Enough of looking into the past. Now it's time to look toward the future.
The Red Sox have 74 games left on the schedule. Seventy-four games left to catch the Yankees and the Rays. Seventy-four games left to secure their spot in the playoffs. Seventy-four games left to win another World Series.
But can they do it?
Here are five can't-miss predictions for the rest of the Red Sox season. They're can't-miss because I am predicting them. And, let's face it, I am never wrong. Well, I'm rarely wrong. Same thing.
JACOBY ELLSBURY WILL PLAY LESS THAN 40 GAMES IN THE SECOND HALF
Jacoby Ellsbury has been feeling the heat from fans for quite some time now, but it seems Ellsbury's lack of presence has effected the clubhouse now as well. So how healthy is Ellsbury? It seems he's had 15 different second opinions on his broken ribs, yet he's making zero progress. At least that is the casual fan's impression.
Something tells me Ellsbury just isn't going to be a factor in the second half. He'll continue to struggle with the rib injury and, when -- if -- he finally comes back, he'll most likely be plagued with some other problem that keeps him out. Put it in the bank: Ellsbury won't see 40 games with the Red Sox in the second half.
You know what else could happen? Ellsbury could be traded. If he's injured there is less chance of that, but at this point I wouldn't be surprised to hear Theo Epstein dangling his name out there in trade discussions.
JON LESTER WILL WIN 20 GAMES
I know, I know, I know: wins don't matter. They don't judge a pitcher for any real, useful purpose. I understand that and I have the same feelings. Yet you can't deny, winning 20 games is still a pretty cool achievement.
And Jon Lester will do that this season.
Baseball people knew who Lester was before this season started; casual fans did not, however. Lester was on a mission to become a household name and he's well on his way to doing just that. If he wins 20, you can guarantee everyone will know who he is by Spring Training 2011.
(Sidebar: Lester's K/9 and BB/9 numbers are down from last year, but he's allowing just 6.5 hits per nine innings pitched. That's the best in the American League. That number was 8.2 last year.)
KEVIN YOUKILIS WILL FINISH TOP THREE IN AL MVP VOTING
I've said it many times before and I will say it again: Kevin Youkilis should have been the MVP runner-up in 2009. Joe Mauer was the clear winner, sure, but Youkilis finished eighth after having a ridiculously good season. Just like the All-Star Game, Youkilis' conventional stats don't necessarily "WOW!" you, but he really is one of the best.
This year, when voting is all said and done, Youkilis will be top three. Will he be the American League MVP? Maybe. He needs Justin Morneau and Josh Hamilton to get injured (again) and Miguel Cabrera to be ... well, not Miguel Cabrera -- and he has a chance of doing it.
Youkilis is one of the most consistent hitters in baseball so don't be surprised if his great first half carries into the second half. While most players typically fall off, Youkilis has a history of a strong second half. In 2009, Youk followed up his .985 OPS in the first half with a .933 OPS in the second. In 2008, he OPS'd .998 after putting up a .933 in the first half.
No matter which way you slice it, Youkilis is good. Hopefully MVP voters realize that this year, too.
IN A BIG MOMENT, DANIEL BARD WILL PITCH INSTEAD OF JONATHAN PAPELBON
This hasn't happened yet, but it very well could.
Jonathan Papelbon just hasn't been very good this year. Or, more precisely, Papelbon hasn't been himself. All across the board, Papelbon's numbers are down. And to make matters worse for the big Louisianian, all across the board the 25-year-old Daniel Bard's numbers are better than his.
Younger. Better. Cheaper. That's Bard in comparison to Papelbon. Papelbon doesn't like hearing that, but the Red Sox do.
Terry Francona is a very, very player-friendly manager. That's his "thing" if you want to call it that. So if Papelbon were to not go into the game in a save situation in favor of Bard, you know things are bad. Francona needs to be pushed to the limit to make that kind of change. But if Papelbon starts losing games -- if he starts blowing saves and the Red Sox aren't making up ground in the A.L. East -- Francona would pull the trigger.
When push comes to shove, Francona pulls the trigger -- no matter how much he likes the player.
THE RED SOX WILL WIN THE WILD CARD
Winning the A.L. East is nice and all, but it doesn't look like a feasible option for the Red Sox this year. Between the injuries and the down seasons (where you at, Josh Beckett?), it doesn't look like they'll be able to take the crown.
But it doesn't mean they're not good enough to make the playoffs.
Because if you look at what the Red Sox have been through -- the countless injuries, the ups and downs of players, Bill Hall -- this team has actually been very good. The best teams face adversity and roll with it. That's what the Sox have done. They haven't been kicked out of the race because of the 11 players on the disabled list. They've stayed afloat and will continue to do so.
This, of course, also revolves around how well the Yankees and Rays do down the stretch. Whenever I think the Yankees are going to tank, they don't, so I expect them to most likely win the East. The Rays, on the other hand, are a giant question mark. You never know if that offense is going to show up and whether the pitching staff is for real or not.
Prediction: New York wins the East. Boston pulls in the wild card. Tampa Bay finishes in third.
And the Orioles still suck.