Jul. 21, 2017
4 keys to a successful 2nd half for the Red Sox
89 games up, 89 games down, and the 2017 Red Sox finished the first half of the season at the top of the American League East. With a 3.5 game lead over the Yankees and the surprising Rays, the Sox salvaged a shaky, and inconsistent beginning of the year. But overall, the Sox have been a good team, and have put themselves in a great spot after winning 9 of their last 14 games heading into the All-Star break. They have the second best record in the American League, and look like one of the favorites going forward. Throughout the season, they have had dominating performances by new ace Chris Sale and closer Craig Kimbrel. The lineup, which at times have been inconsistent with runners in scoring position, have turned the corner as of late, and look more like the offense that led the league in runs scored a year ago. But for the Sox to have a good 2nd half and win the division, the Sox will need to keep an eye on these 4 spots.
1. Success from the back-end of the starting rotation
We all know how great Chris Sale has been so far this season, but the key to this starting rotation will be how Rick Porcello, David Price, and Drew Pomeranz continue to look. So far, the Sox rotation has carried the team. They rank fourth in the league in team ERA and 2nd in quality starts. In a surprise to most, Drew Pomeranz has been a bright spot for a rotation that has seen their defending Cy Young Award winner struggle, and their $217 million dollar "ace" come back from an elbow injury. After a slow start, Pomeranz has pitched for a 3.60 ERA with a 9-4 record. If Pomeranz can have continued success, the Sox will be in great shape going down the stretch. The Sox are also looking to get Eduardo Rodriguez back from the disabled list. Before injuring his knee, ERod was pitching as best as he ever has, going 4-2 with a 3.54 ERA. ERod could settle in to the number 5 spot in the rotation once he returns.
As for Price and Porcello, they are the true keys for whether the Sox will be playing deep into the fall. Porcello went from having the best run support in baseball last year to maybe having the worst. He leads the league with 11 losses, and has been having trouble keeping his sinker low all year. Price began the season on the disabled list with an elbow injury, but has looked sharp as of late. Price is 4-2 with a 3.91 ERA. Porcello has also looked better in his last couple of starts, pitching with a 2.51 ERA in his last two starts. If Price and Porcello can pitch the way they are capable of, the Sox will run away with the division.
2. Hanley Ramirez's resurgence
It wasn't a great first half for the guy that was going to carry the middle of the Sox lineup this year. After a monster season in which he slugged his way to 30 home runs and 111 RBI's, Hanley Ramirez has played at a below-average rate. He's only driven in 34 runs with a subpar, to his standards, 13 home runs. His lack of power in the first half is a huge reason why the Sox have hit the 26th fewest homers in the league.
Last year, Hanley killed lefties, batting .334 against them with 11 home runs. This year has been the complete opposite. He's only batting .250 against lefties this season. But ever since Hanley heard from the media just how bad he was doing against lefties, Ramirez has turned it on. Since June 29th, Hanley is batting .354, and looks as locked in as he's looked all year. A monster second half out of Hanley Ramirez will help this lineup continue to find their groove.
3. Bullpen consistency
Coming into the season, it looked like the weakest part of this Sox team was going to be the bullpen. But to the credit of manager John Farrell, and the brilliance of closer Craig Kimbrel (23 saves), the bullpen has pitched well. They have the third-lowest bullpen ERA in the league, only behind the Indians and Dodgers. Even with a season-ending injury to offseason addition Tyler Thornburg, the pen has found their way. Joe Kelly has been a solid 7th inning guy, and even had 23 consecutive appearances without giving up a run. Matt Barnes has been shaky at times, but has been given a long-leash to be the 8th inning set-up man for Kimbrel. Barnes leads the Sox with 16 holds. Although the bullpen has been solid, I still think they should add another arm at the trade deadline. They could be getting Carson Smith back, who was signed by the Sox last year but didn't pitch all season due to injury. It's hard to trust a pitcher coming off an injury, which is why I think they should still add another guy. It will take pressure on both Barnes and Kelly, and we all know to win in October, you need a dominating bullpen. I'm confident in Kimbrel, but I'd like to see if Barnes and Kelly could have continued success in the 2nd half.
4. Third base stability
Speaking of the Tyler Thornburg trade, how bad do we all wish we still had Travis Shaw at third base? Third base for the Red Sox this year has been terrible. Collectively at third, the Sox are only batting .235 at the position, and are a huge reason why the team ranks at the bottom-half of the league in fielding. Pablo Sandoval has continued to be one of the most useless signings in Red Sox history, and might even be released by the team in the coming days (was designated for assignment this morning). With Sandoval out, the Sox have been riding with Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin as of late. Marrero has been fantastic defensively, but concerns linger about his ability to hit consistently at the big league level. He was hitting well before the All-Star break though, batting .448 with 8 RBI's in the last 11 games. Lin has batted .333 in his first 15 games with the Sox, but it's not likely to keep up. The Sox could make a move at the trade deadline, and have even been rumored to trade for Marlins 3rd baseman Martin Prado to upgrade the position. However, with the lineup starting to gel, the Sox might be able to afford sticking with Marrero, Lin, and Josh Rutledge strictly for the defense all three play. With double-A standout prospect Rafael Devers not expected to be called up anytime soon, the Sox will need to look else where to find stability at the struggling position.