COMMENTARY | You have to like what you've seen thus far if you're a Boston Red Sox fan. Not many experts foresaw 58-39 through 97 games. Can they keep it up?
Here are 5 questions for the second half of the season:
1.) Can they continue to win at this pace?
If they do, they'll be 97-65 at the end of the season.
Here is why it just might be possible:
Of course, many of these last 65 games are against the AL East (38). Thirty-two of these are against the teams still within striking distance of Boston (Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees). But fear not. Not only are the Red Sox 23-12 against the AL East this year (.657), they are 15-8 (.650) against these three in particular. Not bad.
Secondly, the Red Sox are 31-16 at home this year. That's a winning percentage of .660, and 34/65 remaining games are at home. Of the 38 against the AL East, 22 are at Fenway. Of the 32 against Tampa Bay, Baltimore and New York, 19 are at Fenway.
The competition from the AL East? Not only are their road records worse than Boston's, they all have more away games come the second half than Boston (31/65). Tampa Bay has 38/66 on the road, Baltimore 34/66, the Yankees 37/67.
Twenty-three of the last 65 games are against sub-.500 teams. The Red Sox are 30-18 thus far against the teams they should be beating (.625).
Some things to take away from this information that help answer the question: A.) The Red Sox, as a whole, tend to win about 2 out of every 3 games, against both the under-.500 clubs and the better competition; B.) Although they have a slightly lower winning percentage against teams north of .500 (28-21/.571) than against sub-.500 teams, against their direct threats to the division title, and possibly a playoff spot altogether, the Red Sox are much better (.650).
This has the makings of a classic AL East playoff race. The Red Sox have to continue playing the game they've played. The competition has to play better, and do so, more often than the Red Sox, on the road.
But there are also some pieces to the puzzle that need answers.
2.) Who plays third base? Who backs him up?
When Stephen Drew has been healthy, Jose Iglesias has been terrific at third base. Although not a natural 3B, he is still the best option (2 ERR. /.964 field. %) in 26 games played there. With two players that can play SS, and one of these that can also play 3B, the first question seems solved. But when the third baseman is also the best option for SS? Should an injury occur to Drew, there's no viable backup at 3B.
Barring a trade for Placido Polanco (which has yet to be even muttered), Michael Young, or any other player, it looks as though the Sox will stand pat with what they've got.
Why is this a problem? The Red Sox have many a AAA prospects that can man 3B. Some of them have been splashed into the lineup recently. But that's not the answer.
A return of Will Middlebrooks is not the better option. Although he continues to be OK at the plate (.255 / 94 AB) and superb defensively (1.000 field. % / 22 games), these are AAA statistics.
Some say bring on Xander Bogaerts. Xander Bogaerts is hitting .260 (27-104) in Pawtucket. Not a big sample, I admit, but there's nothing that really jumps out at you, except his defense, especially considering it's not the major leagues (6 ERR./ .952 field. % at shortstop through 27 games played in AAA). He wouldn't force Iglesias (1 ERR./.990 field. % through 27 games in Boston at SS) to play third.
Iglesias has been better at 3B than lesser samples (both Brock Holt [.957 field %] and Brandon Snyder [.938 field %] have 1 ERR through 9 games played at 3B). He's also been much better than greater sample sizes (Middlebrooks 8 ERR/ .939 field. %/ 53 games played).
That brings up question No. 3.
3.) Who plays shortstop? Who backs him up?
If Jose Iglesias plays 3B, does Stephen Drew last the remainder of the season? If he doesn't, who plays shortstop? Exactly. I know what you're thinking. Who's on third then?
4.) Are the Red Sox content sacrificing a game when certain pitchers take the mound?
If the Red Sox figure their top 3 pitchers can win consistently, and that they can gamble that the No. 4 and No. 5 starters can win a few games, then winning 3/5 (.600) should be possible. That would get them to 97 wins. But is that a safe bet?
5.) Could the rotation order look different?
When things are rebooted, will the Red Sox trade for Matt Garza? Would a starting rotation of Clay Buchholz, Garza, John Lackey, Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster be better than what they have? Short answer, yes. And, oh, yes, that would mean Lester is out. Why wouldn't he be?
Patrick Bernier is a freelance writer who has been following the Boston Red Sox for 25 years.
You can follow Patrick on Twitter @PatrickBern7.
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