Friday, July 15, 2011

What to Watch For in the Second Half

After four days off, the Red Sox kick off the proverbial second half of the season Friday night in Tampa Bay. The other day, I took a look back at the first half. Today, we look forward to the second half, with three things to look for the rest of the way.

1. The Return of Carl Crawford
Carl Crawford is set to return from the disabled list Monday in Baltimore. It has been just about a month since Crawford went down in June, and the Red Sox have missed him. To this point in the season, he is sporting a very pedestrian triple-slash line of .243/.275/.384. He was very disappointing in the first month or so of the season, but after that he was on an upswing until injury derailed him. He finished May with a .810 OPS, and until he got hurt in June, he was hitting with a .761 OPS for the month. Crawford's play typically drops off a bit in the second half, so it will be interesting to see what he can do as he returns. He will sure up the sixth spot in the lineup, though, and the Red Sox lineup will look like it was envisioned before the season. With his return, Crawford also indirectly affects the other side of the outfield. With Crawford out, Terry Franconca has been able to more easily appease the playing time of Josh Reddick, JD Drew and Darnell McDonald, since he had two outfield positions for three guys. Now, with Crawford back in left on an everyday basis, Francona will have to decide whether Josh Reddick has shown enough to earn full time duties, or if the three will split time in right.

2. Starting Rotation
As has been noted by just about every Red Sox-related website, the Red Sox rotation is currently on the verge of shambles. Their preseason number five pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka, went down early in the year for Tommy John, and will not be returning in 2011. Their top two pitchers coming into the year, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, are both currently on the disabled list. John Lackey has been putrid, save for a very good start in his final one before the break. Josh Beckett is the only guy who has stayed healthy (who called that one) and he has pitched very well.  Right now, the rotation is being led by Beckett, but is followed by Lackey, Andrew Miller, Tim Wakefield, and Kyle Weiland or Alfredo Aceves. Miller is going tonight, and has looked promising so far this year, but needs to show more before he can fully be trusted. Wakefield is in the middle of one of his hot-streaks, but he can fall off unexpectedly at any moment. Jon Lester should be back in a week or two, so he is not a big deal. However, Buchholz's injury is still somewhat of a mystery. If he can't come back soon at a high level, this team's rotation depth is a question. Miller and Wakefield need to continue to pitch at a solid level to keep this team in first place.

3. Trade Deadline
As always at this time of year, the trade deadline is a hot topic. The Red Sox have a few areas where they could be looking for an improvement. One hot rumor that has been going around is that the Red Sox will not raise their payroll for the stretch run. If that is true, that means that no real difference maker would be added onto the team. One area that has been widely discussed is right field. The biggest name, and the one brought up the most, is Carlos Beltran of the Mets. He is in the final year of his deal, and the Mets will not resign him next year. He is having a good year so far, and will likely come at a pretty big price. Other outfielders that could be had include Michael Cuddyer, Ryan Ludwick and Ryan Spilborghs. There have also been rumors about shoring up the starting pitching, including some grumblings of the Sox taking back former player Derek Lowe. Whatever they decide to do, I suspect they won't be afraid to go over payroll for the remainder of the year. They have poured a lot of money into this team, so I would think they wouldn't shy away from spending a few extra million to put out a real championship  contender. 


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