Here’s some good news. The Boston Red Sox are 49-38, two games back from the first place Baltimore Orioles in the AL East, and currently in position to be the American League’s top seeded wild card playoff entry.
For a team coming off back-to-back last place finishes, that’s not so bad.
The Red Sox have three legit AL MVP candidates in Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz. Steven Wright is having a far better season than anyone could have expected, Rick Porcello looks a lot like the starting pitcher that former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington probably thought he was getting when he acquired him back in December of 2014, and the offense as a whole is one of the best in baseball.
There are concerns as well, they’ve been well documented.
So what lies in store for the Red Sox in the second half of 2016? Here are five stories to keep an eye on.
No.1: The Kids Are Coming
This was just discussed in a column I wrote Monday. It is worth reiterating. The Red Sox currently have two of the consensus top 10 prospects in the majors.
Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada are both on paths to the majors. Even though Moncada just turned 21, and Benintendi was just drafted in June of 2015, neither is that far from reaching the show.
One way or another these two players could figure prominently into the Red Sox second half of the 2016 season.
Benintendi could arrive sooner than Moncada. The multi-skilled lefty outfielder could fill a position that the Red Sox have an opening at.
Then again Benintendi could also be a part of a trade. It would have to be a significant deal, the Red Sox won’t insert Benintendi into a trade for a rental or for a veteran nearing the end of his peak years.
The only way Benintendi gets dealt is if the Red Sox are adding something pretty significant. A young, cost-controlled and very good starting pitcher would fit the bill, and that’s not going to be easy for Red Sox President Dave Dombrowski to find, but if he does, then Benintendi might be the guy who gets the deal done.
Whether he plays for the Red Sox or is a part of a major trade, Benintendi figures to play a prominent role down the stretch in 2016, and beyond.
As for Moncada, he’s most likely untouchable in a trade. The Mets aren’t shopping Noah Syndergaard, and the Marlins aren’t shopping Jose Fernandez, so Moncada is a near lock to remain the franchise’s most cherished prospect.
He could end up in Boston in September and odds are if he’s in the majors, he’ll be finding his way into games and onto highlight reels.
One way or another the Red Sox top prospects figure to have a serious impact on the remainder of this season.
No. 2: Mookie Betts, Serious Superstar
Jackie Bradley Jr and Xander Bogaerts had the headline grabbing hit-streaks. David Price has the big contract, and David Ortiz..well he’s just David Ortiz.
Bradley looks like a legit longterm solution in the outfield. Bogaerts could win more than one batting title while playing shortstop, and Price has to better than he’s been so far.
Mookie Betts just might be the brightest future star on the current roster.
The 23-year-old just played in and started his first All-Star game.
In just his second full season in the majors he’s on pace to slash .304/.344/.525 with 140 runs scored, 218 hits, 43 doubles, 7 triples, 34 home runs, 110 RBI’s and 28 stolen bases.
Yea, that’s not too bad.
This hasn’t come out of nowhere. Betts has been showing a tantalizing combination of both speed and power since he rocketed up through the minors in 2014.
Add in some highlight reel worthy plays in the outfield and it is time for Red Sox fans to acknowledge that the team’s next big superstar is most likely named Mookie Betts.
No.3: Will the price be right for David Price?
Maybe it ends up as three-years, $90 million, or maybe Price doesn’t opt-out and his contract concludes after seven-years and a $217 million payout.
Either way, that’s lot of money, and with that money comes high expectations.
Stratospherically high ones.
The reality of such a contract is that most people will end up feeling as if Price has to be nearly perfect every time he takes the mound. That means added pressure, and intense scrutiny. A great outing or even a great season will be seen as Price just doing his job.
A bad outing, bad month or even a bad season will get people grumbling about how Price is a big bust, or a bad contract.
Price is just Price. The money changes people’s perceptions, but that contract didn’t come with an infusion of super-human powers or added armor against the pressures of being a pro athlete.
Still, no one, not even Price could have anticipated the struggles that plagued Price throughout most of the first half of the 2016 season.
Price’s ERA on May 1 was 5.76. Since then he’s lowered it, but not by that much. Even after a dominant performance against the lowly Rays right before the All-Star break, Price’s ERA is still a not-nearly-good-enough 4.34.
Price’s career high for home runs allowed in a single season is 25. That was back in 2014, and he pitched 248.1 innings that year, also a career high.
As of today Price has allowed 16 home runs, that puts him on pace to give up 30 this season, and he’s on pace to pitch only 231.1 innings.
There’s simply no way to paint Price’s first half of 2016 as anything but a disappointment.
That doesn’t mean things can’t turn around dramatically in the second half.
Price was at his best in the second half of 2015 when he helped lead the Blue Jays to their first AL East division crown since 1993.
Price’s contract makes him a big story no matter what he does. If he’s bad, he’s a big story, just not one Red Sox fans are eager to read or hear about. If he’s good then he’s a big story, and the Red Sox are in good shape. Either way his second half of 2016 is pivotal for the franchise.
No.4: The deals made or not made by Dave Dombrowski
Red Sox President Dave Dombrowksi has a reputation as a guy who makes deals.
He makes big trades like the one that shipped a package of very good prospects to the San Diego Padres in exchange for closer Craig Kimbrel. He makes lesser trades like the ones he completed less than a week ago to bring veterans Aaron Hill and Brad Ziegler to the Red Sox.
He signs big name free agents such as David Price, to big contracts. He also signs guys like Chris Young to much smaller contracts.
Between now and the end of July, Dave Dombrowski is likely to hear a long, long list of trade offers. He’s going to reject a lot of them, maybe it is the player or players being asked for, or maybe it is the player or players being offered.
One thing is certain, the short and longterm future of the Red Sox is very dependent on the deals made or not made over the next three weeks.
A Red Sox farm system that has made annual appearances among the top 10 in the majors could be stripped bare of talent in an effort to win the 2016 World Series. That doesn’t seem likely, but the offers will be there.
Dombrowski could take a more cautious route. He could pursue lesser talents that would require less lucrative packages of players in return, but also offer up less guarantees as far as improving the 2016 squad. He could even stand-pat and hope that a combination of Joe Kelly, Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez can gel and form a solid starting five rotation, while other key parts such as Chris Young, Blake Swihart and Craig Kimbrel get healthy.
One way or another Dombrowski’s decisions are going to be a big part of the remainder of the 2016 season.
No. 5: Steven Wright, All-Star, or Overachiever?
Well we know Steven Wright is an All-Star. He didn’t get to pitch in the midsummer classic, but he as on the squad, and he was well-deserving of that honor.
All Wright did for the first half of 2016 was consistently exceed everyone’s highest expectations of him heading into the season.
Merely making the opening day roster and earning a spot in the starting rotation was a pleasant surprise to begin the season.
After all, were it not for Eduardo Rodriguez’s injury, odds are Wright would have started the season in Pawtucket.
Wright’s first start against the Blue Jays was far better than anticipated. He wasn’t even close to being done though. His start felt like a fluke, but it wasn’t.
Wright kept on taking the mound and kept on throwing his knuckleball and kept on winning games. Not only was he winning games, he was pitching deep into the games as well. Wright has made 17 starts, he leads the league in complete games with three, and he’s pitched into the seventh inning or beyond 10 times.
Wright had three subpar starts heading into the All-Star break and still managed to finish the first half as the American League’s leader in earned run average.
Knuckleball pitchers are as odd a breed as their pitch is. When they’ve got a good feel for the pitch and can control it, they’re just about impossible to consistently make solid contact against.
The instant the pitcher looses a feel for the pitch he can become a walk-machine or a batting practice pitcher.
Wright’s ERA over his last three starts prior to the break was 6.89.
If it is just a very brief disruption of what will end up as a fantastic season then the Red Sox can count on at least one constant throughout the remainder of the season.
If this is the beginning of a prolonged period of ineffectiveness then Wright’s All-Star first half will be nothing more than a distant memory and the Red Sox will need to find yet another effective starting pitcher to put on the mound once every five games.