The Red Sox return to the field Friday coming off the best start in team history. Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Chris Sale, Mitch Moreland and Craig Kimbrel are back from their trip to D.C. for the All-Star Game and will rejoin their teammates with a 4.5-game division lead over the Yankees and 68 wins under their belt. So, you could say life is pretty good in Boston. You know what would make it even better? If the Red Sox were able to win 100 games for the first time since 1946. Here are seven things that are crucial to making that happen:
More like seize the suck. The Red Sox will play 21 series totaling 64 games over the last three months of the season. Ten of those series will be against teams currently under .500. Boston’s first 10 games out of the break are against Detroit (41-57), Baltimore (28-69) and Minnesota (44-50). You absolutely have to capitalize on that. Go into the four-game August series against the Yankees with an eight-game lead and don’t look back. Put this away early and give Sale the month of September to rest.
Speaking of Sale
Conservation is the name of the game and I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the biggest challenges the coaching staff will face in the second half in regards to Sale. If the Sox can continue to expand their lead over the Yankees, it will make it even easier on Alex Cora to maximize the nine off days in August and September and that can only benefit Sale. Cora has kept his word when it comes to limiting Sale’s workload so far this season, but the second half is when it really matters. The 29-year-old’s September/October splits are depressing for a guy who is All-World otherwise. It would be awesome to see him strikeout 12 in Game 1 of the ALCS. But the Sox have to get there first and they will need a fresh ace to do so.
Get healthy. Stay healthy.
Depth is not really something the Red Sox have been blessed with this season. A major injury to Dustin Pedroia and another surgery for Marco Hernandez didn’t help and now it turns out Rafael Devers is already a little banged up too. On top of that, Eduardo Rodriguez and Christian Vazquez are recent (and possibly long-term) additions to the DL, while Steven Wright is still sidelined with the same injury that’s holding Pedey back and Drew Pomeranz continues to try to figure it out in the minor leagues. Not ideal for a team chasing a championship. I don’t think there’s any reason to panic just yet — especially considering the Sox should be able to provide rest to some everyday players down the road. But injuries could make or break those championship hopes.
Make the right trade
Whether it’s shoring up the bullpen or picking up another viable option at second base or even exploring the market for starting pitching, Dave Dombrowski will need to exercise caution when it comes to the trade deadline. The Red Sox are not exactly flush with trade chips and the ones they do have will need to be used in an extremely thoughtful and strategic way to maximize value. I am one of those people who really hates how much Dombrowski has depleted the farm system (even though it brought Sale to Boston) and the thought of him doing further damage brings actual tears to my eyes. That being said, I would be willing to part with more prospects if the return helped the Red Sox get to October.
Home sweet home
Fifteen of Boston’s final 26 games will be played at Fenway Park, including a nine-game stretch from Sept. 7-16. That’s great news for a team with an MLB-best .723 winning percentage at home this season. The Sox are also hitting .288/.351/.503 at Fenway, compared to .258/.328/.426 on the road. With the division potentially on the line that late in the year, any advantage will be crucial. In contrast, the Yankees will play 16 of their final 27 games on the road, including a season-ending, three-game trip to Fenway Park, where the crowd has been exceptionally electric as of late. New York is 29-20 on the road this season, compared to 33-13 in the Bronx. The way the schedule lines up may be the difference between a spot in the ALDS and a one-game playoff just to get there.
It’s all about Price
His health, his history against the Yankees, his late-season struggles. I don’t know where to start but whether you like it or not, there are plenty of reasons why David Price’s success is a crucial piece for Boston in the second half. As far as the regular season is concerned, he’s actually been better after the All-Star break throughout his career. In 129 career second-half games, Price is 59-28 with a 3.08 ERA, .227 batting average against, 1.11 WHIP and a 3.13 FIP. In 159 first-half games, Price has posted a 78-46 with an ERA of 3.46, .240 BAA, 1.19 WHIP and a 3.49 FIP. His first two starts after the break are projected to come against Detroit and a Baltimore lineup that could be without Manny Machado by then. As far as momentum is concerned, there’s really no better way to build it. For Price, it’s all about carrying that momentum into the postseason — where we know he needs all the help he can get.
Keep the pace
As pointed out by Chad Finn of the Boston Globe this week, the Red Sox could go 32-32 the rest of the way and they would still reach the 100-win mark for the first time in 72 years. Going .500 through the last 64 games of the season seems like a small hurdle for a team that won 68 of its first 98 games. In the last 20 years, only six times have the Red Sox posted a sub-.500 record in the second half of the season, compiling a winning percentage of .535 after the break in that time frame. But winning 100 games is no easy task, especially in this division. The Red Sox would be only the second AL East team to do it since 2005. Challenge accepted.
The first half of this season was so much fun to watch. It’s hard to imagine the last 64 games being anywhere near as fun as the first 98 were, but if any team can make that happen, it’s this one.