EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 7, 2013

Chris Smith's five red hot Red Sox thoughts

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — The Boston Red Sox just entered the fourth month of the season and came into this weekend with the best record in the American League. Who would have thought it?

Here are five Red Sox thoughts as the All-Star Break nears.

1. This offense would be in trouble without Ortiz:

If David Ortiz’s Achilles acts up the in second half and the DH misses any significant time, the Red Sox will have trouble maintaining their lead in the AL East race.

Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia have been monsters in the middle of the lineup.

Ortiz is posting MVP-caliber numbers. He entered yesterday batting .321 with a .409 on-base percentage, .615 slugging percentage, 1.024 OPS, 17 homers, 61 RBIs, 19 doubles and two triples in 252 at-bats.

The only area he could improve on is against lefties. He is batting .263 with a .308 OBP against southpaws compared to .320/.377 last year.

2. Red Sox could use another strikeout or sinker ball reliever:

Red Sox manager John Farrell recently mentioned his relievers are susceptible to a great deal of flyballs.

It later was asked of Farrell if he had any reliever he’d consider a ground ball pitcher in case one was needed in a bases-loaded, one-out type of situation.

Farrell said the best reliever for that situation is lefty Andrew Miller because of his high strikeout rate (14.1 strikeouts per nine innings). Farrell said he’d rather rely on a strikeout pitcher than ground ball pitcher in that situation.

That said, when the Red Sox try to upgrade their bullpen before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, they should add either a reliever with an effective sinker or another reliever with a high strikeout rate.

One strikeout pitcher internally that could be an option is Pawtucket fireballer Rubby De La Rosa.

Don’t rule out the possibility of De La Rosa being the closer of the Red Sox next year because of his electric fastball. Junichi Tazawa also will be in the running for the future closer job and might even take over the job in the next couple of months.

3. Buchholz could carry Sox in playoffs like Beckett in ‘07:

Clay Buchholz began the year 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his first 12 starts. That is Pedro Martinez-esque

But he hasn’t pitched since June 8. The Red Sox desperately need him healthy for the second half and playoffs (if they get that far). Buchholz certainly is an ace and has the ability to carry Boston in the playoffs like Josh Beckett did in 2007.

Starters John Lackey, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront all deserve credit for giving Boston a big boost with Buchholz on the DL and with Jon Lester struggling with his command.

But a healthy Buchholz is irreplaceable.

4. Middlebrooks and/or Bogaerts will contribute:

The Red Sox could use another right-handed hitter as the trade deadline nears. The offense has struggled against southpaws.

One internal option certainly is Will Middlebrooks who is down with the Pawtucket Red Sox after a horrific start in Boston. He had a two-homer game last Sunday and went 4 for 5 with two homers, a double and eight RBIs on Wednesday.

If either Will Middlebrooks or Red Sox top prospect Xander Bogaerts (another right-handed power hitter with more patience than Middlebrooks) is able to contribute significantly that would give an already dangerous lineup a big boost. Bogaerts recently was promoted to Pawtucket and is just 20 years old.

I’m confident one of these two players will play a big role at some point during the second half.

5. Great first half for the Red Sox minor leaguer pitchers:

Six of the top 10 prospects in the organization are pitchers. Four of them (Henry Owens, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa and Anthony Ranaudo) all are having very strong seasons.

It should be interesting to see how all six (including Matt Barnes and this year’s first-round draft pick Trey Ball) all pitch the remainder of the season.

Webster is in the Red Sox rotation now with Clay Buchholz on the DL and will need to be at his best if Buchholz continues to remain inactive for an extended time.

De La Rosa, a fireballer, very likely could be asked to work out of Boston’s bullpen during the second half of the season.

Ranaudo is 8-2 with a 2.67 ERA in 16 starts for Double-A Portland. It should be interesting to see if he earns a promotion to Pawtucket sometime in the next month or two.

Webster, De La Rosa and Ranaudo all could be important pitchers in Boston next year with Webster being the most likely of the three to start 2014 in Boston’s rotation.