Five Red Sox subplots to watch the rest of the way
Five Red Sox subplots to watch the rest of the way
Now that the David Ortiz Fest -- you may know it by the more traditional "All-Star break'' - is over, the second half of the 2016 season resumes Friday.
Here are five storylines to watch over the next 2 1/2 months:
1) How much -- if any -- help can the Red Sox expect from Eduardo Rodriguez and Clay Buchholz?
Until further notice, these two represent the fourth and fifth spots in the Red Sox rotation. Rodriguez opens the second half with a start Friday night in Yankee Stadium, and Buchholz will rejoin the rotation -- by default -- sometime next week.
Together, the two combined for a 6.63 ERA in the first half but for the time being, the Red Sox have no alternatives but to give the ball to this duo. Sean O'Sullivan and Brian Johnson are on the DL, Henry Owens can't throw strikes at Triple A and Roenis Elias scared everybody off with his one audition.
Rodriguez, of course, has the best chance to contribute. He showed plenty last season and the stuff is not in question. But has he had enough time to re-work his mechanics so that his command is improved and he's not tipping pitches?
Buchholz, on the other hand, offers little hope. He's only 32 and ostensibly healthy, but he's contributed exactly one good start in the first 3 1/2 months. What basis is there to think that will change in the second half.
Dave Dombrowski continues to work the phones in search of a rotation upgrade, but any acquisition is probably two weeks away, meaning the Sox will have to make do with Rodriguez and Buchholz for the rest of the month.
2) Can David Ortiz stay healthy for the rest of the year?
Ortiz has been a monster, with a league-best OPS. Even at 40, he's the most dangerous hitter in the Red Sox lineup and the bat they could least afford to lose.
His feet and heels are more troublesome than anyone knew at the start of the season and the Red Sox must be careful with his playing time the rest of the way. Don't be surprised if Ortiz gets a couple of days off a week from here on out, to preserve him physically.
The All-Star break -- though it included travel and a couple of plate appearances in the All-Star Game -- probably did Ortiz some good, since he avoided running for four straight days.
Obtaining Aaron Hill may prove to be critical for the Sox, since his arrival would allow the Sox to play him regularly at third, with Travis Shaw switching to first and Hanley Ramirez to DH in the event Ortiz needs more time off, or, in a worst-case scenario, has to spend time on the DL.
That's better than relying on Marco Hernandez to get regular at-bats, but it's still far from optimum. The Sox have to everything they can to be careful with Ortiz. He remains essential to their bid for the postseason.
3) Will the Sox survive without Craig Kimbrel?
Yes, Kimbrel pitched poorly in non-save situations and his penchant for walks at the worst possible time can be infuritating. But he did lock down 17 saves in 19 opportunities and he has overpowering stuff -- when he can command it properly.
But now that Kimbrel is sidelined following knee surgery, the Sox find themselves short in the bullpen. Brad Ziegler was a nice pickup to bolster the late-inning depth. But the Red Sox already needed to improve the bullpen before Kimbrel went down with an injury; obtaining Zielger leaves them back where they started.
The big questions surrounds Koji Uehara's ability to close games for the next three-to-six weeks and Junichi Tazawa's health.
Uehara still has swing-and-miss stuff, but his eight homers allowed -- almost all on hanging split-finger fastballs -- is troubling to say the least. And if Tazawa's shoulder acts up again, the Red Sox are left with Zielger -- a ground-ball specialist -- and two essentially untested high-leverage relievers in Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes.
4) Are Andrew Benintendi or Yoan Moncada ready to contribute?
As good as Moncada has been -- both in Single A and Double A -- it's hard to imagine there's a spot for him this season. Moncada has played second base exclusively, and unless Dustin Pedroia sustains some sort of significant injury, there's no place for Moncada to play.
(Even if Pedroia goes down, the Sox would probably move Aaron Hill to second as a first option). Moncada has an explosive bat, but it's hard to envision him finding a spot in the lineup.
The chances for Benintendi being called upon are at least slightly better, if only because he's more advanced. This is his first full season of pro ball, but he dominated in college ball and might be a nice option in left if Chris Young isn't back soon and the Sox have to be careful with Brock Holt's post-concussion workload.
Dave Dombrowski has already said that Benintendi is ready defensively. If they believe his development wouldn't be slowed by spending time platooning in left, he could get a look.
5) How much help -- if any -- is on the way?
Dombrowski responded quickly with some depth moves, obtaining Hill, Ziegler and Michael Martinez in the span of three days, addressing some depth issues in the infield, outfield and bullpen.
Now comes the hard part: can Dombrowski get a starting pitcher of impact?
We know that he could land a Jeremy Hellickson-type, but really, how much of an upgrade would that be? Better than, say, Buchholz, but that's a rather low threshold to clear.
The real issue is, can Dombrowski get creative and land a solid No. 2 starter to slot in between David Price and Steven Wright/Rick Porcello. And, more to the point, can he do it without wiping out the Red Sox' inventory of top prospects?
A handful of top prospects -- Moncada, Benintendi, Anderson Espinoza, Michael Kopech -- would seem to be virtually untouchable. Would the next level down -- Rafael Devers, etc -- bring enough to make the rotation markedly better?