BOSTON (CBS) – It’s been a long three months for the 2012 Boston Red Sox. As they get set to start the second half Friday night in Tampa, this team is pretty mediocre. Injuries and inconsistency can be blamed.
The Sox hit the All-Star break at 43-43, 9-1/2 games behind the first place Yankees in the AL East. Boston is 22-24 at Fenway and 21-19 on the road.
The good news is that there are two Wild Card spots up for grabs this season. And, the Sox are just 2-1/2 games behind Baltimore and the LA Angels for one of those.
The schedule is one of the biggest concerns for Boston coming out of that second half chute. The first 19 games are against teams that have a .500 or better record.
The Sox should be getting some reinforcements as they get going as Jacoby Ellsbury(Friday), Clay Buchholz(Saturday), and Carl Crawford(Monday) are expected to return. Dustin Pedroia, Andrew Bailey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka aren’t far behind.
The question will be: do all of these players make a big enough impact where this team can become a consistent, winning team on a near nightly basis?
A very good question…
There have been a lot of grumblings inside the Sox clubhouse from day one this season, most of it about the manager. That’s no surprise, considering most of them played for the ultimate players’ skipper in Terry Francona.
Bobby Valentine hasn’t been easy to figure out for a lot of these players. It started with the public questioning if Kevin Youkilis and it ended with a Triple-A lineup being trotted out for Game One of a day/night doubleheader last week against the Yankees.
Can these guys win playing for a manager they don’t like, and possibly don’t believe in? It’s not an easy thing to do, but it can be done. No one says you’re supposed to love your boss.
I know it’s been said over and over this week, but it’s the truth: The Red Sox need their “Big Three” at the front end of the rotation to pitch better than they have to start this year.
Josh Beckett (4-7, 4.43), Jon Lester (5-6, 4.49), and Clay Buchholz (8-2, 5.53) have made 46 starts so far. They have gone a combined 17-15 with a 4.78 ERA and have been the root of the Red Sox roller coaster first half. None of the three have even come close to pitching to their career numbers. Buchholz has received great run support, so his numbers are deceiving.
If this crew doesn’t come out in the second half and get things rolling then the Sox are pretty much done.
Now, one thing to think about is does Ben Cherington, at any point between now and July 31st, decide to break up said “Big Three?” Doe she ship either Beckett or Lester out for prospects?
The Sox have urged Lester to come out and simply throw it as hard as he can for as long as he can. Let it all hang out and see what happens. Don’t worry about the umps, nibbling, or anything else. He has electric stuff, so use it. I thought he started to do that, but in his final few starts before the break something didn’t look right to me. His stuff wasn’t as explosive or as sharp as we’ve seen and have grown accustomed to. I do think part of that is confidence; it just doesn’t seem to be there.
As for Beckett and Buchholz, both were sidetracked by injury. They both should be able to come out firing on all cylinders. If this happens, it won’t matter who the competition is. They have the ability to do it too. If it happens the Sox will be on their way to a postseason berth.
If it doesn’t happen –in my opinion — they are toast.
And if that’s the case, then it may get ugly.
Well, this 2012 Red Sox team has been fighting and trying to overcome two sides to it.
On one side, you have Ben Cherington and all of his Baseball Ops guys, all the coaches that were here under Terry Francona or brought in by Ben (Bob McClure), and the players that have been here and had success under Francona (Pedroia, etc).
On the other side, you have Larry Lucchino, Bobby Valentine, his coaches, and those that enjoy playing for him.
Valentine (and rightly so) has been trying to 1) learn what he has for players, and 2) get this team to come together on the field. If the “Big Three” start performing to their level Valentine may be able to pull it off.
It’s been curious to watch this whole thing unfold.
The Kevin Youkilis story was the “chicken and beer” of this edition of the Red Sox. Many Sox players were stunned and angered at how Youkilis was publicly called out by the Sox skipper. It eventually led to Youk being shipped out of town. Meanwhile, it continued all the way to the break as many Sox players were befuddled and upset at the line-up the manager trotted out for Game One of their day/night doubleheader last weekend against the Yankees.
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Can the manager get this team to rally and grind its way to a play-off berth? It will be fascinating drama…
Other stories to follow? There is no shortage for the second half…
– David Ortiz carried his anger about his contract, and still carried his team in the first half. Can he keep up the pace? No reason to see why not. And, as for the contract? If the season was over today… David would follow Ray Allen right out of town. However, we’ll see what happens over the next 2-3 months. David’s best offer may once again come from the Red Sox and it will be hard for him to walk away.
– Adrian Gonzalez showed fans a lot by volunteering to play right field while the Kevin Youkilis situation worked itself out. He hit .286 in June and is at .375 so far in July, however, he has only six home runs while slugging just .416. It’s mystifying as to where his power has gone. Let’s hope it reappears in the same mystifying way in the second half.
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– How will Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and Dustin Pedroia fare once they return. If they produce, it could get fun around here.
– And, can the bullpen realistically pitch the way it did in the first half? If it does, the Sox will stay in contention for a while.
But… I’ll end this with the same thought we’ve been hammering away at over and over again: the front of the rotation needs to produce. Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz need to step up. If they don’t, we may see them get broken up come July 31. If they do step up and perform the way they are capable of then things could get real interesting around here in September… and maybe even October.
Follow WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on twitter @RochieWBZ