From here, sure to be tough going
Red Sox get to show what they’re made of
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Mr. Rockne, may I ask you to utter those famous words of inspiration to the Red Sox as they get ready to begin the second half of the season? You know, that cliché that used to mean so much to the athletes of yesteryear?
Go ahead, tell the boys, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.’’
David Ortiz already has heeded those words. Perhaps he didn’t say it with quite the same conviction, but Ortiz, chatting at the All-Star Game in Phoenix this week, did say, “We’re gonna see what we’re made of. We have a great team here and we’ve had a lot of injuries, but now is the time when we all have to pick it up. It’s nice we made the All-Star Game, but how many times have you seen guys fade after the All-Star Game? We can’t fade away now. The way we get to October is by everyone doing their part and doing it to the best they can do it. That’s how we won two World Series here.’’
This applies to everyone, from the pitching staff, to the hitters, to the manager, to the front office. If you thought you were good to enter the break one game ahead in the American League East, then you have to be that much better to finish the season at least one game ahead.
So, say the attaboys now, and hope you can say them in October when it really counts.
Nice first half, Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, AL first-half MVP Adrian Gonzalez, Daniel Bard, Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and Jonathan Papelbon. Now let’s see what you can do when it really counts. For those who haven’t fully participated yet - J.D. Drew, John Lackey, Carl Crawford, Bobby Jenks, Darnell McDonald - and those who have come up a little short because of injuries - Jed Lowrie and Clay Buchholz - it’s about that time.
For those who have overachieved, such as Matt Albers and Alfredo Aceves, you’ve got to do it all season.
For emerging players Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Andrew Miller, show us the complete package during the tough moments.
Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek, you must be goodies, not oldies.
Here’s a closer look at what the rest of the season may bring:
Theo Epstein and his staff will always think big at the trading deadline, and then do something big, scale back, or do nothing. When you can accept doing nothing, that’s when you know you have something special. It’s hard to evaluate that until you know that Lester, Buchholz, and Beckett are OK physically, and that Lackey can continue to build on the 6 2/3 shutout innings of his last start. Epstein was excited to see what Kyle Weiland would do, but his first outing didn’t turn out as planned.
Whether to go after a starting pitcher will keep Epstein up at night. The cost of pitching is high, even for veterans such as Ted Lilly, Derek Lowe, and Hiroki Kuroda, who might be available. If Matt Garza were made available by the Cubs, it might get the Sox’ attention, but Garza was one of the pitchers Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said would not be dealt.
The medical staff doesn’t believe that the Lester (latissimus), Buchholz (back), and Beckett (knee) injuries are severe. So, the Sox will go right to the deadline if they have to determine whether to dip into the trade market for a starter. This is where Wakefield and Lackey could give the team a major boost and prevent Epstein from having to give up a prospect or two for extra pitching.
The player who appears to be garnering a lot of attention from opposing teams’ scouts is Josh Reddick. He may wind up being the trade chip if the Sox need pitching or a righthanded bat.
Reddick would be tough to let go because he’s emerging and creates energy on the field, as Ryan Kalish did last season. Veteran teams sometime need that energy to get them through the second half.
If the Sox do need an extra righthanded bat - and Yamaico Navarro is giving them reason to pause on this one - then there are candidates.
Mets right fielder Carlos Beltran, who said at the All-Star Game that he would waive his no-trade clause to come to Boston, is intriguing. He’s a switch-hitter in the final year of a long-term deal that pays him $18 million this season. Beltran and Drew are both represented by Scott Boras, and the last thing Boras wants is to have Drew’s value diminished with another one of his clients sending Drew to the bench.
There are other bats who could help - Minnesota’s Michael Cuddyer, Colorado’s Ty Wigginton, the Cubs’ Jeff Baker, Kansas City’s Jeff Francoeur, San Diego’s Ryan Ludwick to name a few.
LINEUP Key second-half performers: Drew and Crawford.
Drew has begun to swing the bat better, and if he provides one of those months in which he carries the team on his back, the Sox won’t have to search for another outfielder, unless having a righthanded hitter is important to them.
There’s been a lot of speculation that this might be Drew’s last season, but if it is, he hasn’t told Boras. So if he wants to continue playing, the second half is vital. A continuation of Drew’s career probably won’t happen in Boston, but scouts who watch the 35-year-old believe there’s something left.
Crawford will have missed a month with a hamstring injury by the time he returns for next week’s Baltimore series. Crawford spent nine years on the Tropicana Field turf, so you wonder about the toll on his legs. Crawford, who is hitting .243 with six homers, 31 RBIs and a .659 OPS, hit .304 in May, and was at .278 in 14 games in June before his injury. So he appeared to be getting closer to the player to whom the Sox devoted seven years and $142 million.
Suffice to say, the Sox have had very little production from their corner outfield spots.
Sox left fielders have produced a woeful .683 OPS with a .245 average, eight homers, and 42 RBIs, and right field has been even worse - a .220 average with nine homers, 39 RBIs, and a .638 OPS. These should be two of the more productive positions on a team.
The good news is the Sox occupy four of the top 11 spots in OPS in the American League.
PITCHERS Key second-half performers: Lackey, Miller, Jenks.
The Sox have used nine starting pitchers, and one, Daisuke Matsuzaka, will not be returning this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. All things considered, the starters’ 42-24 record and 4.09 ERA are commendable. The Sox hope that after Aug. 1, the starting five of Beckett, Lester, Buchholz, Lackey, and Miller can be together for the remainder of the season.
For a $17 million-a-year starter, the Sox have to expect 15 or so wins. They’re not getting it from Lackey. He pitched well last Saturday against the Orioles, and shut out the Angels over eight innings April 24. Does Lackey have it in him? He appears to, but the inconsistency and the 94 hits over 79 innings are baffling.
Miller has been a pleasant surprise, but is he capable of giving more? The next step seems to be going deeper into games and showing more of that overpowering fastball, which now seems to be resting at 92-93 miles per hour. Miller clearly has sacrificed velocity for control, and while it’s worked, sometimes he needs to juice it up to get a strikeout.
The bullpen has remained a solid component even with a lot of tweaking. That must continue. The thought after signing Jenks was he would be the co-setup man and take some of the load off Bard. It didn’t happen over the first 90 games, though he has returned from his second DL stint and seems healthy enough to assume that role, which would be huge.
There’s also the continuing search for a lefthander. Rich Hill was a good choice, but Tommy John surgery derailed him. The Sox traded for Franklin Morales, a hard thrower who so far has allowed Epstein to stand pat instead of making any deals.
COMPETITION Starting Aug. 5, the Sox have nine games remaining against the Yankees, only three on the road. They have gone 8-1 and outscored the Yankees, 60-37, but haven’t been able to take full advantage that surge should have created. The Yankees, in fact, took off on an 18-6 run after they were swept by the Red Sox June 7-9.
In other words, the Yankees won’t go away. Much like the Red Sox, they have survived injuries and appear to be formidable.
What will the Yankees do at the trade deadline?
Don’t be surprised if they make a run at San Diego closer Heath Bell with Mariano Rivera experiencing elbow discomfort. They also will keep their eyes open for a starter. They have chips, such as catcher Jesus Montero, though Brian Cashman, like Epstein, has maintained he’d like to hold on to his prospects.
The Rays keep hanging in and have a chance to chip away this weekend. The issue is always the same. Do they have the funds to make an impactful deadline acquisition? They could use bullpen help and another power bat.