There are always more questions than answers at this point, but as our beloved Red Sox find themselves on top of the division by three games and sporting the best record in the American League, we can perhaps breathe a little easier.
However, it’s not time for the boys to rest on their laurels. Baseball season doesn’t end at the All-Star break — some teams would argue it doesn’t actually begin until the break (usually those are teams that have played horribly during the first half of the season. I’m talking to you, New York Mets) — and we’ve got a long way to go. That said, Red Sox fans have reason to be excited about the remainder of the season for a variety of reasons.
1. Perhaps we’ve learned our lesson about that Julio Lugo thing, hmm? Maybe the less said about that, the better, but for the record, I saw Jed Lowrie play in Pawtucket last weekend and the boy looks like he’s itching to get back to the big club. And who doesn’t want to make adorable little “aw, shucks” Jed Lowrie happy? Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no problem with Nick Green. He’s filled in admirably and we can certainly use someone like that on the bench, but I guess my point is … doesn’t anyone else need a Julio Lugo? I’ll bet they could have him cheap. Perhaps for a batting practice screen and some strawberry Big League Chew. Let’s make way for the young’uns. Which brings me to my second point.
2. Ascension of the kids from Pawtucket. Starting on Friday with Clay Buchholz’s much-anticipated return from Triple-A, the second half of the season means roster expansion and an influx of wide-eyed youngsters just itching to make a contribution to the team’s playoff run. Some of them get so excited, they practically bounce up and down on the bench, which you just know will cause the world-weary (ahem, Josh Beckett) or perpetually agitated (glances at Dustin Pedroia) to roll their eyes. But it really does make you believe in the power of gumption and hope and all that Disney movie nonsense.
3. The usual trading deadline shenanigans. Our once-beloved Pedro Martinez has already signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Phillies (remember the days of Pedro jockeying for $20 million? Ah, memories), but the Roy Halladay situation remains unresolved, as do those of several other players on the cusp. It’s entirely possible and may even be probable that Halladay will touch off another bidding war between the Sox and Yankees, but we’re accustomed to that around these parts. Just get ready for Theo Epstein to use newly-minted US citizen Jason Bay as a recruiting tool, touting the benefits of Baconnaise over poutine and for Brian Cashman to counter with a truckload of coupons for Subway’s $5 foot-long subs. It’s all about incentives, man.
4. The continued awesomeness of Tim Wakefield. Perhaps he’ll carry a grudge into the second half of the season over his benchwarming during the All-Star Game. Perhaps he’ll just shrug it off, like he does when the team infuriatingly refuses to score runs for him. Whatever the case, I see Wake remaining the strong and steady anchor of the pitching staff that may or may not have to deal with Manny Ramirez in the playoffs. And can you think of anything more delightful than watching Manny Ramirez flail away at a knuckleball? I’m sure even the normally stoic Wakefield would giggle at that one.
5. Dustin Pedroia’s hell-bent attempt on making up for his having to miss the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. Since Pedroia chose to miss the All-Star Game due to his wife’s labor complications, he’ll surely be carrying an even bigger chip on his shoulder into the second half of the season, feeling as though he has something to prove. The fact that he missed the Home Run Derby has to be eating at him as well. I think we can count on a few months of Pedroia sporting inch-thick eye black and a bicycle chain around his neck in an attempt to prove his badassery. I’m also fairly certain he’ll start using a 36-inch, special-ordered Louisville Slugger, complete with racing stripes, just to prove he can.
6. Jonathan Papelbon finally losing his mind. I anticipate it eagerly every season but I really feel this might be the year Papelbon officially waves goodbye to his sanity and takes the mound to the strains of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” while wearing a cape covered in glitter. Because why not? A girl can dream, can’t she?
7. The potential World Series matchup between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox. Can you think of a more storybook way for this season to go down? In addition to all the Manny Ramirez/prodigal son/steroid drama, there’s also Joe Torre’s resurgence in Los Angeles and the fact that he’s sort of blossoming without the madness of Boss George to deal with. The Dodgers also employ old friend Mark Loretta as a bench infielder and former Red Sox batting champ and fan favorite Bill Mueller in a front office position. Plus, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is a former Bostonian and real-estate developer who tried to buy the Sox a few years back. A Dodgers-Red Sox World Series would be sort of like getting the band back together. But you know what they say about counting one’s chickens before they hatch. Perhaps we’d just do well to be grateful Manny Ramirez is no longer Terry Francona’s problem.
Whatever the remainder of the season brings, we can rest assured that we’ll spend plenty of time attempting to use The Force to wave balls fair or foul, throwing projectiles at the television, and playing armchair manager. But if we know anything from decades of baseball in Boston, it’s that anything can happen and nothing is certain. Except for that Dustin Pedroia giant bat thing. That’s pretty much a given.