---- — BOSTON — Chicks dig the long ball, but all baseball fans dig July.
Drum roll please ... Happy July, baseball fans!
This is the second best month in baseball behind only October because it’s when we’re inundated with trades and millions of rumors.
Baseball has its flaws (four-hour games, in particular) but the July 31 non-waiver deadline and the weeks preceding it are what Major League Baseball does better than any other major professional sport in this country.
Your Boston Red Sox are in first place in the AL East after just passing this season’s midway point. Boston ended June with 50 wins for just the fourth time in franchise history.
That said, it is time to begin thinking about ways the Red Sox can improve before the deadline comes and goes.
Two areas must be addressed. The Red Sox (51-34) must strengthen the bullpen and add a right-handed hitter despite leading all MLB teams in runs scored through Tuesday’s win over the Padres (435).
At the end of the weekend, Boston had the second best batting average (.276) in the majors but was tied for 16th in average against southpaws (.248).
Red Sox hitters were able score four times against Toronto lefty starter Mark Buehrle Sunday, but concern exists not just going against the top lefties but all lefties. Come playoff time, if the Red Sox do make October, they will minced meat if they don’t add another reliable right-handed bat.
“We’ve had some struggles from the right-side of the plate,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “There’s been some inconsistencies more than anything with some of our guys. I don’t want to say everyone.
“We understand where our challenges lie in terms of an opponent and what they might throw against us,” Farrell added. “We do our best with the personnel we have to execute in key spots. Still, this is a very good team, a very competitive team regardless of who’s on the mound.”
Daniel Nava has had a heck of a season thus far. He has taken over the starting job in left field and is batting .285 with a .375 on-base percentage. He also is on pace for 19 homers and 95 RBIs.
But Nava is batting only .233 (17 for 73) against left-handers.
The Red Sox also definitely need more production from right-handed batter Mike Napoli. Just one of Napoli’s nine homers and just six of his 54 RBIs have come against southpaws. Napoli has a higher batting average against righties, which contrasts his career splits.
Stephen Drew is batting an awful .183 vs. lefties and Jarrod Saltalamacchia is at a pitiful .189.
Switch hitters Nava, Saltalamacchia and Shane Victorino historically have been far better from the right side.
David Ortiz (.258 vs. lefties) hasn’t been hitting southpaws as well as he did the past two years.
That said, you can’t complain with the lineup’s overall production. Just two Red Sox hitters (Nava and Ortiz) have 10 or more homers but Boston leads all major league teams in extra-base hits (293).
Farrell said every hitter in the lineup is capable of hitting a lot of doubles.
“So if you generate runs by virtue of home runs or by combining a very deep lineup, still total runs scored are the most important,” Farrell said. “The only thing if we are limited in a way, it’s the chance for multi-runs in one swing of the bat maybe late in the game, even though we’ve had times when we’ve been able to do that.”
The Red Sox were banking on Will Middlebrooks to provide power from the right side, but the third baseman was unable to hit either southpaws or righties before being demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket last week.
He certainly is one internal option to help out later this month if he can continue to improve at the plate in Pawtucket. He bashed two homers over the weekend.
The Red Sox still are in a stage where they shouldn’t be willing to trade any of their top prospects such as Xander Bogaerts, Garin Cecchini, Bryce Brentz, Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rubby De La Rosa. Boston still should be keeping one eye on the present and one eye on the future despite where it sits in the standings.
Boston should be willing to part with only a combination of midlevel prospects. Therefore, the better option might be to look internally at promoting Middlebrooks, Brentz or even Bogaerts, all of whom are right-handed power hitters. Bogaerts and Brentz are on the 40-man roster but the Red Sox wouldn’t hesitate adding either if they could help this team down the stretch.
The bullpen issue might be solved internally as well, with De La Rosa, a fireballer who has a 2.28 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 56 strikeouts in 14 starts (55.1 innings) for the Pawtucket Red Sox. He is on the 40-man roster.
The Red Sox bullpen blew another save Sunday against Toronto (before the offense saved the day) and has allowed too many homers in key late-game situations recently. With Andrew Bailey’s struggles persisting, there seems to be a need for additional arm or two. There also is the concern that, with the 38-year-old Koji Uehara now being the closer, he could wear down considerably in the next couple of months.
“Getting (Bailey) back on track is one of our main goals right now and it would give our bullpen a huge lift and this team a huge lift,” Farrell said.