By Matt Straub
I’ve said many versions of the same thing over the first half of the baseball season. Whatever series the Boston Red Sox were in at the moment had the potential to be the biggest of the year because it was the one Boston could use to start a winning streak.
This weekend’s second-half opening set in Anaheim is bigger than any of the others, however. There are two weeks until the trade deadline, and teams need a few days before it arrives to work on trades and come to conclusions about which direction to go. Which means, realistically, the Sox have probably a week to turn their season around and convince the front office to give them extra help, not take away pieces.
We’ve talked before about the silliness of trading away players to get parts for the future only to leave your team with holes you’ll have to fill later, but teams do it anyway. If the Red Sox don’t beat the Angels this weekend (plus Monday), it’s hard to believe the team won’t start looking to sell with games against the Astros and Tigers up next. A big hot streak in those series might turn things around, but it would be a lot to ask, which means beating the Angels is the team’s best way to show its bosses it can stay in the playoff race.
How did they get here? Before the year, we used five bold predictions as ways to talk about what had to go well for the Red Sox this season. The last, which said the Red Sox won’t make the playoffs, is looking accurate because so many of the negative predictions we made came true.
First, we predicted the demise of Koji Uehara and the Red Sox bullpen. Koji hasn’t been bad by any means, and he’s been good lately, but he’s no longer the automatic save he was in 2013. So we’ll give ourselves half credit since he is one of two relievers in a bad bullpen John Farrell trusts, with Junichi Tazawa being the other. Edward Mujica didn’t make it half the year in Boston, by the way, so take points off for that one.
I predicted an unreliable Dustin Pedroia, though I got there backwards. I said he’d be healthy but below his usual production. He has actually been solid at the plate, but is injured yet again. He is expected back Friday, but the trouble he caused by being out, including creating the mess at first base with David Ortiz (with an assist from someone we’ll get to in a second), has hurt more than his leg does.
The other issue in the Ortiz mess is Mike Napoli, who was finally healthy and ready to have a breakout year. I predicted 30 home runs from the big first baseman. Instead has 30 RBI and 31 runs scored, but only 10 homers. He’s hitting below .200 and has been awful. I’ll never believe spring performance again.
Our other concern was the outfield. Mookie Betts has shown flashes of the brilliance I see in him, but not as much consistency as the Sox need. Shane Victorino is always hurt, Rusney Castillo gets paid not to play major league games, and Hanley Ramirez is a bigger train wreck than I feared. Alejandro De Aza, perhaps one of the best outfielders, is likely trade bait, making the outfield more of a mess.
With so many problems, it’s hard to expect the Red Sox to get hot in the next four games. But they must, so let’s look at what the Sox are up against.
Boston Red Sox (42-47, last place AL East)
at Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (48-40, 1st Place AL West)
Friday, 10:05 p.m.
Wade Miley (8-8, 4.80) vs. C.J. Wilson (7-7, 3.83)
Saturday, 9:05 p.m.
Rick Porcello (5-9, 5.90) vs. Garrett Richards (9-6, 3.53)
Sunday, 8 p.m.
Eduardo Rodriguez (5-2, 3.59) vs. Hector Santiago (6-4, 2.33)
Monday, 10:05 p.m.
(Either Steven Wright or Brian Johnson) vs. TBA
Three Angels To Watch
1. Mike Trout is the LeBron James of baseball. He has a combination of speed, skill and power which may be unmatched.
2. Albert Pujols is back in slugger mode, which has older baseball fans not quite ready for the new wave happy.
3. Erick Aybar was red hot before the break and will be an annoyance to the Red Sox for the next four days.
If nothing else the Red Sox can help decide the AL West, as they travel to Houston next.