Red Sox: Sizing up the fear factor for AL East second half

BOSTON, MA - JULY 26: A general view before the game between the Boston Red Sox and then Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on July 26, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 26: A general view before the game between the Boston Red Sox and then Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on July 26, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /
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Red Sox second half American League East outlook

The Boston Red Sox’s most notable opponent is apparently the schedule makers. The second half of the season begins with binge playing against their rivals in the American League East. A preponderance of games against the Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto or Buffalo Blue Jays, and the despised New York Yankees. Just what is the opposition up to?

The Blue Jays are a trip back in time for Red Sox fans who witnessed a series of lineups that trashed opposing pitchers. The idea in baseball is to score more runs than the opposition. A tactic that threads through all sports. Their youthful lineup is exciting, mesmerizing, and scintillating. A worthy show for the ticket holder when the sluggers are slugging. They can bludgeon another team or do they?

Scanning through FanGraphs, the Red Sox lineup has produced 20 more runs than the Jays. Tampa Bay is surprisingly just a good inning away from matching the Jays. Is it an illusion? The Jays terrorize but for the metrics Gods of WAR they are behind Boston and the Rays.

With the return (finally) of George Springer the Jays lineup just could see an elevation in their offensive output. The dingers run up and down the lineup with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. leading the charge. Catching is the offensive black hole with Danny Jansen well under the Mendoza Line.

That said, it all comes down to that little bump in the middle of the diamond and that bump will be Everest size if the Jays are to make it to the top of the AL East.

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One excellent free-agent signing is lefty Robbie Ray who the Jays bequeathed $8 MM for a one-and-done season. The lefty has reverted to 2017 form when he was an All-Star with the Diamondbacks. Fellow lefties Hyun Jin Ryu (8-5, 3.56) and Steven Matz (7-4, 4.72) round out the top three. Then it slips.

Nether the Jays collective results regarding the rotation and relievers is encouraging. Losing Kirby Yates was critical to the bullpen. The pitching is their weak underbelly. The Jays could go shopping in the next few weeks as it is now salaried dump season across the MLB landscape.

The New York Yankees. Never, ever, count out the Yankees. So far we can take delight in being their daddy this season, but in the end, it has a way of balancing out. The Yankees and Red Sox rotation both sit at 8.3 fWAR. The bullpen has New York tops in the AL with a 4.5 fWAR. As long as they don’t have to face Jose Altuve they’ll do just fine. A return to form of Zach Britton could alter bullpen power in the East dramatically. Meanwhile, Aroldis Chapman continues to discover novel ways to meltdown in critical situations.

The Yankees rotation has been in flux with Gerrit Cole supposedly “adjusting” to the requirements of the new rules. The big question mark is righty Corey Kluber and his tender right shoulder. A Kluber return could solidify the rotation. And regarding returns, Luis Severino remains in post-Tommy John Surgery status. Severino could be offset by Chris Sale getting back on the hill.

The Yankee offense has been slow on run production with 370. When you think Yankees you think long ball and the Red Sox are one up on the Bombers in that department. The Jays are AL front-runners with 130. Home run champ Luke Voit has been injury prone and has banged out just three. Hard to fathom that Aaron Judge (.282) has outhit DJ LeMahieu (.270). When NY has to overly rely on Brett Gardner (75 games) your offense has issues.

The Tampa Bay Rays continue to be the little engine that could. In 2020, the Rays powered up more than in the past and that has continued this season. By traditional Rays standards, this is a hitting juggernaut. Despite their run production, the Rays are hitting just .230 as a team. Offensively a plus is the Rays can run and are tied for the league lead in steals (58).

The Rays offense is intriguing with the keys to the future at short turned over to Wander Franco. Franco is making adjustments and hitting just .197. Austin Meadows (16), Brandon Lowe (21), and Mike Zunino (19) have the home run punch down solid. Their bench has solid replacement parts when the manager Kevin Cash matches up.

Ace Tyler Glasnow is out for a while and the Rays had some adjustments to make, but have remained on Boston’s heels. Somehow they manage to piece together a bullpen and rotation. Blake Snell and Charlie Morton are gone and the engine still moves. 41-year-old lefty Rich Hill still produces (6-4, 3.74). Reclamation project Michael Wacha gets in some solid work.

The bullpen is a mix and match which is a Tampa tradition. Andrew Kittredge becomes lights out and Diego Castillo does the job as closer. The bullpen and rotation are collectively no names unless you closely follow their results. If Tampa was a big market the names would have considerably more traction. Name recognition is an attention-getter, but never dismiss the Rays on the mound, with the stick, or on defense.

Defensively, this Red Sox team is questionable, especially on the left side of the infield. On the ever-precious metrics front, the Rays are second in the AL. The Red Sox are in fourth place, the Yankees ninth, and the Jays twelfth. Of note is the Red Sox are improving defensively as the season marches forward.

The fear factor for me in the second half is the Rays. Then the Jays and Yankees. The Rays must have an agreement with Satan. Somehow, with a stingy payroll and players that appear on baseball life support, they win. They are traditionally tough against their own division and games against Boston are no exception.

The Baltimore Orioles will possibly go on the hot streak of all hot streaks and clean house in the second half. Ah…just a few years ago the O’s were the team to beat and not beat upon. How times have changed.

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The pot can be stirred with July being transaction crunch time. One good losing or winning streak can dramatically alter the direction of each team. The spending power of New York, Toronto (Buffalo), and Boston is hovering in the background. Will someone find the temptation too great and jump into the fiscal pool? Trades, call-ups, and waiver transactions could be the deciding factor and Chaim Bloom excels.