We’ve officially entered the sports abyss. You know, that 48-hour black hole following the MLB All-Star Game where there are no sports to be found. The World Cup is over. There are no baseball games in sight. NFL training camp is still a ways off. Hell, even the NBA’s Summer League has concluded.
In these dire times, all we can do is lock ourselves in our rooms, and look ahead to what the second half of the Major League season might bring.
Red Sox fans are surely hoping for more of the same. Boston won an MLB record 68 games prior to the break, and hold a 4.5 game lead over the Yankees for first place in the AL East. There should be plenty of intrigue over the season’s final two and a half months. Here are a few key themes for Sox fans to keep an eye on for 2018’s stretch run:
Will Dave Dombrowski Make a Move?
The trade deadline is looming. The Red Sox may be on pace for 112 wins, but they have their share of holes. Three starting pitchers (Drew Pomeranz, Steven Wright, and Eduardo Rodriguez) are on the disabled list. The bullpen, beyond Craig Kimbrel, is “good enough to get by” at best and “heart-attack inducing” the rest of the time. 2nd and 3rd base have been well below average offensively, and a train-wreck defensively (at least when Rafael Devers and Eduardo Nunez have been in the lineup). The catcher position has been underwhelming as well, though the Sox aren’t alone there.
In short, there’s reason to believe that Boston may try to make an upgrade over the next couple of weeks. The Red Sox have been rumored to be interested in a high-caliber reliever. The Orioles’ Zach Britton could be on the table, and is one big name to watch. Boston has also shown interest in former Yankee Nathan Eovaldi. An augmentation to the pitching staff seems most likely, though whether it’s a major get like Britton or a stopgap solution like Eovaldi remains to be seen. However, don’t sleep on a boost to the lineup as well (The Royals’ Mike Moustakas or Whit Merrifield, anyone?). When you have a first half like the Red Sox did, a big swing is almost always in the works.
Dr. Chris vs. Mr. Sale
The splits are staggering. By almost every metric, Chris Sale is worse in the second half of the season than he is in the first half. For his career, Sale is 69-26 with a 2.66 ERA before the All-Star break, and 32-36 with a 3.28 ERA after it. Last year was no different; after a dominant first half, he showed signs of mortality down the stretch. Everything came to a head in the postseason, when he allowed 9 runs on 13 hits in 9.2 innings over two appearances versus Houston.
Sale will once again be coming off a stellar first half (10-4, 2.23 ERA, 13.1 K/9). We’ll see if he can keep it rolling for the full 162 plus postseason, assuming the Sox make it that far.
Will Jackie Bradley Jr. Get Hot?
JBJ has been nothing short of frustrating this season at the dish. His .210/.297/.345 slash line doesn’t inspire much confidence. Neither does his less-than-robust 73 OPS+. Fortunately for Bradley, his typically excellent defense has managed to keep him in the lineup more often than not.
There are signs that a patented Bradley Jr. hot streak could be around the corner. His .265 BAPIP is its lowest since 2013, despite a career best 38.8 hard-hit percentage (and a career low 9.7 soft-hit percentage). JBJ also showed signs of life towards the end of the first half. In 18 games since June 24th, Bradley is hitting .323//377/.548 with a couple of HR and 15 RBI to boot.
JBJ truly just needs to be mediocre at the plate in order to justify his prescence in the lineup with the way he mans centerfield. However, he’s also capable of going on extreme hot streaks that can buoy an entire offense for a month. Assuming he times that streak right, it could determine the AL East race.
Can Mookie Betts Stay Hot?
Mike Trout is already an all-time great, and the best player in baseball. But Betts has been the top dog this season from the jump. His monster first half (.359/.448/.691 with 23 HR, 18 SB, and a 200 OPS+) has made him the clear AL MVP favorite so far. It has also almost completely erased an underwhelming 2017 season. Check this out:
2016: 158 G, 730 PA, .318/.363/.534, 31 HR, 26 SB, 133 OPS+
2017-18: 231 G, 1067 PA, .295/.379/.534, 33 HR/162, 31 SB/162, 137 OPS+
It truly does feel as though this season is a correction for 2017, and combining both puts him right in line with 2016’s MVP runner-up campaign. The Sox need him to keep that pace, and stay locked in. While the top 5 of the lineup is as formidable of a group as any (Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, JD Martinez, Mitch Moreland), the bottom part has been suspect to say the least. Boston can’t afford much of a drop-off from their stars, especially Betts.
There’s plenty more to keep an eye on as the Red Sox make their way through the dog days of summer into the fall, of course. But don’t be surprised if these key points loom large through September and October.