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.