Monday, July 11, 2016

Red Sox End First Half On Good Note, Look To Make Second Half Push To Playoffs

The Red Sox enter the All-Star break on a hot streak, having won four in a row and seven out of ten to close out a successful first half of the season.

Yes, it's been a successful first half.  Losing control of first place in the A.L. East while playing a bad stretch of baseball in June was disappointing but the Red Sox are coming off consecutive last place finishes so being in the mix for the division title and holding on to the top spot in the Wild Card standings at the break makes for a positive first half.

David Price, the team's $217-million ace who has struggled at times in his inaugural season in Boston, closed out the first half with a dominant performance against the lowly Rays, striking out ten and scattering four hits over eight shutout innings.  His 4.34 ERA is the highest of his career and the 9-6 record is not what the Red Sox thought they were paying for but yesterday's start was cause for hope that Price will look like his usual dominant self in the second half.  Price is leading the American League in strikeouts and when he's been bad he's been the first to admit it - which some players struggle to do when they enter the cauldron of Boston baseball - and there is reason to believe he can be the ace of a staff that will play ball into October.

Boston will have five representatives at tomorrow night's All-Star Game.  David Ortiz, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. will be in the starting lineup and Steven Wright will be one of the available pitchers.  Craig Kimbrel was also selected but he will miss the game and will be out a reported 3-6 weeks after having knee surgery today.

Ortiz, who is scheduled to retire at season's end, is authoring quite a farewell tour.  The 40-year-old slugger is having his best overall season in a Hall of Fame career.  Big Papi is hitting .332 (which would be tied for the best of his career), he is leading all of baseball in on-base percentage (.426), slugging percentage (..682), OPS (1.107), and doubles (34), has hit 22 home runs and driven in 72 runs.  He may capture the MVP in his final year.

If they are to qualify for the playoffs, the Red Sox will need upgrades to their roster.  They desperately need at least one more quality starting pitcher.  The bullpen needs reinforcements as well.

Dave Dombrowski has already worked on fixing the bullpen, trading for Diamondbacks closer Brad Ziegler after Friday's win over Tampa Bay.  The problem now is that with Kimbrel on the disabled list, the Ziegler addition does not immediately solve the lack of depth in the pen.  Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa have clearly been over worked and Dombrowski needs to add at least one more reliever.  Joe Kelly's transition from starter to reliever should help the situation but I'm not ready to trust that Kelly will be the solution.

Adding a starter is also going to be critical for Dombrowski.  The top three of Price, Rick Porcello (11-2, 3.66 ERA) and Wright (10-5, A.L. leading 2.68 ERA) needs reinforcements.  Educardo Rodriguez will make the team's first start after the break on Friday in New York and the Red Sox need him to bounce back from an injury plagued first half and to resemble the pitcher he was a year ago in his rookie campaign when he went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA.

Dombrowski will potentially have a few options.  He can add a "rental", such as Oakland's Rich Hill, a veteran with years remaining on his contract, like Minnesota's Ervin Santana, or make a major move for an established young top of the rotation starter who has a team friendly contract.  Chicago's Chris Sale, Oakland's Sonny Gray, and Atlanta's Julio Tehran have been mentioned the most in that last category and while it seems like an excellent idea to add a young pitcher for the top of the rotation, the cost in prospects - like MLB Future's Game MVP Yoan Moncada - could prove to be prohibitive.

The Red Sox should explore a deal with Minnesota.  In addition to Santana, the Twins could also move relief pitchers Fernando Abad and Brandon Kintzler.  Creating a package deal of second-tier prospects for Santana and one of the relief pitchers would kill two birds with one stone.

Ziegler is not Dombrowski's only move so far.  He picked up infielder Aaron Hill from Milwaukee to bolster the bench and then added utilityman Michael Martinez from Cleveland for additional organizational depth.

Moncada, a second baseman by trade, and outfielder Andrew Benintendi are quickly climbing the organizational ladder and, unless they're moved for a top flight starting pitcher, could be used at the major league level before long.

The feel good first half of the season will now come to an end and the pressure will be on for the players, manager, and front office to at least clinch a Wild Card spot in the playoffs and make a run in October.

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