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McAree: Red Sox enter second half hungry for postseason success

  • Boston Red Sox's Mookie Betts, right, and J.D. Martinez take the field before a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays Saturday, July 14, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Boston Red Sox's Mookie Betts, center, celebrates his grand slam that also drove in Eduardo Nunez (36) and Jackie Bradley Jr., right, during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays in Boston, Thursday, July 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Michael Dwyer

  • Boston’s J.D. Martinez (28) welcomes home Xander Bogaerts after a home run earlier this month at Fenway. AP file

  • Boston Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts, right, is greeted by teammates at home plate after hitting a grand slam in the 10th inning of a baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Saturday, July 14, 2018, in Boston. The Red Sox won 6-2. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Boston Red Sox' Xander Bogaerts shouts while rounding the bases after hitting grand slam in the 10th inning as Toronto Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile walks off the field in a baseball game Saturday, July 14, 2018, in Boston. The Red Sox won 6-2. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson) Winslow Townson

  • Boston’s Mookie Betts celebrates after hitting a grand slam during a win over Toronto earlier this month. AP file

  • Boston Red Sox's Chris Sale delivers a pitch against the Texas Rangers in the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, July 11, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne) Steven Senne



Monitor staff
Saturday, July 21, 2018

The accomplishments for the Boston Red Sox over the first half of the season were historic. That 17-2 start was the best ever for the storied franchise, the 68 wins at the All-Star break were the most by any team in MLB history, and at this pace, Boston could breeze to its first 100-win season since 1946.

I say all of that to say this: None of that matters.

While it’s nice to be the best team in baseball, fans have seen this story before. After back-to-back American League East titles and back-to-back postseason flops the past two years, historic starts just aren’t good enough.

And nobody knows that better than team president and CEO Sam Kennedy.

“You know, we had a taste of October the last two years. There’s no question, we’re hungry for October success,” Kennedy told NBC Sports Boston earlier this week.

That taste of October included a deflating three-game sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 ALDS, and another dreadful appearance last season, helplessly falling to the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros, 3-1, in the ALDS.

Those Red Sox teams failed for a lot of reasons. They overlooked the Indians and fell completely flat offensively in that 2016 series, maybe finally giving in to the pressure of delivering in David Ortiz’s final season. But Boston’s core was young then, and another year of seasoning would surely produce a more favorable result.

It didn’t.

The 2017 series against Houston was somehow even more embarrassing. Sure, the Astros went on to defeat the Dodgers in an epic World Series, but the Red Sox weren’t supposed to be pushovers. And to make matters worse, Sox fans everywhere had to anxiously watch the New York Yankees come within a game of reaching the Fall Classic. Gross.

This year’s team is different. For one, the Sox signed slugger and MVP frontrunner J.D. Martinez to fill the void left behind by Ortiz. The Sox fired John Farrell  and welcomed in player-friendly first-year manager Alex Cora, and have received the kind of bounce-back efforts that were expected from the likes of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts.

Is it enough to truly achieve the October success the front office is looking for? It’s close, but as the July 31 trade deadline looms and the Red Sox dive head-first into the second half with a 4½ game lead over the Evil Empire in the East, even baseball’s best team has its needs.

Starting pitching and bullpen help will be among Boston’s top priorities. The Red Sox have the fifth-best bullpen ERA in the majors thanks to another dominating season from closer Craig Kimbrel and promising efforts from the foursome of Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree.

But president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has long been in search of an impact late-inning arm to pair with Kimbrel. The Sox have been linked to Baltimore’s Zach Britton, Mets closer Jeurys Familia and Miami’s Kyle Barraclough, but all three would require bigger hauls than Boston would likely prefer to surrender.

The best options for the Red Sox might be in house.

Tyler Thornburg, acquired in the Travis Shaw trade to Milwaukee in 2016, made his first appearance for Boston this month.

It’s hard to rely on a guy coming off a serious shoulder surgery, but his last run in the majors saw Thornburg produce a 2.15 ERA and 90 strikeouts for the Brewers over 67 innings in 2016.

Another interesting option is Durbin Feltman, Boston’s third-round pick out of TCU in June’s MLB draft. Feltman is 5-foot-11 with a high-90s fastball and wipeout slider. He’s already advanced up to Single-A Greenville and has 15 strikeouts over eight innings to kick off his minor league career.

Pitchers making an impact at the big league level in the same year they’re drafted isn’t common, but it happens, notably Chris Sale with the White Sox in 2010 and TCU product Brandon Finnegan with the Royals in 2014. TCU pitching coach Kirk Saarloos thinks Feltman has the makeup for it.

“You hate to put something on a kid before he’s even thrown a professional pitch, but if he just does what he did here for three years, that’s going to play in any league – I don’t care what league it is,” Saarloos told the Boston Globe in June. “I could see him helping out the Red Sox bullpen this year, for sure.”

The injury to lefty Eduardo Rodriguez adds an interesting wrinkle to Boston’s deadline plans. Starter probably wasn’t a need before, and still may not be with the expected returns of knuckleballer Steven Wright and left-hander Drew Pomeranz.

Any move for a starter would likely be a minor one. Boston’s postseason rotation was always going to be Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello anyway, and the Sox don’t have the farm system in place to go out and get a top-of-the-rotation arm like Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom or Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer.

Dombrowski may very well feel comfortable with the starting pitchers already on the roster and opt to use the team’s resources elsewhere.

However Boston decides to attack the season’s home stretch, it won’t receive a passing grade from Red Sox nation unless the team produces results in October.

(Jay McAree can be reached at 369-3371, jmcaree@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JayMcAree.)