The Red Sox seem so dysfunctional and are so banged up that confidence in their chances is rather low. But before we hammer another nail in their coffin remember that at the All-Star break last season some folks were struggling to find a flaw with this team. The Sox were 55-35, the best record in the American League.
Then what happened?
Yes, as bad as Boston ended the first half and as much as everyone wants to blow the whole thing up, the definitive “it’s all over” statements are a bit much. Just as the “they can’t be beat” statements were last July.
With just mediocre play the Sox will remain a factor in a tight Wild Card race. With only a slight improvement they could claim the final playoff spot in the AL, no matter how cheap it might feel.
Obviously, Boston must get better starting pitching. It needs production from soon-to-return stars. And the club must avoid another significant injury; it is a house of cards that could crumble with one more tweak, pull or sprain.
Here are five other ways the Red Sox can remain a factor:
1. Start the second half on fire
This sounds obvious. The team needs wins. What they also need, however, is a reason to be aggressive at the trade deadline. If general manager Ben Cherington can see his team come together and climb the standings in the next two weeks, he might have a better sense of how to fill gaps.
2. Bullpen needs a break
Only five teams in baseball have used their bullpen more than Boston. That was an issue last season and it showed -- the relievers’ ERA over the last three months of 2011 was 2.39, 3.49 and 4.45, respectively. This year’s pen has been the calm amid the storm, but that changes if the workload takes its toll.
3. Win late
The Sox are just 1-5 in games decided by a walk-off hit. Last season at the break they were 5-1 in walk-off games, and 8-1 a week into August. They could use a reason to mob one another at the plate, for few things galvanize a clubhouse quite like it.
4. More from Middlebrooks
When Middlebrooks was raking the rest of the team seemed to feed off it. When he got hurt the offense went into the toilet, coinciding with a hot streak for Kevin Youkilis in Chicago. The organization as a whole will feel a lot better if Middlebrooks returns after the break and hits the way he did in May and June.
5. Fight club
Hate to promote violence and it’s not easy to create a brawl from scratch but many teams have come together amid a fracas. This is a team that could use a little dust-up, something to get a disparate group behind one another. At the very least it could serve as an outlet for frustration.