With the All-Star Game now over and Josh Hamilton's home runs finally landing, it is now time for the players to get off their butts and get ready for the second half of the season.
The Red Sox have had their fair share of controversy, slip ups, and injuries throughout the year but they still sit in first place in the A.L. East. However, I feel the Sox need to fix a few things in order to guarantee another postseason berth and a shot at the repeat.
With the Tampa Rays seeming to never go away and the Yankees being, well, the Yankees here are my five keys to the second half:
1. Big Papi
This may seem like an obvious choice for my number one need but the Sox need him back. Fortunately he seems to be fine from what he has told people after his batting practice swings and will start his rehab assignment in Pawtucket this week.
With guys like J.D. Drew and Kevin Youkilis having great years, it would seem bringing back the Red Sox DH would help make the offense even more intimidating than it already is (assuming he is healthy). It would also give the Sox their emotional leader (sorry Tek) and the face of the franchise back.
2. Where's Varitek?
We Sox fans know Jason Varitek is known for his ability to call a game from the behind the plate (has caught four no-no's) as opposed to his offense, but he needs to step it up. Hitting barely over the Mendoza line at .218 and possessing an ugly OBP of .299 the Sox captain needs to find his bat.
With some of the hitters already in the lineup and assuming Ortiz comes back in form, Varitek does not need to hit like a Silver Slugger. However, finishing the season hitting .250 and getting on base at .320 would be nice.
3. Can we have our ace back?
Last year Josh Beckett was one of the primary reasons the Red Sox brought home their second title in four years. With his superb regular season (the league's only 20 game winner) and inhuman postseason, many Red Sox fans believed he was taking a step to becoming the best pitcher in baseball.
Unfortunately, he has been rather inconsistent this year. Yes he has lost two or three games he should have won and no his numbers aren't horrible (9-5, 3.94 ERA), but many people expected better.
As a pitcher who is known for showing only flashes of his talent during the season, Beckett needs to show last year's form during the stretch run. Perhaps cutting back those home run balls is one of the keys.
4. Bullpen issues
With even the seemingly invincible Jonathon Papelbon getting hit a bit this year, the bullpen has been an Achilles heel for the Boston Red Sox. Hideki Okajima, an All-Star last year, has been, for lack of a better word, the opposite this year. Manny Delcarmen is a two face: one night he's lights out, next night he's throwing the ball over the fence in bunches.
Craig Hansen and David Aardsma are the Red Sox versions of Kyle Farnsworth: wicked fastballs and absolutely no control. And Mike Timlin is getting old and showing it.
Maybe the boys in the 'pen just needed to work off the hangover from winning a World Series or maybe they just need something to jump start them. Maybe, like, oh I don't know an infusion of young talent, perhaps by the name of Justin Masterson.
5. Spark Plug
I wrote an article several weeks ago anointing Jacoby Ellsbury the next big thing. While he hasn't been terrible, he hasn't exactly lit pitchers on fire. Hitting only .269 and holding an OBP about 50 points lower than last year, Ellsbury has had trouble kick starting the Sox offense.
Hopefully in these last few months Jacoby can get that batting average around .300 and bring that OBP in the .380 ball park to add to his already superb defense and base running abilities.
Well there it is folks. If, and it's a big if, the Red Sox can improve on all of these areas I don't see anybody out there that will stop them. Feel free to comment and tell me what you think our Sox need to do in order to keep our headaches to a minimum in the coming months.