Boston Red Sox: 10 Bold Predictions for the Second Half of the Season
The Boston Red Sox recovered from a disastrous start to the season to emerge as one of the best teams in baseball. At 55-35 they are in first place in the powerhouse AL East and poised for a return to the playoffs, if not further.
So what will the second half of the season hold in store for the Red Sox?
Will Adrian Gonzalez continue to lay claim to the title of best hitter on the planet? Will Carl Crawford bounce back and play like the $142 million man we all know he's capable of being? Will Boston players ever stop landing on the disabled list?
These answers to questions like these will help determine if the Red Sox are playing baseball in October, or watching it. Here are my 10 predictions for the second half of the season.
1. John Lackey Will Have a Strong Second Half
His 6.84 ERA and 1.544 WHIP in 14 starts is ugly to look at, but in Lackey's defense he was pretty decent in his last start: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K.
What's to say he can't keep it up? Other than common sense?
Lackey has been a Julio Lugo-sized disaster in the Red Sox rotation, but this is still a guy with a 122-90 career record and at 32 years old it's hard to imagine he's washed up already.
Lackey is traditionally a second-half pitcher anyway. Last year in his first three starts after the All-Star break Lackey threw 22.1 innings and only gave up four earned runs.
With Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and maybe even Josh Beckett sidelined, it's the perfect time for him to step up.
2. Daniel Bard Will Temporarily Take over as the Closer
Jonathan Papelbon (3.93 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 20 saves) has pitched reasonably well this season, but there should be no question about who the best pitcher in the Red Sox bullpen is.
That would be Daniel Bard, the 26-year-old fireballer who hasn't given up a run since May 23—a stretch of 19.1 consecutive scoreless innings. Apart from a disastrous start to the season, Bard has given up just six earned runs all season and owns an impressive 4.00 SO/BB ratio (yes, Papelbon's is 6.38).
It's not Terry Francona's job to stroke Papelbon's ego, so if the occasion calls for it don't expect him to hesitate to call for Bard in the ninth inning of a close game.
Bard will be Boston's closer in 2012 anyway, so he might as well get a trial run this season.
3. Adrian Gonzalez Will Not Win the MVP
It's hard to debate Gonzalez's MVP credentials when looking at his numbers: .354/.414/.591, 17 HR, 29 2B, 77 RBI and, most surprising of all, three triples and a steal. His WAR is an obscene 4.8 according to FanGraphs, and he's the best hitter on arguably the best team in baseball.
In any other year Gonzalez would be a shoe-in for the MVP. However, 2011 belongs to Jose Bautista.
Bautista's numbers almost universally better than Gonzalez's: .336/.470/.701, 31 HR, 15 2B, 65 RBI and five steals. The only reason his RBI numbers don't approach Gonzalez's is simply because nobody pitches to Bautista. He's walked a league-leading 75 times, including 14 intentional free passes, against Gonzalez's 35 walks and 10 intentional walks.
Bautista always plays a harder position, regardless of whether you want to call him a third baseman or outfielder. His WAR, meanwhile, is a nearly impossible 6.7, 1.5 runs above the next most valuable player—Jose Reyes.
The traditional argument against Bautista is that MVP's wouldn't be playing for losing teams, and the Toronto Blue Jays have virtually no chance at making the playoffs. However, today's baseball voters know that selecting an MVP on the basis of his team's record is like selecting a Cy Young on the basis of the pitcher's record.
If a 13-12 Felix Hernandez can win a Cy Young then there's absolutely no excuse for Jose Bautista not winning the MVP.
4. J.D. Drew Will Go on a Hot Streak
J.D. Drew has been the worst $14 million player in baseball and, thankfully for the Red Sox, his time in Boston is just about up. The 35-year-old right-fielder has a .229/.329/.317 line and just four home runs on the season.
He's lost playing time to Darnell McDonald and Josh Reddick, and he might be forced into a platoon role if he doesn't turn it around soon. However, don't count him out just yet.
After all, in 2010 Drew finished the month of April batting just .197. He exploded in May with 11 multi-hit games and carried the Red Sox offense through a tough stretch of baseball. By the end of the month he was hitting .270.
Drew's always been a bit of a streaky hitter and he's due for a good run. A couple of Drew home runs to start off the second half could signal great things for the Red Sox.
5. Carl Crawford Will Return to the Leadoff Spot
Crawford got off to an inexplicably slow start to the season and was booted from the leadoff spot down to eighth in the batting order. He gradually worked his way up to sixth in the lineup and started hitting the ball with authority before landing on the disabled list in mid-June.
Jacoby Ellsbury has been the prototypical leadoff hitter in Crawford's absence, earning his first All-Star selection after hitting .316/.377/.490 with 11 home runs and 28 steals. He might even be the best leadoff hitter in baseball right now, but can he keep it up?
If Ellsbury struggles and Crawford returns to form, the Red Sox may be better off with Crawford in the leadoff spot and Ellsbury hitting lower in the order.
6. The Red Sox Will Bring in a Third Catcher
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 26, has been surprisingly decent in his first full season as the Red Sox catcher. He has a .251/.320/.437 line and has showed decent pop. More importantly, he's done a good job handling the pitching staff.
Jason Varitek, 39, has also played reasonably well and has a .773 OPS in limited playing time. Between the two of them, the Red Sox actually have one of the best catching tandems in baseball (that says more about the catcher position than it does about the Red Sox).
However, it would be short-sighted to expect the Red Sox to rely on the duo to carry the team throughout the season. Theo Epstein will look at external options to add some depth to the position both for 2011 and beyond.
Ivan Rodriguez and Ramon Hernandez are two names to keep an eye on.
7. Tim Wakefield Will Finish the Season in the Rotation
Tim Wakefield has been a savior for the Red Sox time and time again. The veteran knuckle-baller started the season in the bullpen, but has already made 11 starts this season and is fourth on the team with 81.2 innings thrown.
Daisuke Matsuzaka isn't coming back this year, or next year, and who knows how serious the injuries to Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are. That means Wakefield, who many didn't even expect to make the team out of Spring Training, will almost definitely be a starter for the rest of the season.
Wakefield will reach 200 career wins with two more victories, and it'll be nice to see him do it in a Red Sox uniform. The real question is if he'll be called upon again in October?
8. Bobby Jenks Will Say or Do Something Stupid
The Bobby Jenks signing hasn't worked out too well for the Red Sox. The 30-year-old righty was awful to begin the season and then landed on the disabled list on May 1. A month later Jenks returns and has four consecutive scoreless appearances before landing on the disabled list again.
He comes back June 30 and gives up two runs and a home run in a third of an inning, a game the Red Sox improbably won 5-2.
Jenks has a 6.32 ERA in 15.2 innings and it's hard to see how he could be any worse.
He also has a reputation for feuding with his manager (most notably Ozzie Guillen) and has a big enough ego that he'll mouth off even when he has no right to. It's only a matter of time before he blows up at Francona or one of his teammates for only being used in mop-up situations.
9. Red Sox Will Acquire a Lefty Specialist
With all due respect to Tommy Hottovy, Franklin Morales and Hideki Okajima, the Red Sox do not have a serviceable lefty in their bullpen right now.
Rich Hill was brilliant with nine scoreless innings to start the year, but he's out for the season.
That leaves the Red Sox without a single lefty specialist in their bullpen. They've gotten by without one so far, but Epstein has to think about the big picture here. Who's going to face Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson in the playoffs? What about Ryan Howard and Chase Utley?
If baseball is a game of inches, then the postseason is a game of millimeters. Every matchup matters and Francona needs to have every possible weapon at his disposal. Epstein will be in the market for left-handed relievers and Florida's Randy Choate is one of the best available.
10. Red Sox Will Have Entire Rotation (sans Matsuzaka) Intact by September
Beckett has missed one start (so far) while Lackey and Buchholz have each missed three starts apiece.
However, with the exception of Matsuzaka, none of the injuries to any of Boston's starters are considered serious. The Red Sox have enough other pieces (Andrew Miller, Alfredo Aceves, Kevin Millwood, Felix Doubront) to fill in for a spot-start if one of the big three needs an extra few days of rest.
However, come September everyone should be healthy and firing on all cylinders.
Boston's success in the postseason depends on it.