Red Sox aim to get back into contention after break
Boston hopes strong first-half finish continues into second half
BOSTON -- When the Red Sox arrived to Spring Training back in February, their goal was to become the first repeat World Series champions since the 2000 Yankees.
When they return to work for the second half on Friday against the Royals, manager John Farrell's team will simply be trying to get back into contention.
It has been a difficult start to the season for the Red Sox, who have been plagued repeatedly by the inability to hit with men on base. Boston did finish the half strong, winning four out of five before the All-Star break.
"We recognize the struggles of the first half," Farrell said. "But to go into the break with some momentum, it's something that we are hopeful we'll continue to build on. We haven't conceded anything. We know that there's a little bit of a hole to climb out of, but this is a confident group that's playing well right now."
Five key developments so far
1. Bradley's emergence in center
Though he is still trying to gain more consistency at the plate, Jackie Bradley Jr. has turned into an elite center fielder in his rookie season. Bradley seems to make a spectacular catch or a strong throw multiple times a week.
2. The rise of Holt
When Brock Holt didn't win a roster spot in Spring Training, barely anyone noticed. But when he was called up for good in May, the left-handed hitter and versatile fielder started playing at a level nobody could have anticipated.
|MVP: Brock Holt
From not even making the team out of Spring Training to becoming an indispensable leadoff man, Holt has been the story of the first half for the Red Sox.
|Top starter: Jon Lester
The power lefty has been the definition of an ace this season, giving the Red Sox durability and dominance.
|Top rookie: Holt
The left-handed hitter has proven to be invaluable at the plate and in the field, where he's played all over the infield and outfield.
|Top reliever: Koji Uehara
Though it was unrealistic to expect Uehara to repeat his form of last season, he's come pretty close.
3. Miller's strong comeback
When Andrew Miller missed the second half of last season with a left foot injury, it was fair to wonder how quickly he could regain his mechanics. Miller has answered the questions with a mostly dominant first half.
4. Rubby's arrival
After a couple of years of hype, righty Rubby De La Rosa finally seems ready to put it together as a Major League starter. Look for De La Rosa to be a fixture every five days in the second half.
5. Vazquez's promotion
The Red Sox figured Christian Vazquez would become part of their catching solution in 2015. Instead, it happened on July 9, the same day A.J. Pierzynski was released. Vazquez is already a plus defender and has shown early signs he can hit in the Majors.
Five storylines to keep an eye on in the second half
1. Lester's contract
Jon Lester has been an anchor for the Red Sox for several years, and it would be hard to imagine the club without him. Will the lefty agree to a new contract before he reaches free agency in November? After putting together a dominant run last October, Lester seems to be pitching with more confidence than at any other point in his career.
2. Victorino's health
Plagued by hamstring and back woes, Shane Victorino has barely been able to give the Red Sox anything so far this season. He was a difference-maker in 2013, and could give the club a jolt if he can at last get healthy. Victorino could return from his latest Minor League rehab assignment shortly after the All-Star break.
Second-half players to watch
After some mighty struggles late in the first half, the Red Sox hope Bogaerts can start hitting up to his potential in the second half.
Considering that his contract expires at the end of the season, all eyes will be on the ace, who has spent his entire career with the Red Sox.
The catcher with the cannon arm should be fun to watch throughout the rest of the season.
3. Buchholz's consistency
Clay Buchholz finished the first half with a complete-game, 12-strikeout shutout against the Astros. Where had that pitcher been hiding the last few months? When the enigmatic righty is at the top of his game, he's as good as anyone. That's why his struggles this season have been so hard to figure out.
4. Xander's bat
The 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts has looked his age in recent weeks, as opposing pitchers have preyed on his inexperience and carved him up with sliders. It is time for Bogaerts to prove that he can adjust and display the talent that made him such a big part of what the Red Sox did last October.
5. The return of Middlebrooks
Two years ago, there was no player Red Sox fans were more excited about than Will Middlebrooks. The right-handed hitting slugger has spent the last two years derailed by health woes and lack of production. Middlebrooks hopes to get another chance to prove himself when he returns from a fractured right index finger.