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The Red Sox offence needs to improve if the team has a shot of climbing
in the AL East standings, and the return of a healthy Shane Victorino could
give the team the boost it needs at the plate. (AP photo David J. Phillip)

Jan-Christian Sorensen Contributing Writer

Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington is at the make-or-break point that determines whether Boston will stock up or hold a fire sale at the MLB trade deadline.

With the Sox winners of four of five games heading into the All-Star Break — even if two of those were against the 40-56 Houston Astros — fans at least have a reason to be optimistic that the Old Towne Team can make a second-half turnaround.

But at 9.5 games out and tied with Tampa Bay for last place in the American League East, will the Sox be able to make a serious run at even a wild-card slot?

Looking at how the first half of the season played out, it’s questionable whether the Sox have both the time and the talent to right the ship and leapfrog the three teams currently ahead of them in the division, but if Cherington opts to shore up some trouble spots through shrewd trades, anything’s possible.

The Sox GM said on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan show Thursday that he hasn’t given up hope that his squad can mount a second-half surge, and admitted that while the odds are stacked against them, there’s no reason to count Boston out yet.

“We’re going to do whatever we feel gives the Red Sox the best chance to be as good as possible as quickly as possible, and we are not conceding 2014 with that statement,” he said. “We’ve put ourselves in this position, so the math is working against us a little bit, but stranger things have happened. We don’t see why we can’t win more games than most of the teams ahead of us.”

Here are three key areas where the Sox need to improve if they hope to contend for a playoff slot and defend their World Series title:

Angles in the Outfield — Perhaps the most glaring trouble spot in the first half of the season came in the outfield, where the feel-good Grady Sizemore experiment ultimately failed, Mike Carp and Shane Victorino spent extended spells on the disabled list and Jackie Bradley, Jr. hasn't quite been able to fill the departed Jacoby Ellsbury’s shoes at the plate. While Brock Holt has been a welcome surprise at every single position he’s played, the Red Sox need the Flyin’ Hawaiian back in right and producing at the plate (Victorino is scheduled to return as soon as this weekend’s series against Kansas City) and Jonny Gomes (.234, 5 HR, 30 RBI) to heat up, as well as some timely hits and swing consistency from Bradley, Jr. If Cherington opts to ship in a decent bat before the deadline and Victorino, Gomes and Bradley, Jr. can start to show some decent support for their starters and bullpen, the Sox could improve upon what has been a disappointing offensive season from the outfield thus far.

Run Support Rapport — The Red Sox bats simply haven’t had the swagger and pop they did last season, and it’s been the Boston pitching that has bearing the brunt — specifically Jake Peavy, who is 1-8 with a 4.59 ERA on the year. In those eight losses, Peavy’s teammates only tacked on a dozen runs. And of Boston’s 52 losses thus far, 19 have been of the one-run-deficit variety. Red Sox batters are currently 21st in all of baseball with runners on (.251) and runners in scoring position (.242). Overall, the team is 25th in runs, 22nd in batting average (.246) and 27th in slugging percentage (.371). Again, if Cherington can add a big bat or two and the current sluggers can find their form and string together the same sort of offensive output the team is normally known for, the wins will start coming and the ground can be gained in the AL East.

Chemistry Set — It may only be a coincidence that once the Red Sox designated A.J. Pierzynski for assignment the team reeled off four victories in five games, including two dramatic wins of the walk-off variety. But it could also be a classic case of “addition by subtraction”, and Pierzynski — who has never been a player ranked high on the likeability scale — apparently was a polarizing presence in the locker room and dugout. The Red Sox also injected a shot of some much-needed excitement, enthusiasm and energy to the clubhouse and Red Sox Nation when they added up-and-coming young talent in the form of Holt, Mookie Betts and Christian Vazquez. With a number of hot prospects waiting for their shot like LHPs Anthony Ranaudo and Henry Owens and IF/OF Garin Cecchini — and the potential return of Victorino and Will Middlebrooks — Boston can hopefully improve its camaraderie and try to replicate the same stripe of against-all-odds, underdog spirit that carried the team all the way to the World Series title last year.

Keep the Faith. Drink the Dirty Water. Connect with me on Twitter: @jan_doh

Jan-Christian Sorensen 7/18/2014 05:41:00 PM Edit
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