We traded e-mails with the Globe's Gordon Edes, who answers a few of our questions about what might be in store for the Red Sox in the second half of the season.
Q: How much do you think Curt Schilling will contribute in the second half? And in what role?
A: It would be presumptuous of anyone to predict with any certainty what Schilling will bring to the table the rest of the way. For a variety of reasons -- the ankle, his stamina, his overall conditioning -- Schilling to date anyway can not sustain Schilling-like stuff for the seven innings you'd want from him as a starter. That stuff, at least during his minor-league rehab appearances, has only appeared when he reaches back for something extra, according to those in the organization who have watched him closely. The "cruise control" Schilling would be taxed for 60 pitches by three innings, as he's not getting the swings and misses he usually gets. But for an inning or two, he can be effective, and in the immediate future, I think Schilling will give the bullpen a big lift. He doesn't walk people, he'll embrace the challenge, and the adrenaline rush that comes from closing a game will make his stuff more electric. Unless the Sox make a trade for a closer, a longshot at this point, I think Schilling will share that role with Mike Timlin until Keith Foulke returns, sometime in late August, and then go back into the rotation.
Q: Do you think Johnny Damon can keep up his first-half pace in the second half of the season? And will the next few months be Johnny's last in a Red Sox uniform?
A: To me, Damon was the Sox MVP for the first half of the season, more than anyone establishing the theme that for all their newfound celebrity, the Sox were serious about winning it all again this year. What some of us have forgotten is that Damon got off to a great start last season, too -- he had a .321 average at the break in '04. His performance dropped off statistically in the second half last season, but for his career he has been remarkably consistent from April to October, and while the toll of playing as hard as he does will have its effect in the second half, I expect the dropoff will not be dramatic. The wild card is his shoulder -- he has a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder that could become increasingly bothersome.
Will he back? It's no comfort to the Red Sox that two of the teams in need of a center fielder are big-market, big-spending clubs, the Yankees and Cubs. Damon should have terrific bargaining leverage this winter, and if his price goes too high, he could indeed play elsewhere next season. But obviously, the Sox would like him back.
Q: Who do you think will be this team's best starting pitcher in the second half: Matt Clement, Curt Schilling, Bronson Arroyo, Tim Wakefield, David Wells or Wade Miller?
A: My money is on Clement. He's always had great stuff, but now he has the confidence, catcher and run support to take him to the next level.
Q: Currently, the Red Sox have one of the worst bullpen ERAs in the majors; do you think that will be the case come October?
A: No. I think Theo Epstein is in the process of reshaping the pen in a way that will make a marked improvement. Schilling will make a difference, as will Chad Bradford, whom the Sox will get from Oakland sometime this week for Jay Payton. Expect Epstein to add another arm or two, and the hope, of course, is that Foulke will be more effective when he returns. I don't believe Foulke's issues were all related to his knee -- he himself has acknowledged that his knee felt no differently this year than last -- but maybe the break from the mental burden he was carrying will have a palliative effect.
Q: How many new faces do you think we'll see before the July 31 trade deadline? Do you see Theo Epstein making any big moves, as he did last season?
A: I'm on record as saying I don't think there's a big deal in the works, certainly not on the scale of last season, when Theo moved Nomar. Gabe Kapler will be rejoining the Sox sometime in the next few days, and Alex Cora to me represents a major upgrade over Ramon Vazquez on the bench. More bullpen help is on the way, but I very much doubt Theo is going to part with one of his top prospects for a reliever. The big question revolves around Kevin Millar, who struggled in the first half, just as he did last season. The Mets have had scouts tracking the Sox, and wouldn't it be weird if Millar was reunited with Doug Mientkiewicz in Queens? Theo said this weekend that Millar was a "big part of this team," and ridiculed a report that Millar was about to be dealt. My guess is that the deadline will come and go and Millar will still be here.
Q: Can anyone currently in Pawtucket, Portland or unsigned (namely Craig Hansen) contribute to the big club before all is said and done?
A: I think the Sox definitely have plans to bring up Jon Papelbon if he continues to pitch as well as he has. He could step into the rotation if Wade Miller' s shoulder gives out on him, but more likely will be added to the mix in the bullpen. Reliever Manny Delcarmen is another possibility, while second baseman Dustin Pedroia has a shot at a September callup, if not sooner.
Q: Do you think we'll see an effective Keith Foulke at all in 2005? And what can he do to patch up his strained relationship with Red Sox Nation?
A: That's a huge question, which I've addressed in an earlier answer. As I said, I don't think Foulke's issues were all physical. He has struggled with his confidence, and he also is dealing with a very painful divorce, a personal issue he has steadfastly refused to talk about but recently hinted at during a regular radio-show interview. I think Sox fans will turn on Foulke only if he doesn't pitch well. The "Johnny from Burger King" remark lives on only if he continues to struggle.
Q: Do you see any members of the Red Sox (Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Johnny Damon) making a run at the American League MVP?
A: All three of those guys should end up in the top 10 in the voting. Manny and David are averaging close to an RBI a game, while Damon and Brian Roberts of the Orioles have been the best table-setters in the league.
Q: Which of these Red Sox infielders will have a better second half: Mark Bellhorn, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, or Edgar Renteria?
A: I'll pick Edgar, who had 17 errors at the break, more than any shortstop in baseball. He's not going to repeat that number in the second half, and I think you'll see him get more and more big hits as the season goes on, underscoring his reputation as one of the game's best big-game players.
Q: Which starting pitching combo will finish the season with the best numbers: former Sox Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe or new Sox Matt Clement and David Wells?
A: I'll take the Sox combo, who have the advantage of playing for a better team than either Martinez or Lowe. The Mets are in last place in the NL East, and the Dodgers are eight games under .500. Martinez had a great first half, but his performance tapered off last season after the break, and it will be interesting to see how his arm holds up. Lowe has fallen on hard times in L.A. In his last 10 starts, Lowe is 2-5 with a 4.87 ERA, and opposition hitters are batting .313 against him. In his last 61 innings, Lowe has allowed 78 hits (11 home runs) and 14 walks. Lowe gave up four home runs in his last start in Dodger Stadium on July 2 and has pitched a total of just nine innings in his last two starts, giving up eight earned runs on 15 hits, including 6 home runs.
Q: Do you think the Red Sox will give Terry Francona a raise and a contract extension at the end of the season?
A: I think it depends on how deep the Sox go into the playoffs. If the Sox make it to the Series again, yes, I would expect he'll get a new deal. Anything less, and then it becomes a tossup, Francona is signed through next season and the club holds an option for 2007, and while he is paid way below market value, I don't think CEO Larry Lucchino feels any compulsion to re-do that deal.
Q: The Yankees and Red Sox have faced off in the ALCS in each of the last two seasons, do you see it happening again in 2005? Will the up-and-down Yankees right the ship and make a race out of it? And what about the Orioles, can they be a factor?
A: Winning the division has to be paramount for both the Sox and Yankees, because the wild card could come out of the Central (Twins, Indians) or less likely but possible, the West (Rangers, A's). Yes, the Yanks will make a race out of it, and while I think the Orioles will slip, if they find a way to add a front-line starter (Jason Schmidt) they could challenge, too.