Key series for Red Sox before trade deadline
Key series for Red Sox before trade deadline
By Jimmy Toscano
The Red Sox find themselves 6 1/2 games out of first place as the second half of the season begins tonight. Are they buyers or sellers? Perhaps they don't do much at the trade deadline either way, but we should have a better idea about their playoff chances by then.
Let’s take a look at the four series they’ll be playing between now and July 31, to try and get an idea of where they’ll stand on Deadline Day.
at Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, July 17-20
STRENGTHS: After a slow start offensively, the Angels are hitting their stride at the plate. They're second in the American League in July in runs (66), home runs (17), RBI (63), team batting average (.307), and slugging percentage (.503), and first in on-base percentage (.369). Their pitching has been good this season, but average in July. That said, coming out of the break they'll line up their best starters for the four games against the Sox.
WEAKNESSES: "Weaknesses" would be a bit of an overstatement for this team right now, but you could say that they don't exactly have a very deep lineup. If Sox pitchers can keep runners off the base paths, they'll be able to pitch around Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, which leads us to . . .
BE ON THE WATCH FOR: Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. This is the Angels’ two-headed monster right now. Both players made the All-Star team, Pujols took part in the Home Run Derby, and Trout was the All-Star Game MVP. Trout is batting .312 with 26 home runs and 55 RBI while Pujols is proving he's still got the pop as he's hitting .255 with 26 home runs and 56 RBI. Trout and Pujols rank tied for second (with Bryce Harper) in MLB in home runs, behind Giancarlo Stanton (27).
THE SKINNY: This is a huge series for the Sox to start the second half. At 6 1/2 games out of first place, a split wouldn't be such a bad thing. Granted, they can't go .500 the rest of the month, but against a hot team in Anaheim, they'd take it. Anything worse and they're in serious trouble, as the Yankees kick things off at home against a bad Mariners team.
at Houston Astros, July 21-23
STRENGTHS: This is a team that came into the season with no expectations except to develop its young players. Now the Astros are a playoff contender. They've been solid all-around, including the emergence of pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who earned the starting nod in the All-Star game. But -- and this is a big but -- it doesn't look like Keuchel will pitch against the Sox. That's a big break.
WEAKNESSES: Perhaps the Astros are their own biggest enemy right now. They're a team that, up until a couple weeks ago, had a pretty firm grip on the A.L. West. Now they're looking up at the Angels. So, how will a very young team respond to a bit of adversity? Perhaps a punch to the face in Game 1 of the series could knock them off their feet.
BE ON THE WATCH FOR: Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. The shortstop position is pretty weak in the A.L., but Correa and Xander Bogaerts may stage a nice who’s-better? battle for the next 10 or 15 years. Correa has played in just 32 games but has more than shown he belongs, batting .276 with 7 homers and 19 RBI.
THE SKINNY: Let's say the Sox do split with the Angels, and the Yankees take two out of three against Seattle (they have Monday off). That puts the Sox seven games behind with 11 days before the trade deadline. It's pretty simple math that they don't really have any wiggle room. The Sox took two out of three from the Astros in Boston -- and had a chance to sweep == earlier this month. A sweep in Houston (where the Astros are excellent at home) would be a tall task, though if the ‘Stros continue to slip, who knows?
vs. Detroit Tigers, July 24-26
STRENGTHS: All season, their strength has been their hitting. The Tigers come into the second half ranked third in MLB in runs scored (398) and first in team batting average (.281). Whether it's J.D. Martinez (.289 average, 25 HR, 59 RBI), Yoenis Cespedes (.297, 13, 51), Jose Iglesias (.314), or the next guy, they come at you. Justin Verlander looked like the Verlander of old in his last start, too. But . . .
WEAKNESSES: The Tigers have one very big weakness right now, and it's that their best player, Miguel Cabrera, is on the disabled list and not expected to return until August. The Tigers were still tearing the cover off the ball in July, leading the A.L. in most offensive categories, but it hasn't been translating to wins, and Cabrera is obviously the backbone of that offense.
BE ON THE WATCH FOR: How Detroit does in the two series prior to playing the Sox. The Tigers start the second half of the season with seven games at home against the Orioles and Mariners. As it stands, they're still in the wild-card hunt, but nine games behind the Royals in the division. If things don't go well to start the second half, they could be in sell mode by the time they head to Boston.
THE SKINNY: The Tigers and Red Sox are in similar situations as the second half of the season begins, so it'll be interesting to see where each team is with just a handful of days before the trade deadline. Just as the Sox missed Dallas Keuchel, they're also scheduled to miss David Price, who has far and away been Detroit’s best pitcher.
vs. Chicago White Sox, July 27-30
STRENGTHS: Um, uh . . . okay, well, it's got to be their pitching because their offensive has been invisible for most of the season. And when you look at their latest stretch of winning baseball, it's solely because of pitching. Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, and Jose Quintana make up a strong top three when they're all on. Sale is a Cy Young candidate and Quintana is one of the more underrated pitchers in the game.
WEAKNESSES: This is probably the worst offense in baseball. They're ranked last in runs (292), 24th in team batting average (.241), last in on-base percentage (.294) and last in slugging percentage (.355). Jose Abreu has had a quieter second season after lighting up the league in his rookie season, though he's still their best bat. He's at .296 with 14 homers and 46 RBI. Not enough help, though.
BE ON THE WATCH FOR: We already talked about Abreu being the team's only offense. Other than that, there isn't much. Here's something though: Reliever Frankie Montas is being called up out of the break. He was traded from the Red Sox to the White Sox in the Jake Peavy deal two seasons ago. He hits 100 MPH, so perhaps the Sox will get a look at him. Nate Jones is another young reliever who hits 100 and could be joining the White Sox by this time.
THE SKINNY: We talked about the White Sox strong pitching staff, but will any of them (aside from Sale) be on the team when they head to Boston? The odds are that the White Sox will be sellers, and they definitely have a couple pitchers in Samardzija and Quintana that playoff contenders would love to add to their rotation. Samardzija especially could be on the move. Regardless, this is a series in which the Red Sox should be thinking sweep or bust.