Well here we are, the unofficial start of the second half. Boston sits at 49-41, nine games out of first. Obviously that could be better, but it also could’ve been a lot worse. Between the slow start, injuries, and inconsistencies, the Sox haven’t had a whole lot bounce their way this season.
Today however, is a new day. A new half of baseball is in front of us, and Boston pretty much controls their own destiny when it comes to how far they go. A few things need to happen in order for the Red Sox to return to their dominant form of 2018, but it is absolutely still possible, and this is how.
Consistent Starting Pitching
People may not realize how weak the staff really was in the first half. A lot of what went wrong in the first three and a half months was instigated by short starts from the rotation. Now I’m not saying this is all on the starters by any means. But, they do need to be held responsible for putting more pressure on the bullpen then it could’ve handled.
For the record, David Price should be excluded for this. He had as good a first half as he’s had in his career, and it was on par with most of this year’s American League All-Star pitchers.
As far as the rest of the starters go, it’s shape up or ship out. Rick Porcello faces free agency at the end of the year, and if the Red Sox fall even further back in the coming weeks, he could be gone. Porcello has struggled mightily against lesser opponents since his fantastic start against Minnesota.
Eduardo Rodriguez has slowed the walks a little, but is still having trouble consistently getting results. This is year five for E-Rod, and if he doesn’t start proving something soon, he also could find his way out by July 31st if the Sox fall out of it.
Nathan Eovaldi gets a break as he’s been hurt, and it doesn’t appear we’re going to see him back in the rotation this season anyways. The starters replacing Nate have a combined ERA over six. Not ideal. The Zack Wheeler rumors may lower that fifth starter’s ERA slightly, but that move won’t be the one to catapult the Red Sox back to the top.
Then we get to Chris Sale. Sale struggled out of the gate, but eventually recaptured his form in early June. Since then, the struggles have returned and his ERA has ballooned over four. He hasn’t won a game at Fenway Park in almost a year now. Which for Chris Sale, is absolute madness.
I still expect Sale to turn it around. He’s fresh into a new contract and has something to prove after his sub-par first half. Porcello and E-Rod are a different story for me. I’m running out of hope for the both of them, but the best case scenario now is that they can pitch like number four starters. If we can get a 4.00 ERA from both Rick and Eduardo for the remainder of the year, we might be able to salvage the Boston rotation around Price and Sale.
The Relievers we Have Getting Back to Their Roots
Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman, Ryan Brasier andHeath Hembree are all good relievers. They have all pitched well in the middle innings, and are all deserving of high leverage spots in an MLB bullpen. What the four of them also have in common, is that they’re not Closers. They’ve all had a shot at one point or another, and they all have failed to impress.
This is no slight to them. The 9th inning is a different animal. Getting these guys back to a spot in which they’re comfortable is instrumental to getting the Red Sox back on track.
Last season, with Kimbrel behind them, these guys all pitched well in the 6th, 7th and 8th innings. They knew there was a shutdown guy at the end of the bullpen to close things out.
Making sure the big four that Boston has can get back to roles they’re more used to is crucial for their success. This starts by finding a Closer.
For the next few weeks, maybe even beginning tonight, Nathan Eovaldi appears to be getting his chance. He’s got 102 mph heat and some movement in his arsenal, so his stuff should play well in a shorter scenario.
The injury history worries me with Nate. He’s going to really try and air it out if he’s in a shorter role. If that’s the case, he needs to be careful with his elbow.
So Nasty Nate is going to get his shot, and I’m excited for it, but I don’t think it’s the long term solution. We’re at the point in the season where there isn’t a whole lot of time to play with. So if this experiment fails, Dombrowski has to be ready to pull the trigger on something ASAP.
The two best options for me, are Will Smith of the Giants and Felipe Vazquez of the Pirates. Both are low price, low risk, high reward options. The only issue is, that may be why they have a high price tag has far as trade value goes.
Both San Fran and Pittsburgh would likely want multiple impact prospects in exchange for their star closer. If Boston does that, it would almost fully deplete the farm once and for all. I’m okay with that happening,if this team really thinks they can go back to back. However, if they go all in to lose in the ALDS, then giving up prospects for a Closer is going sting.
A Couple of Bats That Need to Warm Up
The reigning MVP, and the man who hit behind him in the lineup during that MVP season, have both not been themselves. Mookie Betts is still having a good year, but not great. His walk numbers are still there, and his OPS is still respectable. Yet his average is down, and he’s on pace for a much lower WAR than he finished with last year.
Then we get to Andrew Benintendi, who is flat out struggling this year. Benny was someone I had as a dark horse MVP candidate this year, after he began to break out in 2018. He’s been anything but, with strikeout percentage going up and walk percentage going down. After being worth 4.4 WAR last season, he’s on pace to not even finish with 1/3 of that.
He’s been moved down in the lineup, which is probably best for him while he gets it together mentally. Rafael Devers deserves to be hitting in the two-hole and it’s been working for Boston. Maybe with Andrew hitting 5th or 6th the pressure on his shoulders will alleviate a bit. Hopefully he can find his swing from last year.
As far as Mookie goes, I do expect him to be fine. In every year in which he’s been in the big leagues he’s had a couple of prolonged slumps. Even in his MVP year there were a couple two week spans where he looked a little lost at the plate. He’s already had two slumps this season. So I think we’re ready to see Mookie fully break out in the second half.
He’s way too good a hitter to not be hitting over .300. I really think he’s going to be the catalyst that gets Boston back to where they were in 2018.