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Sox trending toward historic season


07/25/18



 The Red Sox begin the year’s second half tomorrow in Detroit. Though having played 96 of 162 games already, it’s really the season’s final third. From winning 17 of 18 after the Game 1 loss in Tampa, to already hitting nine grand slams after having none last year, to being 38 games above .500 at the All-Star break, it’s been a remarkable season to date. Putting that last statement into context, if the Sox go 32-36 in their last 68 games they will still win 100 games for the first time in 72 years.  

It’s happened behind a mix of great individual play and others reaching expected promise with contributions up and down the bench. All of which has them on pace to win 112. Here’s why and what’s needed to keep the pedal to the medal.
The High Point: It came in last week’s two-out, bases-loaded 13-pitch battle between J.A. Happ and Mookie Betts concluding with Mookie sending a 3-2 offering onto Landsdowne Street. It personified how this team just relentlessly wears you down. It was baseball at its best: drama, excitement and pure fun. 
Alex Cora: Even the most fervent defender of uptight John Farrell has to wonder if the dramatic improvement of Mookie, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and others is a coincidence or due to his relaxed management style. Beyond that, I love hitters attacking the first pitch, how aggressively they challenge outfielders for the extra base and that Betts, Benintendi and Jackie Bradley are in double figures in steals. And how about not allowing a stolen base for 18 straight games until Elvis Andrus left the building for one last week. Terry Francona let the bad guys steal anytime they wanted and I can’t tell you how much I hated that. Throw in off the charts media skills in this ridiculous market and I’m all in.
Mookie Betts: Saying he’s the closest thing there is these days to Willie Mays seems a bit of an overstatement. But with Mookie batting .359, with 23 homers, 18 steals, 72 runs. 51 RBI and being baseball’s best right fielder that few dare to run on, tell me what Willie did that Mookie isn’t now doing. True, he needs to do this about, oh, 18 more years to match Willie. But what he’s been doing, to quote Coach B, in all phases, is what made Willie so great.  
Chris Sale: At 10-4 with a 2.23 ERA and a league-leading 188 strikeouts he’s been outstanding. But with 78 strikeouts in 48 innings while giving up just 21 hits, nine walks and five earned runs for a .094 ERA over his last seven starts going into the All-Star game, he’s been Pedro-like. The issue with him, however, is wearing down in the second half after stellar first-half starts. It’s why Cora’s taken pains to lessen the innings and pitch counts when possible. Hopefully that approach works.  
J.D. Martinez: He leads the majors in homers and runs batted in with 29 and 80. That projects to 48 homers and 135 RBI. Though if he matches his production in 62 games after being traded to Arizona last July of 29 and 65 they grow to 58 and 146. That at half the cost the Yanks are paying Giancarlo Stanton in dollars, while costing no minor-league players to get him. Nice job Dombo. 
Xander Bogaerts: A frustrating figure for 2½ seasons now living up to his promise. After dinking and dunking for two years, he’s now driving the ball. The 16 homers and 64 RBI project to a middle of the order 27 and 108 while hitting .284. Accumulating injuries have contributed to three straight second-half fades so beware. But, so far, I’ll take it. 
Craig Kimbrel: With that beard I’m not sure if he’s a Hatfield or McCoy. But the numbers again are incredible — 30 saves and two wins in 41 appearances with 62 Ks in 40.1 innings and 1.77 ERA. However, I still need to be convinced about him facing postseason pressure. So check back in October.  
Top Need: I keep seeing Manny Machado in the rumor mill. Don’t want to go all Lou Gorman on you, but where would he play? I know, he’s an upgrade on Rafael Devers. But given they lead baseball in runs and are 38 games over .500 for the first time since 1949, they’ve survived nicely without Machado, a two-month rental who’ll cost the 20-year-old on pace for 30 homers in Devers. Can you say Jeff Bagwell? Ironically, what they needed most before Eddie Rodriguez got hurt Saturday is what Gorman got when he gifted Bagwell to Houston in 1988 — a lights-out eighth-inning reliever. Because for all the grief Sweet Lou has gotten over losing Bags, Larry Anderson was great until he got hurt. 
Second Need: After E-Rod’s sprained ankle, maybe a starter. Especially given his Buchholz-like recovery speed. But that depends on the DL’d Steven Wright and mechanically struggling Drew Pomeranz. If they get something from either, they probably can wait. If not, they need to deal.  
The Yanks: They faded right after sending Boston from the Stadium down one game in the East. Now the Yanks are 4.5 back, in need of at least one starter and hot after Machado with the minor-league ammo to get both. 
Historic Season: I said earlier, they haven’t won 100 in 72 years. For the mathematically challenged, that’s when Ted Williams and company won 104 in 1946. Before that — 1915. Meaning they’ve won 100 just once in 103 years! They only other 100-win season was 1912. So in being on a 112-win pace they have a chance to be the greatest Red Sox team in history. 
Space prevents going deeper on other intriguing stories like E-Rod, Benintendi and Devers to name three. They’ll have to wait until later in the year. For now, on to the second half.
Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.  





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