Wednesday, July 13, 2016

First Half Ends On a High Note

The Red Sox ended the first half this past weekend with an important 9-game homestand that I figured would tell a lot about this ballclub.

I feared they would have a mediocre or lousy one, and especially with two of three teams among the bottom feeders of the American League.

But the month of June was put in the rearview mirror, and the Sox went 7-2 in those games to begin July. And it has no doubt taken a lot of the pressure off manager John Farrell. For now.

The two losses were brutal: the 21-2 debacle against the LA Angels, and the 7-2 loss to Texas when Craig Kimbrel gave up 4 runs while facing 4 hitters and the Sox left 14 men on base.

But the seven wins put the Sox back on course. The starting pitching has still been shaky (and will be addressed further as we get closer to the deadline), as the Sox staff allowed four or more runs in the first seven games of the homestand. But Rick Porcello and David Price both pitched gems in the final two games before the break, and the Sox concluded the first half at 49-38.

The offense flashed back to May, as they scored 10 or more runs in three of the nine games. Dave Dombrowski made a terrific move after the Texas series by acquiring veteran infielder Aaron Hill from Milwaukee for two minor leaguers. He immediately proved dividends by getting two hits and two RBI in Friday night's win over Tampa Bay. Hill is a terrific upgrade to the bench, which was very weak due to all the injuries.

And Dombrowski upgraded the pen by trading for veteran reliever Brad Ziegler from Arizona. He acted swiftly after Craig Kimbrel's knee injury landed him on the DL, and he will be back by early-to-mid August. Ziegler had 17 saves for the D-Backs this season, and can fill either a closer or set up role.

It has been an up and down season for the Sox so far. They ended the first half with four straight wins, and are 2 games behind Baltimore in the AL East. 2016 has been a marked improvement over the last two years, as in 2014 they were 9 games under .500 and 9 1/2 games back at the break, and last year were five games under .500 and 6 1/2 games out of first.

The Red Sox will play at home for most of the rest of July, but have a tough schedule for August and September. 40 of the last 62 games will be on the road, and that will include two trips to the West Coast, one in August and another in September.

18 days to go until the trade deadline. The trades of Hill and Ziegler were both surprises. And I bet Dombrowski has more in store.

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