally if the second half is to feature a big turnaround. Buch, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Wade Miley are 3/5 of an acceptable rotation.  The need to audition Brian Johnson as soon as possible, and hope for about faces from at least one of Rick Porcello ( the biggest first half disappointment, I was thrilled when Porcello was extended, and still believe he can pitch successfully in Boston, but 2015 my be a lost season for Rick), Justin Masterson, or Joe Kelly.  Rob Bradford had an interesting post on WEEI.com stating the Red Sox were on the hunt for younger, controllable beyond 2015 pitching in the rotation and the bullpen.  I think this may be the route the Sox go at the deadline whether they are buyers or sellers.

* The end of bullpen with Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa has been very good, but with the possible exception of Alexi Ogando the rest of the pen is a dumpster fire.  If Ben is looking for young pitching, hopefully he grabs some bullpen arms with power in them.

* My prediction for the upcoming 81 games is better than the first half.  But I do not think they can play the likely needed .600 to win the division.  45-37 for a .555 % gives Boston a final record of 82-80.  I think the Sox will pull into at least the fringes of the AL East race, and will not finish last.  Some interesting games and semi-contention will at least make for a more interesting summer than we expected a couple of weeks ago.

There are always story lines in Red Sox Nation, so enjoy the rest of 2015's baseball season.