It's a little past the midway point of the season, but with the All-Star break here, I thought this would be a good time to look at how the Red Sox have fared over the first few months of the season and what the Sox and their fans can look forward to.
Overview: All things considered, I think that the Red Sox and their fans have to be fairly pleased with where the red sox are, considering the way the season has gone thus far, with all the injuries to the Red Sox. Boston sits in the 3rd place in the AL East, 5 games back of the Yankees for first, and 3 games back of the Rays for the wild card spot. It is impossible to assess the Red Sox this season without focusing on the injuries that have befallen them - it borders on ridiculous how many players have been injured for the Sox. Jon Lester has been the only healthy consistent starter for Boston, and Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz have had to carry the offensive load for the Sox.
Josh Beckett was useless in the first half, but hopefully he can come back and make a difference soon. Last week, he had an encouraging start for AAA Pawtucket in which he pitched 4 innings, allowed 2 hits, 1 run, and struck out 4. If he can come back and be consistently good, that would be a huge boost for the Sox. The same can also be said for Clay Buchholz, who was excllent before getting injured. Buchholz strained his hamstring several weeks ago and will be making a rehab start at Pawtucket on Friday. If all goes well, he could be back with the Sox in a week or so.
Jacoby Ellsbury has been out of comission for the vast majority of the season, and his prognosis doesn't look as good as Beckett's or Buchholz's. He has rejoined the Sox, but it seems that he is nowhere close to playing. His return would be a boost, but it's not one that the Sox should plan on for at least a month, and maybe more. It's also concerning that he and the Red Sox appear to be at odds over treating and identifying his injury.
Dustin Pedroia and Victor Martinez are also out for the Sox, but both are expected to return fairly soon, within the next week or two for Pedroia, and a little longer for V-Mart. Pedroia will probably have to make a few rehab starts, but it seems like he's doing well. Martinez is having issues with swelling in his thumb, and while there isn't a timetable for his return, it seems that he may be back in the lineup in a few weeks.
It hasn't been all bad for the Red Sox though; Adrian Beltre has been a great surprise, and David Ortiz has picked it up after an awful start to become a force once again. Kevin Youkilis has been his solid self, and Terry Francona has done a masterful job managing the Sox through all their injuries. Overall, considering all the injuries, the Red Sox can't be unhappy with where they are. If Beckett and Buchholz comes back and can be effective, the Sox will be much, much better, and should push the Yankees and Rays.
The Red Sox also have to be very grateful for the way that relative unkowns like Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald have stepped in and made a real difference. Also contributing have been (former) reserves Eric Patterson and Bill Hall, who have helped to weather the injury storm for the Red Sox. Hopefully they can keep contributing, especially Nava, who has been a great find for the desperate Sox.
New Guys?: With all the injuries to the Sox, there has been much talk of adding players before the trading deadline, mainly a bullpen arm and/or another outfielder. The Blue Jays have made three relievers available - Jason Frasor, Kevin Gregg, and Scott Downs. It seems the Red Sox would do well to try and get at least one, if not two of those arms, especially Gregg and/or Downs. Also discussed is Pittsburgh Pirates' reliever Evan Meek who has appeared in 40 games and has an ERA of 1.11 this season. Another possibility is the Atheltics' Craig Breslow, a lefty reliever who would provide a great deal of help for the Sox' bullpen. Keep your eye on Kerry Wood and the Orioles' Will Ohman as well.
Daniel Bard has been the only consistently good reliever for the Red Sox this year, but he has been overworked, and getting another arm would be great. Other possibilities include putting Michael Bowden in the bullpen, and Felix Doubront too. It appears that the Sox might already be thinking this way, having put Bowden in the bullpen in Pawtucket, where he has allowed only one hit in 3 relief appearances.
As for an outfield bat, there have been rumors about the Royals' David DeJesus and the Phillies' Jayson Werth. Both would provide some help for an outfield that has been relying on Eric Patterson, Darnell McDonald and Daniel Nava among others. However, given the job Nava and Co. have done, getting another bat seems secondary in importance to getting a bullpen arm.
5 Guys Important the Sox' Playoff Hopes: These are 5 players that I think are important if the Sox are going to make a playoff run.
- John Lackey: Lackey has been thoroughly unimpressive for the Sox this season. He is 9-5, but a 4.78 ERA and K/BB ratio of 1.4/1 (compared to nearly 3/1 from Jon Lester) is not what the Red Sox were looking for from him. If he can go from average to very good, such as what he was for the Angels last year, that would be a big lift for the Sox and could push them closer to a playoff berth.
- Adrian Beltre: Beltre has been somewhat of a savior for the Sox this year, batting .330 with 13 home runs and 55 rbi. However, he has been declining somewhat of late, and that could spell trouble for the Sox. If Pedroia and Martinez can come back healthy, the Sox won't need him to be a .330 guy for the rest of the season, but staying above .300 would keep the Red Sox offense near the top of the league, and help them stay in the playoff hunt
- Josh Beckett: Beckett has done absolutely nothing for Boston this season, and the Sox are still in contention near the top of the league. So what if Beckett was healthy and producing like he has for the past few seasons for the Sox? That would most certainly propel the Sox to a playoff spot if everyone else performed the same way. The Sox and their fans can only hope for this.
- David Ortiz: After a sickeningly bad start, Ortiz has rebounded to give the Sox another legitimate power threat that they very much needed. He was batting .149 with three home runs on May 4, but has been excellent since. If the Red Sox are to push for a playoff spot, they need him to continue this performance.
- Clay Buchholz: Before injuring his hamstring while running the bases in late June, Buchholz was becoming the pitcher that everyone has been waiting for since he threw a no-hitter against Baltimore. At 10-4 with a 2.45 ERA, Buchholz has been pitching very well this year. If he can come back and be just as effective for the pitching-starved Sox, it will be a major lift.
The Bottom Line: If the Red Sox are going to catch the Yankees/Rays for a playoff spot, it all comes down to pitching. The Sox offense, which was in doubt coming into the season has been fine. More than fine actually. They are 3rd in the MLB in batting average, 1st in total bases, 1st in slugging percentage (by a whopping 23 points), 1st in runs scored, and 2nd in home runs. Like I said, they're doing just fine in the hitting department.
However, pitching has been a different story. They are 22nd in team ERA, and are middle of the road in batting average against and OBP against. As I said above, some of the most important players for the Sox in the 2nd half are pitchers. If they are going to succeed, they need Beckett, Buchholz, and Lackey to perform, and for Lester to stay at his current high level. They also need bullpen help in the worst way. If the Sox are going to succeed, these things need to happen.
It comes down to this for Boston: If they improve their pitching, they will be playing in October. If they don't improve their pitching, they will be playing golf. Let's hope that they can get it together.