Tag Archives: Florida Marlins

Random Thoughts on the NFL and MLB

NFL: Wednesday, I was sitting at the bar waiting for a friend to show up for dinner when I saw on Pardon the Interruption that the NFL is thinking of installing German microchip technology in footballs to help with goal line/first down calls.  Michael Wilbon argued that the NFL needed to embrace the technology.  He said that if there is technology to improve the product that sports should use it.  I, wholeheartedly, agree.  The NFL needs to make this change, and they need to make it soon.   I remember in the 1996-1997 playoffs, the Eagles were playing the 49ers in the Wild Card round.  During the game, which the Eagles lost 14-0, there was what looked like a sure first down taken from them when the officials placed the ball at an incorrect spot.  In addition to the poor spot, it seemed that the referee tilted the marker to deny the Eagles a first down.  While this could just be the clouded memory of a bitter fan, this scenario could not happen if the current technology existed at the time of the game.

Tennis already uses technology to help the chair umpires and lines people with in/out calls.  The “Hawk-Eye” technology uses high-speed video cameras to capture the flight path of the ball and comes up with a composite picture of where the ball landed on the court.  This has helped to eliminate some of the arguments, though not all, on calls during the match.  FIFA has toyed with the idea of installing this technology on the goal line, which would have helped during this year’s World Cup when Frank Lampard scored against Germany but neither the referee or the assistant saw the goal. FIFA has also explored adding the chip technology to their soccer balls, but again has been slow to accept the new technology.  I suspect that we may see changes soon due to the controversy generated following the World Cup.  While the technology the NFL is looking at is not Hawk-Eye technology, the principle is the same:  determine where the ball was at a given time and determine whether it crossed a line or not.

I am glad to see that the NFL is exploring the technology and I hope that FIFA and MLB will follow suit and embrace technology.  Think of all the controversial calls in the last few months that could have been avoided.  The Lampard “goal”. Armando Galarraga‘s “perfect game”.  There was even a call in last night’s Phillies/Marlins game (Gaby Sanchez‘s “hit” that was called foul) that might have gone the other way if MLB used chip or even replay technology.  Like Wilbon said, if there is technology to improve the product, use it!

MLB: The Red Sox found out yesterday that first baseman, Kevin Youkilis, will miss the rest of the season following thumb surgery.  This is a huge blow for a team that is trying to make up 5.5 games in the standings over the final 2 months of the season.  Going forward, I expect a platoon of Victor Martinez and Mike Lowell to cover the first base duties.  Neither is as good defensively as Youk, and Lowell’s bat is a shadow of its former self.  In addition, if Martinez plays first, somebody else will have to catch. With Varitek still on the DL, will we see newly acquired Jarrod Saltalamacchia called up?

This injury changes everything, as Youk has become the heart and soul of the line up.  With his bat missing, and Dustin Pedroiaweeks” away from being activated, the Sox are missing a good deal of their power potential.  While Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz, and Martinez are still in the line up, it has just become exponentially more difficult for the Sox to catch the Yankees and Rays.  This weekend’s series with the Yankees takes on even greater importance with Youk out.  The Sox have to hope that their rag-tag bunch of fill-ins can keep up their collective magic because the team can ill afford a poor series in the Bronx.

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A Week that Could Make or Break Contenders

With the trade deadline come and gone, pennant races throughout both leagues will heat up. In both the NL and AL East, the race has gotten much closer over the last week. The Phillies have pulled to within 2.5 games of the Braves. The Rays are a scant 1 game behind the Yankees after winning their weekend series. Trailing the AL East leaders, the Red Sox are making a run, having won 5 out of their last 6 games. This week could see some movement in the standings, as the contenders all have some tough games ahead of them (some against each other). With the races becoming so close, this week could propel a team into first place, or could crush the hopes of fans along the eastern seaboard.

With the Phillies looking to cut into the Braves' lead, Roy Halladay will go to the mound twice this week.

Both contenders in the NL East have tough weeks ahead of them. The Phillies start the week (on Tuesday) with a 3 game series against the Marlins in Florida, while the Braves take on the Mets in Atlanta.  The Braves and Mets have played 8 times this season, with the Mets owning a 5-3 advantage.  If the Mets can win the series, it will give the Phillies an opportunity to pick up a game of two on the NL East leaders.  While the opportunity certainly exists, the Mets had a horrible July (going 9-17), while the Braves own an MLB best 34-13 record at home.

The Phillies need to win their series with the Marlins, who are coming off a 16-10 July in order to keep pace with the Braves. With Ryan Howard hobbled by a sprained ankle, the Phillies might be without their most consistent offensive threat for some portion of the series. Howard believes he could be back in the lineup for the series opener on Tuesday, but you have to wonder if the Phillies will rest their slugger for a game or two using him for pinch hit duty if necessary. If Howard is rested, Ross Gload or Cody Ransom would likely start at first.  The Phillies will have Roy Halladay, Kyle Kendrick and Roy Oswalt going against the Fish.  Thankfully, the Phillies will avoid Josh Johnson, and will contend with Sean West, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad.  West and Volstad are middling pitchers, neither should scare the boys from South Philly.  Since both are going against superior pitchers, the Phillies are in a good place to win those games.  Will they win those games?  That is another story.  Both are winnable, but they have to go out and get the job done.  Sanchez, on the other hand, is a tough pitcher having a very good season (including a complete game shutout of the Giants in his last outing), and will pitch against Kendrick.  That game looks like the most likely loss for the Phillies; however, Kendrick has pitched well in his last two starts, throwing 13.1 innings, striking out 8 and giving up only 2 earned runs.  The Phillies are in an excellent position to win this series, even sweep it, but they have not performed well on the road.  Their road record currently stands at 23-30, they were just 3-11 on the road in July, and lost 2 of 3 to a Nationals team that is 17 games under .500 and was without their best pitcher in Stephen Strasburg.

Phillies fans will be rooting for Lincecum when he takes on the Braves this week (and not because he is on their fantasy team).

At the end of the week, the Braves will host the surging San Francisco Giants, while the Phillies will return home to the friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park to host the Mets.  The Braves will face the top of the Giants rotation, with Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito and Matt Cain pitching the first three games.  The series finale will see Jonathan Sanchez take on Derek Lowe.  The Giants won the last series between these two teams (2-1) and posted a .714 winning percentage in July (20-8).  Coming off a weekend sweep of the Dodgers, there is hope for Phillies’ fans.  San Francisco winning is a bit of a double-edged sword, as they are the current leaders in the Wild Card race and could put more distance between themselves and the Phillies.  Despite this fact, I know that I will be rooting for the boys in orange and black (it seems natural for a Philly sports fan, no?).

While the Braves take on the Giants, the Phillies will renew their rivalry with the Mets.  The Mets currently own a 4-2 edge in the season series, but as stated above have been less than stellar over the past month.   The Phillies will face Hisanori Takahashi, Jonathon Niese, and Johan Santana during the three games series, and will counter with Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels and Halladay.  Takahashi was tough on the Phillies in his only start against them this season, pitching 6 innings of shutout ball, striking out 6.  Though, if Blanton can pitch even moderately well, the Phillies should have a chance to win all three games.  Hamels is a better pitcher than Niese, and has been on fire lately.  The Phillies may not face Niese though, as there are rumors that his turn in the rotation will be skipped after he was blasted by the Diamondbacks in his last start.  Sunday’s match up between Santana and Halladay should be a great one, as two of the best pitchers over the last decade will be squaring off.  The last time Santana faced the Phillies he had one of the worst outings of his career, giving up 10 runs in 3.2 innings; and the Cardinals pounded him in his last start, scoring 7 runs in 5.2 innings.

Given the Phillies play of late, I think they pick up a couple of games this week, placing them in excellent position to retake the division lead within the next couple of weeks.  Of course, this prediction is predicated on Ryan Howard coming back to play most of the week.  Without Howard in the lineup, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez would need to continue their torrid post-All-Star play for the Phillies to have a chance.

There hasn't been much good in Cleveland sports for the last several months, and it is unlikely to change against the Sox at Fenway.

Turning our focus to the Al East, the Sox have a massive opportunity to cut into their deficit.  They start the week playing four games against a Cleveland team that just traded its best starter (Jake Westbrook) to the Cardinals, and one of its best offensive weapons (Austin Kearns) and its closer (Kerry Wood) to the Yankees.  The pitching matchups clearly favor the Sox, with John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka lined up for the series.  While the Sox will have to contend with Fausto Carmona in the first game, the pitcher for the 2nd game of the series is undecided, former Sox player Justin Masterson will pitch the third game, and Josh Tomlin, a 25-year-old rookie with 2 starts to  his name (though he has been impressive in those two starts, giving up just 2 runs over 12.1 innings) will start the finale.  While these games might seem like locks, the Sox are only 2-2 against the Indians this season, despite Cleveland’s season-long mediocrity. With momentum from two straight walk-off wins, the Sox are in an excellent position to win 3 or 4 of the games against the Indians.   As for their competition in the AL East, The Yankees face the Blue Jays in New York, while the Rays face white-hot Twins (9-1 in their last 10 games) at Tropicana Field.  Neither series will be easy for the teams with the two best records in baseball.  If either falters, the Sox need to take advantage by winning a very winnable series.

Following the series against the Indians, the Sox will travel to the Bronx to take on the Yankees for 4 games.  Just 3-5 against the Bronx Bombers this season, the Sox cannot afford to lose this series if they want to have a realistic shot of catching the Yankees.  The already potent Yankees lineup was augmented through two trades just before the deadline.  They captured the aforementioned Kearns (8 HR, 42 RBI, .271 avg, and .768 OPS), as well as Lance Berkman from the Astros.  Berkman, a shadow of his former MVP caliber self, still has some pop and fits in excellently at DH.  The Big Puma has struggled at the plate this year, batting just .242 – by far the lowest of his career, but still has 13 HR and a .794 OPS.  He provides an upgrade at DH over the oft-injured Nick Johnson, and can spell Mark Teixeira at first base.  Because the series is 4 games, the Sox aren’t lucky enough to avoid C.C. Sabathia, who will pitch Saturday’s game against Lackey.  The first game will pit Clay Buchholz against Javier Vazquez, while Sunday’s game will be a battle of former Marlins with Beckett taking on A.J. Burnett.  This series presents the Sox with an opportunity to cut into the Yankees’ lead, the question is can they do it?  While the Sox and Yanks battle in the Bronx, the Rays will be taking on Toronto in Tampa, not exactly an easy series.  Pending the outcome of the Sox-Yankess series, the Rays could find themselves in first place at the end of the week.

Big Papi and his clutch hitting have returned for the Red Sox. Will it continue against the Yankees?

I think the Sox will carry their new-found momentum through the Cleveland series, winning at least 3 of the games.  The biggest test of the season for the Sox will come starting Friday.  With their offense and pitching back on track, the Sox have a good chance to split the series with the Yankees.  If they can win the series, they will have passed their biggest test, and shaved at least 2 games off the Yankees lead.

Right now, the Phillies have a 31.9 % chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus, while the Sox have a 26.5% chance.  Hopefully, both the Sox and Phillies take care of business this week.   One of my teams needs to make the playoffs!

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The First Annual Rally Cap First Half Awards

Biggest SurpriseSan Diego Padres. At the halfway point of the season, the San Diego Padres have to be considered the biggest surprise in baseball. Over the winter there was speculation the Padres would trade hometown hero, Adrian Gonzalez in an effort to start yet another rebuilding phase. The Padres hung on to Gonzalez and are glad they did, as he leads the team in nearly every major offensive category. Led by pitching staff that ranks first in the majors in ERA and second in shutouts. The staff is, surprisingly, led by 22-year old Mat Latos. Latos has been a revelation in his first full season in the majors. Latos has posted a 2.45 ERA, is averaging 3.54 strikeouts per walk, and has compiled a 10-4 record. In addition to Latos, the Padres are getting solid seasons form Jon Garland, Clayton Richard, and Wade LeBlanc. Combine the great starting pitching with a pitcher-friendly park and a lights out bullpen (2.91 ERA and 25 saves) and you have the Padres going into the Break with the 2nd best record in the National League. Runner-up: Cincinnati Reds. The Red have not had a winning season since 2000 and find themselves 1 game up on the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central.

Biggest Disappointment Seattle Mariners. On the opposite end of the spectrum (and West Coast) from the Padres are the Seattle Mariners.  Seattle, finished 85-77 last season, and made moves to bolster their team over the offseason.  They signed Chone Figgins to a 4 year, $36 million contract in an effort to get better defensively at second base, but also in an effort to add more speed to the top of their order.  For their investment, the Mariners have gotten a .235 average, with 22 RBI, 24 SB and 9 errors from Figgins.  These numbers are far below Figgins’ career averages and clearly not worth the money they are spending.  If you compare Figgins with the man he essentially replaced (Adrian Beltre) the Mariners sure do look foolish.  Beltre is having a great season with the Red Sox and signed a 1-year contract worth $9 million (the same amount as Figgins for over twice the production).  In addition to Figgins, the Mariners traded for former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee (now shipped to Texas) and temperamental slugger Milton Bradley.  The pairing of Lee with Felix Hernandez was supposed to solidify the top of the rotation and Bradley was supposed to provide some pop in the middle of the order.  While Lee pitched exceptionally well, Bradley imploded (he’s hitting .210 with just 8 HR).   The Mariners clearly have given up on this season, shipping Lee to the Rangers for prospects.  It will be interesting to see if any other players are traded and how the Mariners play in the 2nd half.  Runner-up: Chicago Cubs. A year after finishing 5 games above .500, the Cubs (with the 3rd highest payroll in MLB) are 11 games under .500 going into the Break.

First Half NL Cy YoungJosh Johnson, Florida Marlins.  The race for the first half NL Cy Young was a close one, with at least 4 pitchers having legitimate cases for the award.  In the end, the award goes to the Marlins’ big right-hander.  Johnson has been nothing short of stellar this season, posting the lowest ERA in the majors (1.70).  Sure Ubaldo Jimenez has a more impressive record and excellent stats, Roy Halladay has a perfect game and more complete games than all but 2 teams, and Adam Wainwright has put up stellar numbers across the board.  Johnson has put up equally impressive numbers as the aforementioned trio.  He has averaged 9.07 strikeouts per 9 innings, has more strikeouts than innings pitched, and a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.39.  Johnson has not given up more than 4 runs in a game all season (and that game was the first of the year), and has walked only 28 batters in 122 innings.  Opponents are hitting just .203 against him.  His consistency, control, ability to make hitters swing and miss, and ERA make him my choice for the first half Cy Young.  Runners-up: Ubaldo Jimenez , Roy Halladay, Adam Wainwright

First Half AL Cy Young – David Price, Tampa Bay Rays.  The AL doesn’t have nearly as many dominant pitching performers as the National League.  The 2nd year man is my choice for the first half AL Cy Young.  Price leads the Rays’ pitching staff, which is 4th in the league in ERA and has led the Rays to the 2nd best record in the majors.  Price has pitched 2 complete games, 1 shutout, and has the lowest ERA in the AL.  In addition, he is tied for the AL lead with 12 wins and opponents are hitting just .223 against him.  Runners-up: Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez, C.C. Sabathia

First Half NL MVP – Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds.  It is truly amazing that Joey Votto had to wait for MLB’s Final Vote to make the All-Star game.  He has been awesome this season.  He’s hit 22 home runs, driven in 60 runs, has the highest OPS (1.011) in the National League, and is batting .314.  Through in 4 stolen bases and a .997 fielding percentage and Votto is deserving choice for first half MVP.  Runners-up: Albert Pujols, Adam Dunn

First Half AL MVP – Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers. This decision was the easiest of the awards.  Cabrera is pushing for the Triple Crown this season.  He leads the league with a .346 BA and 77 RBI, and is second in home runs with 22.  Cabrera also leads the league in OPS.  If Cabrera can keep up his current pace, he would become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.  Runner-up: Josh Hamilton.  In virtually any other year, Hamilton would have a case to win the award.  Like Cabrera, he has a .346 batting average and 22 homers.  He has 64 RBI and an OPS of 1.015.

First Half NL Rookie of the Year – Jaime Garcia, St. Louis Cardinals.  The race for rookie of the year in the National League is between two pitchers.  My choice for the first half ROY is the Cardinals’ lefty.  He has posted an 8-4 record in 17 starts with a 2.17 ERA.  He has a strikeout ratio of 7.22 K/9 and has been the 2nd best pitcher on the Cards’ staff.  Runner-up: Mike Leake.  Leake has been the 2nd best pitcher for the Reds, which is made even more impressive by the fact that he never pitched in the minors.

First Half AL Rookie of the Year – Brennan Boesch, Detroit Tigers. The race in the AL is between two Detroit outfielders.  For me, the choice is Boesch.  Since being called up in late April, Boesch has been on fire.  He is 4th in the league in batting average, at .342.  He has hit 12 homer runs, driven in 49 runs, and his OPS is .990.  Runner-up: Austin Jackson.  If not for his teammate, Jackson would be the front-runner.  He’s batting .300, with 20 RBI and 14 SB.  He has been a catalyst at the top of the Tigers’ order and the clear prize in the trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees.

NL Manager of the First Half – Bud Black, San Diego Padres. See entry on the Padres as surprise team of the first half.

AL Manager of the First Half Ron Washington, Texas Rangers. Washington has rebounded nicely after a summer of turmoil in which it was revealed that he tested positive for cocaine during the 2009 season.  The Rangers are 4.5 games up in the AL West (the largest lead in the league) and look poised to make a run to their first playoff appearance since 1999.

The First Half is in the Books

Just as the World Cup ended yesterday, so too did the first half of the Major League Baseball season.  As fans and teams settle into the All-Star Break, it is time to reflect on the roughly 3 months of baseball already played.  Thankfully, we have plenty of time to do that, as today and Wednesday are the only two days in the year when there is not a game in one of the four major sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL).

Looking back, the first half of the season has been a bit of a see-saw for both of my teams.  The Phillies started strong, but then entered a month-long slump that saw them fall out of first place.  The Red Sox started poorly, only to rebound to within .5 games of first place and then fade before the Break.

Phillies – The Phillies started quickly, compiling an 8-2 record over their first 10 games, and avoided another terrible April by going 13-10 in the first month of the season.  On May 11, the Phillies were 20-12 and had a 5.5 game lead on the Atlanta Braves.  What a difference a month makes, as one month ago the Phillies had lost that lead and sat 2.5 games behind Atlanta.  A swing of 8 games!  The dramatic turn of events can be attributed to a month-long slump and far better play by the Braves.  The shear totality of the slump was, and still is, most disconcerting.  It seemed the entire offense forgot how to swing (with the possible exceptions of Placido Polanco and Ryan Howard).  Howard has had a great first half.  While he has slightly fewer home runs and RBI than last season, his batting average is 34 points higher.  If Howard heats up after the Break, the way he usually does, his numbers this season could be among his best ever.  Jayson Werth, who started the season looking like an MVP candidate but cooled off over the course of the team-wide slump.  Chase Utley had hit 10 homers by May 20 and has hit 1 since then!  The slump seems to have coincided with Jimmy Rollins‘ brief return from injure and his quick return to the DL.  Rollins, while not a prototypical lead-off hitter, is the spark plug of the offense, when his speed/power combination was out of the lineup, the Phillies’ offense sputtered.  If you compare the offense over the first half with last year, you will find that the Phillies have played 1 more game this season but have scored 50 fewer runs!  That is an average of .57 runs per game less than last season.  They have hit 31 fewer home runs (122 last year, 91 this year), and are worse in every offensive category except triples (21 this year, 15 last year).

This lack of offense has hurt the Phillies’ pitching, which currently ranks 6th in ERA in the national league.  While the pitching staff has an ERA of 3.92, far better than last year when the staff posted an ERA of 4.61 before the Break, the Phillies offense has scored 4.72 runs per game.  This lack of run support has been most noticeable when Roy Halladay is on the mound.  When Doc pitches the Phillies average 3.8 runs per game, or nearly 1 run fewer than their average.  When a pitcher has a 2.19 ERA, there is no way he should have 7 losses before the Break.  He probably shouldn’t have 7 losses in a season.  I’m not sure what causes the Phillies to forget hot to hit when Doc is on the mound.  Are they complacent, thinking he will pitch another perfect game?  Have the myriad injuries affected the Phillies approach at the plate?  Nobody can know for sure outside of the Phillies’ clubhouse.  Cole Hamels has been better this season, posting an ERA over 1 run lower (3.78 this year, 4.87 last year).  While he hasn’t quite recaptured the form that made him the World Series MVP in 2008, he has looked much better than the guy who wished the season was over during the World Series last year.  The rest of the staff has been shaky at best, with some great performances (see Jamie Myer’s two complete games) and some terrible performances (virtually all of Joe Blanton‘s starts, and about half of Kyle Kendrick‘s).  Hopefully, J.A. Happ will return after the Break to bolster the rotation or the Phillies will make a trade or two to reinforce the pitching staff.

Injuries certainly haven’t helped the Phillies with Rollins, Utley, Polanco, and Carlos Ruiz all missing time due to injuries.  The bullpen has also been injured, with Brad Lidge, Chad Durbin, and Ryan Madson all missing games.  This hasn’t helped, as the bullpen has been a weak spot.  Players are being thrust into roles they are unaccustomed to, and haven’t been performing.  One of the few standouts has been Jose Contreras, who filled in as closer when both Lidge and Madson were out.  He performed admirably and has a 2.79 ERA in the first half.  While the subs have played fairly well across the board, clearly the Phillies have missed having their normal line up performing together.

As it stands right now, the Phillies are 4.5 games out of first place in the NL East, and 1.5 behind the Rockies and Dodgers for the Wild Card. As mentioned in previous posts, the Phillies have produced great results after the Break, playing .599 ball over last 5 seasons.  The Phillies swept the NL Central leading, Cincinnati Reds just before the Break and have a great chance to continue momentum as they play the Cubs for four games starting Thursday.  My bold prediction is that the Phillies will storm back to win the division, as the Braves fade down the stretch and the Mets remember they’re the Mets and choke sometime in September.

Red Sox – I wish that the Phillies could have had the luck in replacing their injuries that the Red Sox have had.  At various points this season, it seems that virtually ever major Red Sox player has been injured.  Dustin Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, and Jason Varitek have all missed significant amounts of time.  J.D. DrewKevin Youkilis, Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre (and they have all missed a couple of games).  In the rotation, has also missed more than a few games.  It seem the only starters (in the field) to avoid missing major amounts of time have been Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Clay Buchholz have all spent time on the DL.  Only Jon Lester and John Lackey have avoided the injury bug.  What is truly amazing about the Red Sox’s situation is that they are still in contention despite all of the injuries.  They have been very lucky to get the kind of production they have received from their prospects and minor league call-ups.  Daniel Nava, a 27 year-old rookie outfielder, has done more than just occupy an outfield position.  He has hit .300 with 16 RBI in 24 games for the Sox.  Bill Hall (on the opening day roster, so not a call-up) has provided some pop and played 6 different positions.  Darnell McDonald, who never played more than 47 games in a season, has already played in 68 for the Sox, driving in 24 runs and hitting 6 homers.  All of this production is a bonus when a team is trying to fight this many injuries.

At the beginning of the season, the Red Sox stated that their philosophy was to win with pitching and defense.  Many people (including me) wondered who was going to drive in the runs.  Beltre hasn’t had a really good season since 2004 with the Dodgers.  David Ortiz looked a shadow of himself over the last season and a half.  Even Pedroia’s production had fallen off from his 2008 MVP season.  I thought that Youk would have to shoulder most of the offensive load, and that the Sox would lose a ton of low scoring games.  Nobody, except maybe Paul the Octopus, could have predicted the way the Sox were going to win their games in the first half.  The Sox have, unexpectedly, used offense not pitching to win their games.  Currently, the Sox rank 22nd in the majors in ERA and 11th in fielding percentage; however, they are 1st in runs scored, 3rd in batting average and 2nd in home runs.  While Youk does lead the team in most of the offensive categories, Papi has found some of his old swagger, Beltre is having his best season since the aforementioned 2004 campaign, Pedroia’s production has gone up from last season, and Martinez has been solid.

While it may look like the pitching is not living up to the off-season hype, Lester and Buchholz have been phenomenal.  Both pitchers have sub-3 ERAs (Lester – 2.78, Buchholz 2.45).  Lackey, the Sox’s premier off-season signing, has not lived up to his large contract.  I saw this coming, as Lackey had a 4.44 ERA over the previous 3 seasons at Fenway Park.  I remember going to game a couple of seasons ago thinking I was going to see a good game.  Buchholz was starting for the Sox, Lackey for the Angels.  Instead of seeing a great pitching match-up, Lackey was knocked from the game after giving up 7 runs in 4 innings.  While Lackey does have a winning record this season, those numbers are a bit deceiving, as the Sox have given him 5.4 runs of support.  It’s pretty easy to win when your team is scoring that many runs per game when you pitch.  This reminds me a bit of Beckett’s career with the Sox.  He has had double-digit win totals every year in Boston, but has not posted an ERA under 3.27.  As a matter of fact, he won 16 games his first season in Boston (2006).  Maybe Lackey will rebound with a strong 2nd half, but so far he hasn’t been worth the money.  Dice-K has been his usual injured, erratic self and has not really helped the Sox much this season.  He has had a very up-and-down season.  The Sox need him to pitch better in the 2nd half if they hope to make a run to the playoffs.

Heading into the Break, the Sox are 5 games behind the Yankees for the AL East lead and are 3 behind Tampa for the Wild Card.  Over the past five seasons, the Red Sox have posted a .551 winning percentage after the Break while posting a .598 winning percentage before the Mid-Summer Classic.  Hopefully, the Sox will be able to avoid what has become their patented post-Break swoon, as they would finish with 91 wins if they played .551 ball.  On the other hand, if they keep winning at their current pace, the Sox would finish with 94 wins.  Those three games could be crucial because unless something changes dramatically, the three teams at the top of the AL East will fight for 2 playoffs spots.  One team, likely with a very good record, will be watching at home come October.  The Sox face a tough task after the Break, as they play the AL West leading Texas Rangers and newly acquired ace Cliff Lee.