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74 to Go: All Star Break Thoughts

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As the weekend finishes up and we prepare to go back to work, the Sox get ready for their only sustained mid-season break. It is well-needed and deserved; a team as wracked, besieged, and overwrought with injuries as the 2010 Sox needs a couple days (even a couple weeks) to recover. Boston ends the first half of the season 5 games behind New York, and 3 behind Tampa.

The Sox deserve credit for still being in contention, and we can hope for better play in the remaining months. The return of some injured players should help some. But there are also causes for concern. Looking ahead, there are a few things that we can expect to happen:

1. The implosion of Adrian Beltre.

Easy call here. Beltre is, quite simply, not as good a hitter as he's been thus far. A career .785 OPS guy is highly unlikely to keep up his .912 pace, the second highest of his career (after a steroid-induced 2004). Beltre is not Joe Mauer - a gifted batter who sees a lot of pitches, and he's not Vladi Guerrero - someone who can hit anything. Expect more swings and misses and more first-pitch outs.

2. Better pitching from John Lackey (or a trip to the DL).

Lackey is a better player than he's been so far. His walk rate is so far above career norms that it's not even funny to bitter Angel fans (or Sox fans who resent the signing). Maybe he's playing through injury, or maybe it's just a funk he'll work out of. It's certainly possible that he'll be mediocre all season, but I think it's far more likely he'll find some semblance of his old form, or he'll hit the DL harder than Adrian Beltre steamrolls a Sox outfielder. [Click Continue Reading for more]

3. Theo brings in some help from outside.

As per usual, the trade deadline will go right down to the wire, and at the end of the day on July 31 Boston will have some shiny new players (or a 38-year-old veteran) coming through the doors. The pen needs improvement, and while Beckett is coming back, the rotation may need some help (Oswalt?). I think it's time to get Wakefield back into the pen, with Lackey and Matsuzaka .

What Theo decides, standing pat is not an option, not after he doubled down on the season with a ton of costly free agent signings and extensions. You can't spend over $170 million on a bridge year (unless it's Bridge-to-Nowhere-Year).

4. Continued sightings of AAA players.

Even if our heavy hitters come back healthy, we're going to see guys who came up from Pawtucket. I would not be surprised if Darnell MacDonald or Daniel Nava end up providing us with better production than Ellsbury does, and if he ends up splitting time with one of them in the event of his return to the club.

5. Stiff competition from Tampa and New York.

The Yankees can be expected to stay at or near the top of the division going forward, seeing as how they're fielding $100 billion in payroll on any given night (actually . And unlike the Sox, they don't have a substantial part of their team on the disabled list (yet... Yanks All-Stars, beware the speeding Beltre, he strikes when you least expect). Barring a plague of Jed Lowrie-induced killer mononucleosis (think Outbreak or 28 Days Later) in the Bronx, the Yankees are too strong to fold this year.

I think the Rays are going to be in the race all year as well. Tampa GM Friedman should be on the prowl for bats to help his offense; the Rays already have great strength in the pen and rotation. About the only improvement his team could make would be to relocate to an area where people actually watch baseball. Could Honolulu or Juneau use a franchise?