The all-star break is upon us. Only two matinees left at Comerica Park and Boston will have finished up the first half. As we’ve all witnessed, the first half has been an absolute roller coaster for the defending champs. Between injuries, slumps, call-ups/send-downs and the overall inability of the bullpen, the Sox aren’t nearly where they want to be heading into the break.
This doesn’t mean all hope is lost however. The Sox remain firmly in the wild card hunt, even without playing their best ball. If Boston has yet to hit their stride and still has something in the tank ready to be deployed, get ready.
This team can come out swinging in the second half and carry this team all the way back to a Division race with the Yankees. At the very least, this lineup should be able to carry this team to the wild card game. For now, we look at the last couple games against the measly Tigers. Two more opportunities to be able to perfect their game heading into the all-star break.
So what should we be keeping an eye on in the final two games of the first half? Well…
After going seven shutout against the AL Central leading Twins on June 17th, Rick has been rocked in back to back starts. This includes maybe the worst start of his career in London. He went just a third of an inning while giving up six earned on five hits and a walk.
So we need Porcello to bounce back, big time. Obviously 2016 seems like an outlier, and he’ll never return to that kind of dominant form. But an ERA of over 5 is also not something we expected out of Rick Porcello.
He’s around a four ERA player at worst. As a 4th or 5th starter for Boston there’s nothing wrong with that. However, they need Porcello to perform consistently. The fact that he can handle the league best Twins, then a week later struggle with the lowly Blue Jays is frustrating. It can’t happen.
Rick has one final shot at redemption before going into the break. It also happens to take place in the stadium in which he spent the first six years of his career.
The Tigers lineup is as feeble as a professional lineup gets. If Porcello can’t handle his own today against Detroit, it has to be time to at least consider moving on.
The (Re)Emergence of Michael Chavis
When Michael was called up early in the season, he came on with a bang. A game tying double driven deep to center in his debut, followed up by mammoth home runs in his first couple weeks in the big leagues. There was hype surrounded Chavis no matter where we looked.
Fast forward about a month, and Chavis was struggling unlike any other rookie hitter for Boston that I can remember. The strikeouts were piling up and he looked lost at the plate.
Watching Chavis go through a cold spell was not easy for anyone. He looked lost at the plate, especially on anything offspeed. People were really starting to doubt in his ability, but not Alex Cora.
Cora stuck with his young star, and Chavis is making it pay dividends. He seems to have regained his swing and his confidence. This could really be a turning point for the young Chavis.
How’s Our Most Consistent Starter Going to Finish Up?
David Price has been so good, and yet almost nobody has noticed. His 3.33 ERA through 15 starts has him on pace for his lowest numbers since coming to Boston. It seems finally shaking that monkey off his back in the postseason last year really translated to more confidence in the regular season.
If you take out his one bad start against Texas on June 13th (which the Red Sox still won anyways) than Price would have an ERA under 2.00. He has by far been the only consistent starter for Boston this year. We’ve talked about Porcello, everyone knows Chris Sale has had an up and down first half, and E-Rod is hit or miss every start.
With the Eovaldi injury really setting Boston’s rotation back, they’ve needed the boost that Price has provided.
He has one final start on Sunday against the Tigers and their anemic lineup. If Price gets rocked, it certainly isn’t the end of the world, but it would be a really unsettling feeling for him and the fanbase. To have that bad taste in their mouth until his next start, which will be almost two weeks later, is not ideal.
However, if he dominates like I expect, then it will certainly lead to him being able to carry over the momentum into a huge second half for the Sox.
How Does Cora Navigate the 7th, 8th and 9th?
We’ve seen all year how inconsistent this bullpen is, and how we really never know how a game is going to turn out. A lead of any proportion can be blown, but then there’s games where they’ll randomly shut the other team down.
Obviously the blemishes in this bullpen have been a huge downfall of this team. But mainly, it comes down to closing out games. All of our guys have been solid in the middle innings. It’s just the race to the finish line that hurts this team.
Having Heath Hembree back for the first time in roughly a month is the reason the bullpen management becomes interesting in this final series against Detroit. In Toronto on Thursday, Brandon Workman was struggling while Heath Hembree was warming, yet Workman was left in.
Hembree is obviously being eased back into things, but the way he’s used today and tomorrow will be interesting. The build-up to the ninth has been solid the last few games. Both Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes have been getting back on track.
So if we get to the 9th inning in either of the final two games, and the score is close, I do expect Hembree to get a chance.
It’ll be interesting to see how Cora tests the guys in the bullpen in their final opportunities before the break. Seeing how Hembree might react to pitching in the 9th, and seeing how efficient other guys can be in the 7th and 8th, is worth paying attention to.