Boston Red Sox

Five keys for the Red Sox' second half

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Five keys for the Red Sox' second half

By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Thanks to a six-game winning streak -- and 10 wins in their last 11 -- the Red Sox went into the All-Star break in first place in the American League East, owners of the second-best record in all of baseball.

If they hope to stay atop the division, some things will have to break right for them in the second half.

Here are five of the second-half keys as the season resumes Friday night against the Tampa Bay Rays.

1) Improved health for the starting rotation.

This is listed as the top priority here; it could also be the second, third and fourth priorities. It's that significant.

Simply put, the Red Sox need their Big Three of Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz to be healthier in the second half than they were in the first.

As the second half begins, Lester and Buchholz are on the DL and Beckett hyper-extneded his knee in his last start, causing him to cut short a scheduled appearance in the All-Star Game.

Beckett is on track to pitch Sunday, his scheduled return to the mound. Lester, meanwhile, will probably be ready to start when the Red Sox return from their six-game road trip, as his pulled lat muscle isn't expected to linger.

Buchholz, though, is another matter. He's been bothered by lower back spasms for more than a month and the fact that they continue to present a problem has to be more than somewhat concerning.

He was examined by a back specialist before the break and tests confirmed that there was nothing structurally wrong with the back. A cortisone shot also helped with some discomfort.

The Sox have been fortunate that their depth starters (Tim Wakefield, Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland) have performed as well as they have - the Sox are 13-7 in their 20 games combined.

But it's probably asking for too much for that to continue througout the second half. Worse, if any of the Big Three go down with a more serious injury, there's no starter available on the trade market good enough to crack the first three spots in the rotation.

2) Improvement out of right field.

In terms of OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging), the Red Sox were 29th out of 30 for right-field production.

J.D. Drew had 10 extra-base hits in the first half and went better than 100 plate appearances in between extra-base hits.

Mike Cameron was woeful while here and was subsequently dealt away. Darnell McDonald hasn't been much better.

On one hand, the subpar output from their right fielders hasn't hurt the Sox much. The Sox went into the break leading the majors in runs scored, hits, doubles, extra-base hits, RBIs, walks, total bases, average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

On the other hand, it would take some of the load off Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis if Drew -- or anyone playing right field -- contributed something.

The hope, stated repeatedly by Terry Francona, that Drew will eventually come around and enjoy a hot streak may be against all logic. If Drew doesn't start offering something, don't be surprised to see more of Josh Reddick in right.

3) Contributions from more bullpen arms.

Daniel Bard has been superb and deserved a spot on the All-Star team. He hasn't allowed a run since May and has allowed just 10 baserunners in his last 19 13 innings.

But if Bard is going to be the same factor in October, the Sox have to manage his workload in the second half.

For that to happen, the Sox need improvement from both Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler.

The former has already spent two stints on the disabled list and has delivered little for someone whom the Sox viewed as a co-setup weapon at the start of the season.

If Jenks doesn't give the Sox more in the next 2 12 weeks, they'll be forced to seek (expensive) help on the trade market.

Wheeler was almost a complete non-factor for the first 2 12 months, though he's been far better of late. In his last 11 appearances, Wheeler has a 1.50 ERA, though it should be pointed out that many of those outings came while the Red Sox were either way behind or safely ahead.

4) The return of Jed Lowrie

Marco Scutaro has been steady in Lowrie's absence, but far from spectacular. He has just 10 extra-base hits in 170 at-bats and sports a .354 slugging percentage.

Lowrie, when healthy, was belting doubles and offering the occasional long ball.

Without Lowrie, the options at short are untested. Drew Sutton is a capable journeyman and could play there for short stretches.

Yamiaco Navarro, whose best position appears to be third base, could play short, too, though not as reliably.

That puts the onus on Lowrie to get healthy and provide both some middle-infield pop and depth at a position where the Sox are lacking -- at least in terms of experienced options.

5) A look at the real Carl Crawford.

The first three months were, to put it mildly, disappointing. It took until May for Crawford to get his average over the .200 mark.

Sure, there were a handful of highlights, including some walkoff hits from Crawford. But for a player with as many tools as Crawford, he seemed to contribute little.

His defense, thought to be a major part of his game, was merely slightly above-average. In bigger ballparks, away from Fenway, Crawford's athleticism was supposed to take away doubles in the gap, but that happened rarely.

Likewise, his impact on the bases has yet to be felt. Put aside the meager stolen base total (just 8 in 12 tries) as a function of his inability to get on base more and the fact that he was hitting in the bottom third of the order much of the time.

But Crawford didn't seem to put much pressure on the opposing team. He wasn't a distraction, he didn't go first-to-third much and he didn't help much in manufacturing runs when he did get on base.

If the Sox are maximize their full potential -- in the field, at the plate, and on the bases -- they need much more from Crawford going forward.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam.

BASEBALL SHOW PODCAST: What are biggest concerns about Red Sox?

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BASEBALL SHOW PODCAST: What are biggest concerns about Red Sox?

1:00 - Shaughnesy, Drellich and Merloni give their leading off impressions regarding the Red Sox

4:00 - Dan Shaughnessy explains why he is still skeptical about the Red Sox team, and why he will not be able to feel confident until he sees them play in the postseason

9:00 - Does our Baseball Show crew have a problem with the Red Sox letting Chris Sale pitch the 8th inning so he could get his 300th strikeout?

15:00 - Jared Carrabis joins the Baseball Show crew to discuss what matches he likes for the Red Sox in the playoffs. 

17:00 - Jared Carrabis on how would the Red Sox match up against the Yankees in the playoffs

20:00 - How does Jared Carrabis think about the use of David Price as a relief pitcher?

Red Sox beat Reds 5-4, reduce A.L. East magic number to three

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Red Sox beat Reds 5-4, reduce A.L. East magic number to three

CINCINNATI -- Mookie Betts wasn't about to stop. Neither are the Red Sox, who are heading home with a chance to win another division title.

Betts doubled with the bases loaded to tie it in the eighth inning and dashed home from second base on an infield single, rallying the Red Sox to a 5-4 victory Sunday that moved them closer to an AL East championship.

By winning 14 of its last 17 games, Boston has left virtually no opening for the second-place New York Yankees to catch up. The Red Sox, already assured a playoff spot, completed an 8-1 road trip that put them in excellent position to win a second consecutive division crown, something they've never done.

Coupled with New York's 9-5 loss in Toronto, the Red Sox reduced their magic number to three. They lead the Yankees by five games with seven to play.

That means Fenway Park can start preparing for a potential celebration. Boston finishes the regular season at home with three games against Toronto and four vs. Houston.

"We're learning a lot about ourselves," said Doug Fister, who pitched into the sixth. "We can put ourselves in a corner early and fight back. If we need a touchdown, the boys can put up a touchdown."

Boston inched closer with more late-game flair. The Red Sox lead the majors with 11 wins when trailing after the seventh inning.

They loaded the bases against Raisel Iglesias (3-3), who had blown only one save chance all season. Betts had fouled a ball off his foot on Friday night and missed one game. His double tied it 5-all, and he sprinted home on the still-sore foot - diving headfirst into the plate - on Rafael Devers' infield single.

"I felt he had a chance to beat it, and with me running it was going to be a tough play at the plate," Betts said.

Robby Scott (2-1) got the win, and Craig Kimbrel pitched the ninth for his 35th save in 39 chances. He hasn't allowed a run in his last 11 appearances.

Billy Hamilton helped the Reds go up 4-1. He tripled home a run and brought the crowd to its feet by scoring after getting caught in a rundown between first and second. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia made a wild throw, and Hamilton kept going when nobody covered home.

"In my whole career, that's one of the best ones, especially since I was in a rundown and just trying to get to second base and then I end up scoring," Hamilton said.

GOT THEIR BACKS

Red Sox and Reds players stood for the national anthem. Boston manager John Farrell said if any of his players decide to follow the example of other athletes and make a statement during the anthem, he'll support them. "We strive to create an environment that's inclusive," Farrell said. "We would have their back as an organization if that's the expression they chose. It's their constitutional right."

INTERLEAGUE

The Red Sox are 12-1 against the Reds all-time in the regular season and have won nine straight, their longest winning streak against any NL team since interleague play started in 1997. The Reds beat the Red Sox in seven games for the 1975 World Series championship. Overall, Boston is 16-4 in interleague play this season. The Reds are 5-15.

90 LOSSES AGAIN

The Reds reached the 90-loss mark for the third straight year. They lost 98 games in 2015 and 94 last year. It's the first time they've had three straight 90-loss seasons since 1930-34.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Red Sox: INF Eduardo Nunez ran the bases before the game, his next step in recovering from a sprained knee.

Reds: Hamilton was back in the lineup after getting a day off. He's played twice since returning from a broken left thumb.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: LHP Drew Pomeranz (16-5) faces Blue Jays LHP Brett Anderson (1-2) on Monday night. Pomeranz is 7-1 with a 2.62 ERA in 13 starts since the All-Star break.

Reds: After a day off, they finish with three games in Milwaukee and three at the Chicago Cubs. Deck McGuire (0-0) makes his first major league start Tuesday night against Zach Davies (17-9).

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