PHOENIX -- As the Red Sox prepare for the stretch drive, coming out of the All-Star break, we look at what each position player has done to this point, and what they will have to do in the final 2 1/2 months of the regular season.
Just before the All-Star break, the shortstop told WEEI.com that this as healthy as he has been in the regular season since he joined the Red Sox. He is hitting .259, with a .326 on-base percentage, while having scored 22 runs. While Scutaro came flying back from an oblique injury -- hitting .350 with a .395 OBP from May 3-June 30 -- he has cooled off, hitting .182 in his last 10 games.
What needs to happen: Scutaro is getting his chance to be the everyday guy the Red Sox signed him as coming off a 2009 season in which he scored 100 runs, hit .282 with a .379 OBP, while playing Gold Glove defense at shortstop. But inconsistency and injury hasn't offered that level of play from Scutaro. If the shortstop can do what he did in May and June, at least until the return of Jed Lowrie, that will be plenty.
The infielder reported just before the All-Star break that he was making progress in his return from a left shoulder injury. The nerve which was inhibiting the movement of his scapula was seemingly on the mend, as was evidenced by his increased range of motion. Prior to the 1-for-18 stretch leading into his disabled list stint, Lowrie was hitting .291, with the Sox carrying a 30-21 mark in games he made an appearance. During that same stretch, Lowrie hit .422 against left-handers.
What needs to happen: It's not complicated -- Lowrie needs to get healthy. When he has been without physical limitations, he has produced. It's that simple. And it's not only the 27-year-old's presence at shortstop that is of value. Lowrie has played 11 games at third base (hitting .333 there), one at second, and two at first, all of which should be noted in case something happens to the regulars.
Youkilis is hitting .285 with 13 homers while carrying the best OPS of any American League third baseman (.881). Oh, and by the way, he has been hit by a pitch eight times. Now compare that with his first halves from the previous two seasons:
2009: .298 BA, 16 home runs, .985 OPS and eight hit-by-pitch.
2010: .293, 18 home runs, .981 OPS and (you guessed it) eight hit-by-pitch.
What needs to happen: Youkilis has been beat up for much of the first half, but has still managed to offer consistent protection for Adrian Gonzalez in the cleanup spot. Gonzalez has been intentionally walked 10 times (compared to 17 times during last season's first half), but has also drawn just 35 free passes, which speaks to the third baseman's presence. He has to stay on the field, and in that No. 4 spot, bottom line.
As good as Red Sox fans feel about what they have seen from the first baseman, it doesn't appear there should be any hesitation when expecting similarly good times in the season's final 2 1/2 months. Gonzalez is historically a better hitter in the second half, and hasn't flinched once when having to adjust to American League pitching.
He is hitting .303 against lefties, and .379 vs. righties. Against American League East pitching, Gonzalez has totaled a .362 batting average to go along with 1.162 OPS. This just in: He's been really good.
What needs to happen: There hasn't been much Gonzalez has done wrong thus far, as his monthly splits help suggest -- April, .314; May, .341; June, .404; July, .371. But one thing to keep an eye on is if AL pitchers start pitching around Gonzalez even more in the second half. For a guy who walked 93 times last season, the 35 free passes this time around seem paltry. And if that does happen, with the No. 3 hitter starting to take a few more walks, all eyes will be on the continued production of Youkilis and David Ortiz.
Just before partaking in the American League All-Star team's team meeting, Ortiz stopped in front of his locker and said, "You know why I'm going to have a big second half, because I'm next to this guy," pointing to his Chicago's Paul Konerko. The suggestion brought a smile to the face of the White Sox first baseman, but that was all that came out it. The way Ortiz will have a good second half isn't karma from fellow sluggers, but rather simply taking the exact same approach he did in the first half.
It was one of the most remarkable stories of the first half that Ortiz hit .340 against left-handed pitching after finishing at .222 vs. southpaws last season. Just to cap things off, the last four at-bats he had against lefties Ortiz managed three hits (2 of which were homers) and a walk.
What needs to happen: Ortiz needs to step up against the iron of the American League like he did in the first half, which saw the DH total a .324 batting average and 1.081 OPS against the Yankees. As was evidenced in interleague play, Ortiz' role as the No. 5 hitter in the Red Sox lineup is one of the most important spots on the team. No team in baseball has gotten more production out of its five-hole thanks to Ortiz, with the Red Sox carrying a .932 OPS in the spot.
The second baseman has battled through pain in his surgically-repaired left foot, while also having to undergo shots of Synvisc in a banged up right knee three different times. Through it all, however, Pedroia has managed the third-best OPS of all American League second basemen (.836), while carrying a .respectable 284 batting average. And what truly stands out are the 63 walks to this point, which is more than either of his first two seasons, and just 14 shy of his career high. No player in baseball has seen more pitches than Pedroia this season (1,751).
Something else that should be noted is Pedroia's ability to absolutely crush left-handed pitching this season, leading all big leaguers with a .394 clip against southpaws.
What needs to happen: Pedroia's foot needs to hold up. His knee needs to continue its regeneration. And, basically, the second baseman has to continue to do what he has done since May 17. From that point on he has hit .316 with nine homers and nine stolen bases. Even more impressive is the fact that starting with the day he returned from his doctors check-up in early June, his totals have been a .360 batting average and 1.121 OPS. (Only one player, Baltimore's Mark Reynolds, has a better OPS over that stretch).
It went somewhat under the radar, but the final game of the first half served as the year anniversary for perhaps the signature moment for Ellsbury's horrific 2010 campaign, when he sat in the Rogers Centre visitors dugout and read a timeline of what transpired in his recovery from broken ribs. During that time -- from Opening Day, 2010 until July 10 -- the best numbers for centerfielders went to Colby Rasmus (.910 OPS), Michael Bourn (28 stolen base), Matt Kemp (57 runs), and Marlon Byrd (.317).
Now look at what Ellsbury has done up through July 10 this season: .867 OPS, 28 stolen bases, 62 runs and a .316 batting average. Needless to say, the spring and early summer have been much more enjoyable this time around for the Sox leadoff hitter.
What needs to happen: It's hard to dispute that Ellsbury has been the dynamic leadoff hitter the Red Sox were hoping for, totaling a .388 on-base percentage in the spot. But there is one spot in the outfielder's game he needs to fine-tune, and that is his work against left-handers. When facing southpaws, Ellsbury's OBP drops to .328 with a slugging percentage of just .377 (one homer). It is an area that has seen an uptick of late, with Ellsbury hitting .375 with a 1.132 OPS vs. lefties since June 30 (18 plate appearances). Another encouraging sign is that the strikeouts have also been down, carrying just three this month.
When talking Red Sox lineup going forward, you almost forget Crawford. It could be a step in the right direction considering the outfielder finished April with the worst OPS of any eligible player. Just more than two months later and we find some optimism circling around Crawford, despite his current stay on the 15-day disabled list. He finished hist first half with a .243 batting average and .659 OPS.
The hope is that Crawford has completely dismissed that first month, and will be more like the player the Red Sox got starting May 1, when he started a stretch that allowed for a .295 batting average in a 43-game stretch the Sox just happened to go 31-12 during.
What needs to happen: While it is easy to just surmise that Crawford needs to get better (even during his aforementioned stretch, he struck out 29 times and walked just four), perhaps the most important thing for Crawford to harness in the second half is health to his legs. Even before going on the DL with a hamstring issue he had stolen just base since May 25. He had three stretches of 11 games without a stolen base, a feat he endured once in all of 2010.
It's hard to find a whole lot of positives in Drew's first half. He is hitting .229 with a .329 on-base percentage and, most disturbing, a slugging percentage of .317. The problems against lefties haven't really subsided (.209), although the reality is that he rarely sees action against southpaws anymore. Since the beginning of May, Drew has totaled 23 at-bats against left-handers, coming away with just three hits and one RBI. In April alone, he came away with 20 at-bats and six hits in such situations.
Remember that horrific two-month start he had to begin his Red Sox career in '07? This is remarkably similar. The batting average (.226) and slugging percentage (.316) were almost identical to this downturn. The difference is that Drew pulled himself out of those doldrums to rip off a memorable June (.325 batting average, .975 OPS).
What needs to happen: Drew needs to find that one hot month. Besides his June in '07, he also has Sept., '07 (.342 BA, 1.072 OPS), June, '08 (.337 BA, 1.310), and August and Sept, '09 (.333 BA, 1.068 OPS). The question is whether or not he will get the chance, with Red Sox manager Terry Francona clearly favoring a platoon scenario (unless match-ups dictate otherwise).
It hasn't worked out as McDonald or the Red Sox had planned. The outfielder had shown his worth in '10, not only hitting a respectable .270, but, more importantly, totaling a .294 clip against left-handers. This time around, however, lefties, righties, it hasn't mattered. It's been a struggle for the 32-year-old.
McDonald has eight hits in 46 at-bats against left-handers (.174), and just two hits in 24 at-bats vs. righties (.083). The face of the matter is that offensively, there is little to grab a hold of when trying to support the outfielder's case. He has, at least, played solid defense at all three outfield positions.
What needs to happen: McDonald has a hit in each of his last three games before the All-Star break, all of which have come against left-handers. It's a start. But the reality is that the outfielder better kick it into high gear coming out of the break if he is going to fend off being designated for assignment (he is out of options) due to the acquisition of another right-handed-hitting option.
It's hard to ignore the numbers: .393 batting average, 1.101 OPS and eight hits in 12 at-bats against left-handed pitching. Runners in scoring position and two outs? He is 3-for-6. Close and late? Again, 3-for-6. He started on May 26 with three hits and hasn't let up, ripping off six more games with two or more hits. Other than some nonchalant catches in the outfield, there hasn't been much not to like.
What needs to happen: Keep riding the hot streak.
JASON VARITEK/JARROD SALTALAMACCHIA
Things have gone as planned (and then some) when it comes to Varitek. He has played in a manageable 42 games, and is hitting a respectable .252, which has included a .305 clip since May 1. Since that beginning of May jumping off point, no catcher in the American League has compiled a better OPS than Varitek's .936.
The optimism is nearly has high in regards to Saltalamacchia's first half, thanks, like Varitek, in large part to a strong last couple of months. He finished June hitting .327 with a .945 OPS, second-best among AL caters for the month. He has also shown a consistency against lefties (.250) and righties (.252).
What needs to happen: Keep the dynamic chugging along (with continued good health).