Looking forward to Boston’s second half

The Red Sox enter the All Star break with the best record in baseball and a chance at a deep playoff run

(Image via Zimbio – July 11, 2018 – Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America)

The Red Sox are entering the All-Star break on a prolific run. They’ve won 17 of their last 20 games, including the 10 game win streak. In their four July series, 3 of which they’ve swept their opponent and only dropped one game total, the team is hitting .314 and outscoring their opponents 91-47.

There have also been plenty of great moments in this last leg of the first half. Chris Sale had back to back 12 strikeout performances, surrendering just one earned run in 13 combined innings of work. Rick Porcello proved that American Laeague pitchers can, in fact, rake. He knocked in a clutch 3 RBI double in the series opener against the Nationals, which would eventually become a series sweep in the nation’s capital (during the Fourth of July holiday week, no less). We then witnessed two epic grand slams. The first came against Toronto when Mookie Betts battled J.A. Happ for a grueling 13 pitch at bat. Mookie came out on top and sent a ball onto Landsdowne street.

Two games later, in the bottom of the tenth, Xander Bogaerts followed suit, this time with a lot more of a flair for the dramatics. He socked a walk off grand slam in the bottom of the tenth against the Blue Jays, propelling Boston to close out on the half on a high note.

While there’s a bit of recency bias in these moments, Boston has been a fun team to support all year. They win more often than they lose (they’re 38 games over .500 and own the best record in baseball) and they’re an entertaining group of guys. The clubhouse culture had changed with Alex Cora at the helm. Gone are the days of the frustrating sense of tension with John Farrell as manager. From Brock’s post homer hugs to the #VoteBenny movement, the Red Sox have had a memorable season.

And while this break in the season may come at a time that halts the Sox’ torrid pace, this team has plenty to look forward to in the second half. With individual accolades in reach and a team poised to make a deep October run, here’s what to look forward to in the second half of the 2018 season.

The Rivalry
Both the Red Sox and the Yankees were riddled in mediocrity over the past few years. The tension between the two clubs simmered in that period as the games they were playing often meant nothing to the rest of the season. Those days are certainly behind us. Both teams have returned to the top of the American League. Boston enters the break with a 4.5 game lead over the Yankees, the largest lead since April. Each team has kept pace with one another and when they’ve played, they’ve reminded us why this is the best rivalry in sports.

The Joe Kelly brawl gave way to another classic moment in the rivalry, something that we haven’t really seen much of in recent years. On April 11, Kelly plunked Tyler Austin and the benches cleared. The moment ignited a fire between the two teams, and both haven’t looked back since. With three more series remaining against the Yankees, they are primed for an intense battle for the AL East crown down the stretch.

Mookie for MVP
Mookie Betts is enjoying his best season to date in his young career. We’re well into July, and through 301 at bats, Mookie is hitting .359/.448/.691. He’s currently leading the American league in batting average, slugging percentage, and on base plus slugging. He’s the most dangerous lead-off batter in the Bigs, not too mention his stellar glove in right. Mookie came close to winning MVP back in 2016, only to be beat out by Mike Trout.

Trout, who never posts a bad season, is once again Betts’ biggest obstacle to being named most valuable player. However, Mookie seems to have the slight edge over Trout heading into the break.

Baseball is a game of individual performances. Both Betts and Trout are playing on a different level than the rest of the league. Barring injury, both of these guys should continue their excellent play, and the race for American League MVP will come down to the final days of the season.

J.D. and the triple crown
While Betts has a shot at the American League batting title, his teammate J.D. Martinez is enjoying just as good of a season at the plate. He is currently tied for first in the AL in home runs with Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez at 30 and is in first place with 80 RBI. So, he leads in two of the three triple crown categories. The only one he’s missing as of now is average, which is led by, you guessed it, Mookie Betts. Martinez is close to the lead, however. He’s in third, hitting .328. That puts him only .031 behind Betts.

If J.D. were to finish off the triple crown, it would be the fourth time a Boston player would accomplish the rare feat. He would also be the first to do it since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 when he hit .326 with 44 homers and 121 RBI (Ted Williams did it twice; 1942 and 1947).

The Martinez acquisition has transformed this lineup from the powerless team it was last season. At this point last year, the Sox had, as a team, had 92 homers and scored 431 runs. This season, they’ve hit 134 home runs and plated 530 runs. The production on the offensive end has improved greatly in just one year, and having J.D. as an anchor in the middle of the lineup puts this offense over the top. He has the best shot of anyone to make the triple crown a reality.

Chris Sale chases his first Cy Young
As dominant of a career that Chris Sale has had to date, he has never won a Cy Young award. The closest he came was last season, when he finished runner up to Corey Kluber. Sale has been pitching lights out this season, but there is still plenty of competition in the AL. Odds Shark currently has Sale with the fifth best odds to win the Cy Young, following Luis Severino, Justin Verlander, Corey Kluber, and Gerrit Cole.

While Sale will have some catching up to do, the way he’s pitched recently makes it a real possibility that he can overcome the odds. After Sale’s ERA reached a high point of 3.00 on June 1st, he’s brought that number down in every single start. It currently rests at 2.23, tops in the AL. In that span, he’s logged 84 strikeouts to just nine earned runs. That’s nine earned runs in 8 starts. 9. He’s also gone at least 6 innings in each of those eight starts. Sale’s pitching his best baseball on the year as of late, and if he can come out of the break on the same streak, Sale may just come away with his first career Cy Young award.

The Postseason
The past two playoff runs for the Sox have been disappointing. in 2016, they were swept by the eventual AL champion Cleveland Indians. Last season, they were booted in the first round for a second straight year by the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros. It’s been frustrating to see Boston go into the postseason as division champions, only to lose immediately.

This year feels different. The Sox are much more complete as a whole. As I mentioned before, the Red Sox offense is revamped. The runs are coming in at a much more productive rate and the power numbers are way up. The biggest factor for Boston to make a deep run in the playoffs is the starting pitching. Chris Sale and especially David Price are notorious for choking in September. Last year was Sale’s first time in the playoffs. He lost both of his appearances – one a start and another out of the bullpen – with a 8.38 ERA in 9.2 innings. The problem with Sale seems to be that he wears out by the end of the year, even down the stretch of the regular season, his numbers tend to dip. Alex Cora has kept that in mind, pulling Sale in starts where he could probably keep going, but has put the team in a good spot. Hopefully this will help Sale stay strong down the stretch.

Price is a different story. In career postseason starts, he has no wins. His mentality is his weakness. We know Price struggles with this, and the postseason brings out the worst in him. It’s tough to see Price just magically flipping a switch and becoming a mental warrior, but something has to give for success in the postseason for the Red Sox. If the first two pitchers in the rotation can pitch how they’re capable of in September, they could be the difference between the past few years and a deep run in 2018.


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