Red Sox Midseason Report: How They’ve Done and What’s Next

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After having some of the worst seasons of the century in three of the last four years, the Red Sox have actually put up some decent numbers in 2016’s first half.  They’ve gone 49-38, and those 38 losses haven’t even come in groups of more than 3 straight, despite only winning 4 straight.  We’ve had extensive hitting streaks, young power, and even a glorious final season for Big Papi.  The biggest thing that made us improve greatly from the disaster of ’15 is that the lineup is finally hitting.  JBJ’s finally developed, Betts is more consistent, Hanley’s bouncing back, slightly, and Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz have continued to shine.

But pitching has still been an issue.  Sure, Steven Wright’s finally broken through, and Rick Porcello has bounced back, but David Price isn’t himself, and Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly have done nothing to prove they deserve a slot in the rotation.  E-Rod has even struggled since returning from a knee injury.  The bullpen upgrades weren’t worthwhile either, with Craig Kimbrel not doing his job and Carson Smith shut down for the season.  Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa aren’t everyday relievers anymore either.

Best Before The Break

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  • We haven’t had many winning streaks due to bad pitching, but we’ve had a powerful lineup.  What’s the one thing that can come when the lineup is good, but pitching blows some of the games?  Hitting streaks, and other impressive batting stats.  From late April to early June, the Red Sox led the league in hitting streaks.  Jackie Bradley Jr. started his 29 game hitting streak in late April.  JBJ stretched his streak into late May.  It was ended in an upset loss to the Rockies in the series finale after leading the series 2-0.  Xander Bogaerts came next.  Bogey stretched his streak to 26 games, nearly beating Bradley’s streak after it had ended.  Bogaerts already had 16 games when Bradley’s streak got terminated.  We even had a couple more double digit streks after that, by Mookie Betts, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.  We also have four players batting over .300, Pedroia, Betts, Bogaerts and Ortiz.  At one point, Bogaerts led the AL.  Big Papi also has 22 dingers and 72 RBI, and Mookie Betts is on pace for a 30/3o season with 15 stolen bases and 18 homers.
  • Most of the Red Sox rotation has had some very ugly moments, but one guy who has been on fire this season is Steven Wright.  This guy has an inspiring story.  Before he was a knuckleballer, Wright was thinking about quitting baseball after struggling.  But he came back, as a Red Sox knuckleballer.  For a knuckleballer, he’s pretty impressive, putting up a 2.68 ERA and going 10-5 in a career high 17 starts.  Combined with David Price and Rick Porcello, who have been decent, the three have 50 starts, 27 wins and 12 losses, a 3.66 combined ERA, and have pitched 322 1/3 innings.  All other Sox starters have gone 7-12 with a 7.22 ERA and pitched 154.2 innings in 32 starts.
  • I’ve already said the Red Sox lineup has been good in general, but I’d like to point out a few guys who I really enjoyed watching in this half.  First off, the Killer B’s.  These three young stars are the future of the lineup, and have given it an extra spark in Big Papi and Pedroia’s shadow.  Mookie Betts has done some pretty impressive things for a leadoff.  He had 5 home runs in two games, four in the first two innings of games.  He’s now on pace for about 35 dingers and 30 stolen bases.  Bogaerts and Bradley both had massive hitting streaks, and Bogaerts has a .329 batting average and led the AL for a bit.  This is especially impressive for JBJ considering he’d never hit consistently before.  Big Papi has also been very impressive for a 40 year old retiring after the season.  He’s batted .332 with 22 homers, 72 RBI and a 1.107 OPS!  Ortiz leads the league in doubles, OBP, slugging PCT, and OPS!  He’s 40 years old!  Lastly, this may surprise you, but I have been legitimately impressed by Sandy Leon this season.  In just under 100 at bats, he’s hit between .400 and .500 for most of the season with a 1.173 OPS.  For a .242 career hitter, that is mind blowing.  The Red Sox had 4 hitters starting at the All Star Game for a reason.

One Last Thing

One thing I’ve found very interesting this season is the Red Sox’s outfielders’ celebration dance.  Where did they come up with this?  What does this mean?   Who knows, but one thing I know about it is that I’m loving it.

Worst of the 1st (Half)

  • Alright, the hitting has really boosted the Red Sox, but pitching has been a major problem.  We’re lacking quality starts, and quality starters.  Nobody who we needed to come through this season has come through consistently.  Henry Owens hasn’t come through, E-Rod has began to struggle, Buchholz and Kelly have had very rough years, pretty much everyone except Steven Wright, and maybe David Price and Rick Porcello.  Under no terms would I even consider them a big three!  The Red Sox are a good team this year, but if they can’t make do with what they have, or get better pitching, they will not win the division, maybe even miss the playoffs.
  • The bullpen has also had issues, and this partially draws back to the pitching problems.  Especially through some rough times in June, Red Sox starters have failed to go deep into games without getting shattered.  It’s been cause and effect with the bullpen.  Relievers have had to pitch numerous days in a row, even Koji and Tazawa, and the worst part is, Craig Kimbrel’s struggled and Carson Smith and Roenis Elias have done nothing.  There goes the Wade Miley and Manuel Margot trades down the toilet.

Basically, most of the problems have been caused by pitching and injuries to key hitters, so I don’t have much more to say.

My Final Say

I have to give the Red Sox a lot of credit for being able to keep stable and finish the half with a winning record despite some terrible pitching.  Between an amazing lineup, some luck, and some shocking saved games, the Red Sox have not backed down and stayed in contention for most of the half.  The Red Sox are actually interesting to watch this season.  If they can bring in a big name player, just that minor improvement could make the Red Sox a playoff team.

Grade So Far: B+

The Recent Buzz and How It Impacts The Near Future

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The Red Sox went into the break with a much needed sweep of the Rays.  David Price pitched the way he should, and the Red Sox had some efficient innings on the mound and at bat.  They also started to make some moves.  They brought in Aaron Hill as an extra infielder.  I think Hill could end up playing Brock Holt/Josh Rutledge’s old role, an extra infielder for injured or tired players.  They also acquired super utility Michael Martinez, who I’m sure will also make an impact.  Finally, at 1:00 AM on Saturday morning, we traded two prospects to Arizona for Brad Ziegler, who will help the bullpen and close in place of Kimbrel while he’s out.  They didn’t have to give up much, but Hill and Ziegler are free agents after the season.   We even got a middle rotation starter, Drew Pomeranz.  He hasn’t always been in the rotation, but this year he helped a weak Padres rotatin after some time with the A’s.

But I think that these small moves have to lead up to something big.  These guys like Hill, Ziegler and Martinez will be deserving of bigger roles when our dinged up team returns strong after the break.  Maybe even a better pitcher.  There have been rumors of trading Blake Swihart and Travis Shaw and maybe a top prospect for a pitcher.  There’s been Yoan Moncada rumors in the air.  But what are some realistic trade scenarios for us?

Note: In all of these, trading a prospect is likely necessary but Moncada will not likely be in the first offer.  If a team is offering an ace for Moncada, I would take it though.

Red Sox Receive: Chris Sale

White Sox Receive: Yoan Moncada, Blake Swihart, Travis Shaw

This may not make sense, as the White Sox won’t have Shaw start, but Shaw could backup some games at third, maybe even learn the middle infield.  Swihart may be on the 60 day DL but when he comes back, he could be an efficient outfielder or backup catcher for Chicago.  Moncada might be what the White Sox are looking for to change their future, and that could end up being the deciding factor in the trade.  Imagine Price and Sale, forever rivals, on one team.

Red Sox Receive: Jose Fernandez

Marlins Receive: Travis Shaw, Michael Kopech, Yoan Moncada

The Marlins may be a .500 team, but this team could use the prospects, especially a young pitcher that could be the future ace.  Shaw would actually be very helpful for Miami, as they could use some depth at third and first.

Red Sox Receive: Julio Teheran

Braves Receive: Travis Shaw, Blake Swihart, Yoan Moncada

The Braves definitely have depth problems at the moment, and guys like Shaw and Swihart who are young and still on their first contract could help them for the next couple of years as well.  But the Braves are in rebuild and a big name prospect could do a lot.  Imagine the future middle infield in Atlanta, Moncada and Dansby Swanson.

How Trades Like These Would Impact Us

It may not be necessary now that we have Pomeranz and Ziegler, but the truth is, the Red Sox could still use more pitching.  E-Rod is not ready to return to the rotation yet, and we don’t have other options right now.  Giving up Shaw or Moncada would not be great, Moncada could be the future at second or third and Shaw is our third/first baseman for next year with Aaron Hill hitting free agency.  But a big trade may be necessary for the Red Sox to contend, and they need to beat their division rivals to the best pitchers on the market.  Most of the top teams in the AL East have a strong lineup, but lack pitching, a lot like us.  Right now, it looks like whoever has the best pitching after the trade deadline wins the division.

Second Half Predictions

 

Who Will Make The Playoffs?

AL

Division Winners:

 

East: Red Sox (92-70)

Central: Indians (90-72)

West: Rangers (96-66)

 

Wild Cards: Orioles (91-71), Tigers (89-73)

 

After all these moves, I think the Red Sox are in position to beat out the Orioles.  Baltimore has gotten lucky, riding to playoff contention on just a strong lineup.  The Sox now have the pitching they need to win the division, their main advantage over the Orioles, who have not made any trades yet.  The Red Sox have made 4.  There have only been 8 in the league this year, so they were involved in half of them so far.

With the central, I think it will be close, but I can’t see these mediocre teams taking the division?  Playoffs?  That’s highly possible, but they have to make it in as wild cards.  The Tigers are the best and healthiest of the three middle teams in the Central, edging out a banged up Royals squad, a surging Astros team and the collapsing Blue Jays.

The Rangers have the AL West this year.  Their closest competitor for most of the year, the Mariners, went from serious contender to .500 team.  The Astros have recovered from a rough start and took second, but after the monstrous first two months they had, they can’t win the division.

 

NL

Division Winners:

 

East: Nationals (94-68)

Central: Cubs (96-66)

West: Giants (93-69)

 

Wild Cards: Dodgers (92-70), Pirates (89-73)

 

In the East, I actually don’t think any of these teams have had that great a year, the Nats have just beaten their rivals up the most.  The Mets need Cespedes and David Wright to contend, and I think that the Pirates will get hot and surpass them, with a strong, young rotation and an acceptable lineup.

Even with the Pirates bound to surge, the Cubs will take the Central easily.  With a mix of young guns and powerful veterans, this team has the perfect formula for a great season and playoff run.  They may be struggling currently, but this World Series contender should snap out of it, and beat out the Pirates and Cardinals for the division title.

In the West, I think this will end up being down to the Dodgers and Giants.  With a healthier team coming out of the break, the Dodgers could really get ahead in the 2nd half, but a division title?  Not with the Giants already doing awesome.  Remember, it is an even year.  It happened in 2010, 2012 and 2014.  The Giants won the World Series.  With a revamped rotation this year and a very similar lineup besides young Matt Duffy playing in place of Pablo Sandoval, they’ll at least take the division!  They should be glad Sandoval’s gone, who’s stuck in nothingness right now after three rings and amazing Octobers with the Giants.  He’s hurt, so fat he can’t fit in his belt, and can’t play at all anymore.  He lost his starting job to Travis Shaw before he got hurt!  I thought they would be mediocre when I did my preseason predictions, but they have proved to me that they can really dominate with luck and a good off season on their side.

 

Major Changes in the Standings

  • I think the Blue Jays will fall out of things a little bit.  The gap will narrow between them and the Yankees, and a rotation lacking depth will struggle.  They also have to figure out a way to make their feast or famine lineup consistent, and things will be tough for them, especially without Jose Bautista, who they may have to get used to playing without.
  • The Tigers and Royals will surge past the White Sox and come closer to the Indians.  The Tigers lineup is so powerful when everyone’s healthy, and their rotation has its flaws, but I don’t think it’s that bad.  The Royals have done amazing considering the fact that Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Omar Infante or more than one of them have been out most of the season.  If the Royals can keep this young lineup up and polish up the rotation a bit, they could contend as well.
  • The Phillies will, well, be the Phillies!  If they can keep things up the way they’ve been running their lineup, rotation and bullpen, I’d be amazed.  Some major re-organization, change and rebuilding is needed for this team to keep their current conditions.  Odubel Herrera, Peter Bourjos and crew can’t do this all the time!  It just won’t work!  Their division rivals will also fall behind the Nats and out of contention.  The Marlins have gotten more good than bad from a truly mediocre team, and they just aren’t a playoff team.  The Mets just have too many injuries and developing holes.
  • The Pirates will slide into contention.  This powerful lineup is ready to set on fire, and coming out of the All Star Break is the perfect way to do it.  Personally, I think this team has far more talent than the 2nd place Cardinals and could compete for a wild card behind the struggling, but really almost invincible 2016 Chicago Cubs squad.
  • I think we will see some minor changes in the NL West, but not much important stuff.  I think a healthy Dodgers team can definitely narrow the gap between them and 1st place, especially with their anticipated full health rotation up and running.  I also think the hard hitting Rockies are no match for the young, all-around talented D-Backs.  Arizona should beat the Rockies out for 3rd place.

 

Looking Ahead: World Series Contenders

As of right now, my World Series prediction is the Cubs topping the Rangers 4-2.  The Cubs will have tough competition in the NLCS, whoever they face.  It could be the Dodgers, the perfect mix of old and new when they’re healthy.  Or the Giants, who have a big three pitching group and even year luck on their side.  Maybe the Nationals, an all around strong team who may not be the NL’s biggest bully, but have enough power to upset the best.  But I think the Cubs are the most capable team in the NL, and they can work through some of the bigger threats.

As for the Rangers, they have the best chance at representing the AL, as the rest of the contenders have hidden flaws.  The Red Sox still have pitching issues, even after the Pomeranz trade.  The Indians lack a true superstar, and the Orioles have some hidden problems of their own.  Who knows what to expect from them here on out?

I have the Cubs because they had a strong off season that paid off, and after such a big drought, the past few years, the Cubs have put so much into rebuilding, in hopes of eventually having this, a super team.  The Rangers pitching staff is no match for the Cubs’ monarchy of a lineup.

 

So, between the ups and downs, I think that the Red Sox are in for a strong 2nd half, and could be on their way to their first playoff run since the 2013 World Series campaign.

 

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