Boston Red Sox: 10 Reasons Why the Team Can Expect a Second-Half Surge

Douglas Sibor@dcsiborContributor IJuly 16, 2012

Boston Red Sox: 10 Reasons Why the Team Can Expect a Second-Half Surge

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    After taking two out of three games from the Tampa Bay Rays, the Boston Red Sox have showed that they’re ready to put their dismal first half of the season behind them.

    Inconsistent play on the field and drama off of it have been two of the major culprits in the disappointing start for this team, whose $170 million payroll is among the highest in MLB. They have struggled to stay afloat all season, and indeed have never been better than five games over the .500 mark.

    Still, though, there are many reasons for optimism in the second half of the season. The Sox have placed a total of 22 different players on the DL since spring training, a truly staggering figure that will not be replicated the rest of the season.

    The true vision of the 2012 Red Sox has yet to take the field this year, but in the coming weeks, fans will finally see the way this team was meant to look.

    With a potent offense, strong bullpen and experienced starters, there’s a lot to like about this Sox team going forward. Let’s take a look at 10 reasons why it is fair to expect a big turnaround in the second half of the 2012 season:

Returning Players

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    With the return of Jacoby Ellsbury over the weekend, the Sox have finally started to get healthy. When Carl Crawford starts in left field tonight, the Sox will finally be starting their preferred outfield combo (Crawford-Ellsbury-Cody Ross) for the first time all season.

    Also returning imminently will be Dustin Pedroia, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Ryan Sweeney, who will all be expected to contribute when healthy.

    The Sox have not had this many players available at any point this season. Now that their full complement of players is at last available, they will see huge improvements in all facets of the game.

Adrian Gonzalez

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    The Gonzalez power outage of the first half of this season has vexed all parties involved, and it seems highly unlikely to continue.

    Although he is second in the American League in doubles with 27, Gonzalez’s six home runs put him on pace for a minuscule 11, far worse than his previous career-low of 24.

    However, the first baseman has shown signs of emerging from his funk.

    Over his last 17 games, Gonzalez is hitting .400 with one home run, 10 RBI and five doubles. He is beginning to hit to all parts of the field, making better contact and looking more comfortable at the plate.

    With his discipline returning, it seems likely that Gonzalez’s long-dormant power cannot be far behind. Even a modest increase in production during the second half would give the Sox a tremendous lift.

Better Starting Pitching

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    The Sox starters’ collective first-half ERA of 4.81 was a major reason as to why this team never was able to find a consistent groove on the field. Their starters ranked 26th of the 30 MLB teams in ERA, often giving up many runs early and forcing the Sox to play from behind all game.

    Chiefly culpable in this breakdown are Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, with a small part also being played by Josh Beckett. All three are posting ERAs that are either at or near their career-worst.

    The good news is that these pitchers also have an excellent track record and simply cannot remain ineffective all season. If each of them simply returns to average, the Sox will easily be able to climb back into contention.

Deadline Help

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    While no major moves should be expected from GM Ben Cherington, the Sox will nevertheless be major players leading up to the July 31 trading deadline.

    While simply getting healthy will likely fill many of the team’s holes, there are also potential moves to be made that would give the Sox just the kick they need for a strong finish to the regular season.

    In trading Kevin Youkilis, Cherington has shown that he is unafraid to make a bold move if he feels it helps the team. If moving an extra piece such as Daniel Nava for a more productive utility infielder or an additional reliever makes sense, he will undoubtedly do it.

    With all their injury problems this season, the Sox have proven that no team can ever have enough depth.

Previous Performance Against AL East

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    The Red Sox are currently owners of a .429 winning percentage against their AL East counterparts (a 15-20 record). This mark is easily their worst in recent memory. Their records and winning percentages over the last three years against the AL East breaks down as follows:

    2011: 38-34 (.528)

    2010: 37-35 (.514)

    2009: 45-27 (.625)

    The division has clearly improved this season, which partially explains the disparity in record. However, the shift has not been nearly as radical as this year’s numbers indicate.

    Despite the difficulty of the Sox’s schedule, fans can expect the team’s record versus division opponents to drift closer to the .500 mark by the end of the season.

    With 37 games left against the AL East, this will likely mean a lot of extra wins.

Organizational Depth

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    Despite having one of the most injury-depleted teams in recent memory, the Sox are still second in MLB in runs scored, first in doubles and fourth in OPS. Their pitching, while erratic, has begun to stabilize.

    All of these things are a testament to the organization’s great depth as a whole. Players like Will Middlebrooks, Daniel Nava and Felix Doubront have all emerged as legitimate big league players this season, and they have made a huge impact with their on-field contributions.

    While anticipating injuries is a dubious proposition, the Sox are well-equipped if and when more players go down. Waiting in Pawtucket and ready to contribute are players like Jose Iglesias, Ryan Lavarnway and even cult hero Pedro Ciriaco.

    The Sox will be able to weather any further injuries this season, which gives them a major edge over many of their less well-stocked rivals.

Offensive Firepower

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    The Sox offense has been a force all season long and is in the top five in the AL in nearly every single category. Though they lacked consistency to start the season, the hitters seem to have found their collective stroke of late.

    Since the disastrous series in Oakland that saw them score just five runs total in three games, the Sox have averaged scoring just under five runs per game.

    They have been doing all of this without catalyst Dustin Pedroia, who has not played since the second game of the aforementioned Oakland series.

    The return of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Pedroia will only further buoy the already strong Sox offense, and the team looks primed to win many slugfests during the season’s second half.

Bullpen Strength

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    The biggest strength of this Sox team, arguably, has been their bullpen. Sox relievers have combined for a 3.06 ERA (fifth-best in MLB), despite a start to the season that was a disaster at best.

    The only troubling sign may be the number of innings the relievers have thrown; at 279.0, the Sox bullpen is on pace for more innings (508.0) than they have thrown in any season since 2001 other than last year (517.1).

    This heavy workload has already caught up to one key cog in the relief corps, as Scott Atchison was put on the DL on Saturday with what is being termed as "forearm tightness," a troubling sign.

    However, given their great depth in Pawtucket and the experience many of their relievers already have, the Sox bullpen will continue to be a strength as they support the sometimes unpredictable starting pitchers.

Bobby Valentine

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    For all the controversy he seemingly starts from nothing, manager Bobby Valentine has been very effective this season in a number of areas.

    His management of the bullpen must be commended; for a unit with no elite pitchers and very little experience, the relief corps has been fantastic this year. While this ultimately comes down to the pitchers being able to execute on the hill, Valentine has demonstrated throughout his career that he knows how to put pitchers in the best spot to succeed.

    With the lineup, too, Valentine has shown a lot of skill. Despite all the injuries, he has kept the Sox hitters productive and churning out runs.

    With a full roster finally at his disposal, Valentine will now be able to show the Sox why they hired him in the first place.

    Regardless of whether it’s with him or against him, Valentine has shown a unique ability to rally and unite all the players as they push for a playoff berth.

Low Expectations

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    Although the legendary Fenway Park sellout streak is still intact, the crowds in Boston have been less than pleased with the Sox’s performance this season.

    The erratic play, constant drama and lack of passion have made this team one of the most reviled in recent memory. For an organization that built up a seemingly limitless supply of goodwill with their titles in 2004 and 2007, between the end of last season and the first half of this one, the Sox have expended pretty much all of it.

    This disillusionment, though, could actually play in the team’s favor. With fan attention turning toward the imminent Patriots season as well as the Celtics' and Bruins' offseasons, the spotlight on the Sox has never been duller.

    With less pressure to perform and lower expectations, the team will have an easier time working through rough patches and just relaxing a bit both on and off the field.