The Glass Is Half Full

Or is it half empty?
Some thoughts of the Sox’s first half record and playoff hopes in the second half…
3,000 HITS FOR JETER
First off, congratulations are in order for Derek Jeter after reaching and surpassing 3,000 hits in his MLB career–a career that has spanned over 15 seasons with the same team and counting.  An awesome feat.  And the fact that he has done it all in pinstripes is pretty cool in this day and age.  Certainly reflective of NY’s willingness to commit its vast resources to keep many of its core vets in the fold (even at the risk of player decline.) Growing up rooting for the Red Sox, it hasn’t always been easy, needless to say, to appreciate the success enjoyed by the Bronx Bombers–especially the impressive run they’ve enjoyed since Jeter joined the team.  I can’t count the number of those 3,000 hits that came at the expense of my beloved Sox.  (Though I’m sure some Yankee fan will gladly enlighten me!) That being stated, I have grown to respect Jeter as a great player, rival, and competitor over the years and have nothing but respect for his myriad accomplishments.  He may not be the greatest defensive SS in the history of the game (sorry, Yankee fans), and he is effectively playing in the “twilight” of his career, but what an amazing career it has been!  I tip my hat to you, Jeter.
THE ALL STAR GAME 
Second, can MLB PLEASE, PLEASE do away with awarding home field advantage (HFA) in the World Series to the team whose League wins the All-Star Game?  It’s random, silly and unfortunate that an exhibition game is solely responsible for determining a potentially significant edge in the game’s ultimate Series.  It was a cute, creative idea designed to drum up improved ratings for a game the viewing public still just really doesn’t care that much about.  Time to end this failed experiment.  That’s all I have to say on that now.
HALF FULL OR HALF EMPTY?
And now on to the second half…  So, with the season’s first half behind us and the “Exhibition Game that Counts” over, let’s look back at their first half and examine the Sox’s playoff hopes.
Aside from their awful start, this has been one fun and exciting team to follow, and may be one of the best Red Sox teams that Theo has put together, in my opinion.  After starting their “100-win season” 2-8, the Sox presently sit atop the AL East with Baseball’s second best record, behind only the Phillies.  This team enjoyed a truly impressive turn-around, folks. Since 2-8, the Sox have played winning baseball at a .658 clip to take their record to 56-36, 20 wins over .500.  A mere two months ago, the Sox had finally reached 20-20 after their horrid start.  While nice at the time, they still sat 3 games back of 1st place and were tied for 3rd with the Jays–with Showalter’s “fighting” O’s a mere .5 games behind them in last place.  (Ok, so some things haven’t changed that much… Sorry, O’s fans.)
Clearly such key components as Crawford, Lackey, Drew and Jenks, have vastly underperformed over the course of the season.  The Sox have lost the enigmatic Daisuke and Rich Hill, a key bullpen piece, to season-ending injuries, and Lowrie, who singlehandedly carried the team’s offense in late April-May, is out indefinitely with a sore left shoulder. Meanwhile, the rotation’s core–Buchholz, Lester, and Beckett–have battled injuries of late.
On the bright side, the lineup has been tremendous.  Gonzo has had a terrific debut season with the Sox to date.  (Arguably the first-half AL MVP runner-up to the Jays’ Bautista.)  Ortiz is enjoying an offensive resurgence.  And, in addition to getting on base at a .377 clip and flashing his speed on the paths (28 SB), Ellsbury is showing some pop (13 HR) this year.*  Youks and Pedey are coming around nicely after an injury-riddled 2010.  On the mound, Beckett and Lester, when healthy, have been outstanding, as has been Bard and Papelbon.  Salty has quietly come around after a slow start at the plate and behind it, while the Captain has enjoyed a pretty solid season coming off the bench and sharing the back-up catching duties.  Elder statesman, Wake, while occasionally subject to getting roughed up, has performed beyond all expectations (5-3, 4.74 ERA in 81.2 IP)** filling in admirably the hole left by Daisuke’s injury departure.  Miller has shown some nice flashes, but is still susceptible to bouts of wildness. And, despite a very disappointing first half, perhaps Lackey has turned a corner.
So is the cup half full or empty?  With 70 games left (36 Home, 34 Away), what can we expect going forward?  Can the Sox keep up their winning ways?  Or are they primed for a regression?
Overall, given their start, the rash of injuries, and the underperformance by several team members, the Sox look primed to make the playoffs, especially if the underperformers kick it up a notch and the team avoids further significant injuries.  In a potentially worse case scenario, if they play .500 ball the rest of the way, they would end their season at 91-71 and likely miss the postseason. Going out on a limb here, but I suspect such a win-loss record unlikely, albeit certainly not impossible.  We only have to look at the first weeks of the season to remind us of that… On the flip side, if the Sox were to continue to play at their current pace since starting the season at 2-8, they would end their season right where many of the “pundits” predicted with a record of 102-60.  Again, not impossible, and given their current pace, clearly within reach if they can win 65% of their remaining games. In 92 games, the Sox currently enjoy a winning percentage of .609 on the season.  In my opinion, 92 games is a pretty substantial sample size for what we can expect from this team over the long haul.  It is most likely, I think, that aside from any major trades/injuries that could affect the team, the Sox will likely continue to play at or near their present overall pace of .609 the rest of the way.  If so, the Sox would end their season at 98-64, which should be more than enough to win the AL East and/or Wild Card.
162 games is a long season.  As their awful start can attest to, the Sox–and their opponents–are clearly susceptible to extended losing streaks.  Obviously trades and injuries will occur that will likely impact, to some extent, the playoff hopes of the Sox, Yanks and Rays.  For what it’s worth, the Rays, a mere 6 games back of the Sox and within 4.5 of the WC, are by no means mathematically eliminated, especially given the number of divisional head-to-head match-ups remaining.  However, the AL East/WC appears to be shaping up into another 2-way horse-race between the Sox and Yanks.
MY PREDICTION:
The Sox continue to play like the juggernaut Theo created and, with a 97-65 record, they edge the Yanks (95-67) for the AL East crown. Yanks win the WC.
Although I would be disappointed if the outcome is reversed, with the Yanks winning the Division over the WC Sox, I would not be shocked.   The Yanks have overcome their own trials and tribulations to earn the third best record in MLB.  They’re well within striking distance of first place and have 9 remaining head to head games against the Sox.  As much as I want the Sox to win the Division, my penultimate concern is that the Sox make it to the postseason healthy and primed for a long, successful October run. Making and winning the World Series (even without HFA) is the ultimate goal.
Go Sox!!
* Source: Yahoo! Sports Player Profile.
** Source: Yahoo! Sports Player Profile.
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