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Friday, July 20, 2012

Red Sox Set to Turn Tables in Second Half?

BOSTON, MA - JULY 06:  Jacoby Ellsbury #2 of t...
The Red Sox have plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the second half of the season. Jacoby Ellsbury's return is perhaps the biggest of all.  (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
The first half of the season was nothing short of a disaster for Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox. There were too many contributing factors to list here, but I'll sum it up and say that injuries, mediocre starting pitching and "clubhouse issues" all played a part in turning Boston into just another team in the AL East.

In a short sample since the second half got underway, the Red Sox have largely resembled a completely different ball-club. The injuries that made for a forgettable first half are healing and the result thus far has been what Ben Cherington envisioned while putting together the 25-man roster in the offseason.

Battling the types of injuries that Bobby Valentine was forced to this season makes it quite hard to get your team in a winning pattern, or as we've witnessed, any sort of pattern at all. Perhaps the first half would have been bearable if the Sox just consistently stunk, instead of flashing championship-caliber play only to entrench themselves in another losing streak.

Having dynamic players like Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford (When he finds his groove) in the lineup every day changes the outlook of a baseball game in many ways. Just look at the impact Ellsbury has had already. Seven games, hits in five, multi-hits in four, giving him a .355 BA since returning from the disabled list.

Carl Crawford has played four games since making his season debut this past week. It's a small sample, but the left fielder is 6-14 with 6 runs scored and 3 stolen bases. All of his knocks have been singles, but batting second in the order, all he has to do is get to first base. So far he's done so in exactly half of his at-bats.

BOSTON, MA - MAY 11:  Manager Bobby Valentine ...
After struggling mightily in the early months of the season, Clay Buchholz has returned to the form that garnered him consideration for the '10 Cy Young Award.  (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
Dustin Pedroia didn't spend nearly as much time on the shelve as the other two mentioned, but anytime he's out of the lineup and off the field, Boston misses his presence. Having him back is as important as any other aspect of the team, even with his struggles this season. We know Pedey, which means we also know he can carry the team through August and September if he's healthy. That's the hope.

Offsetting the returns of these three was the revelation that David Ortiz will spend 15 days on the disabled list, but the good news is, it shouldn't be a prolonged stay. The hot bats of Cody Ross, Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury should help to carry the load until Big Papi can return to the lineup.

With all this being said of the offense, it will be the pitching that determines the fate of the Boston Red Sox this season. If struggling starters Jon Lester and Josh Beckett can't get their act together, don't expect a deep run into the playoffs this season. It's true when they say offense sells tickets, but pitching wins ball games. That's been the big issue all season.

Clay Buchholz did his best to instill confidence last night, throwing eight stellar innings of one-run ball against the Chicago White Sox. The bat of Cody Ross may have sent the Red Sox into the win-column, but it was Buchholz' effort that truly won the game. Had he given up 5 earned runs, Ross' homer would have been another number in the box score.

We'll see in the coming weeks if Lester, Beckett and the rest of the rotation can carry Boston to a run at the World Series. Right now, the chances of at least a playoff run look pretty good at just one game behind the Angels and Tigers in the wild card. The offense appears to be clicking and it should only get better when Ortiz returns. So, can the Red Sox turn the tables in the second half?

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