10 questions on the second half

1. What's the Red Sox's biggest need at the trade deadline? Give us names to keep an eye on.

Gordon Edes: Relief help. It's the trickiest thing to trade for (see Eric Gagne), but the Red Sox's bullpen ERA of 4.71 is exceeded only by Seattle. Look at the non-contenders for possibilities: Scott Downs, Will Ohman, Brandon League, Octavio Dotel, Kerry Wood, Evan Meek and Matt Capps.

Joe McDonald: Bullpen help. Bullpen help. Bullpen help. Nagging injuries have bothered Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima, and Daniel Bard has been a bit overworked in the first half. The best way to make a contending club better is to add to its bullpen. A season ago, the Red Sox acquired left-handed reliever Billy Wagner in August and that transaction helped solidify Boston's bullpen. It's possible the Sox could look for that help internally. Triple-A starter Michael Bowden was recently moved to the bullpen.

2. How big of a move do you expect the Red Sox to make? Or will they view players returning from injuries as their big midseason additions?

Edes: I don't expect a big move, but every year Theo Epstein downplays that possibility, then springs into action, like last season when he acquired Victor Martinez after taking a run at Felix Hernandez and Roy Halladay. But with payroll already in $170 million neighborhood, getting their own stars back will be like a deadline move.

McDonald: Epstein will be working the phones, likely looking for bullpen help, but I don't think he'll make a huge splash at the deadline. Once all the key players are healthy and return from the disabled list, that should provide the additions the Sox desperately need.

3. How many games will Josh Beckett win in the second half?

Edes: Not a fair question, since so many factors out of a pitcher's control go into whether he gets a win or loss -- or a decision at all. Figuring he should get about 13 starts, I'll say 6.

McDonald: The right-hander is a true competitor. Once he's deemed healthy to return to the starting rotation, Beckett could have a big second half. The Sox remain in contention despite all the injuries, and if Beckett can make close to 15 starts in the second half, look for him to win at least eight of them because his arm will be well rested.

4. Which injured Red Sox player is most critical to the team's success the rest of the way?

Edes: For me, it's Dustin Pedroia, followed closely by Victor Martinez. Pedroia is the engine that drives this team, while switch-hitting Martinez is needed back to lengthen middle-of-lineup run producers.

McDonald: The one thing we've learned about Pedroia being on the disabled list for the first time in his big-league career is he hates not being able to play every day. Despite a fractured left foot, he continued to take ground balls on his knees and BP sitting on a stool during his hiatus. He plans to return sooner than the scheduled six weeks. Once he is activated, it's a safe bet he finishes the season strong.

5. How much longer will Mike Lowell be on this Red Sox team?

Edes: I don't think he plays for the team again. They'll keep him on the DL, get a low-level prospect from somebody or finally release him.

McDonald: I think Lowell's tenure with the Red Sox is coming to an end. There's a reason he asked for and was given permission to return home to Florida before the All-Star break. He probably spent that time doing some soul searching with his family, but it has been evident he's unhappy with his current situation with the Red Sox. His veteran presence would be helpful for any big league club if he decides to ask for a release or if the Sox are able to trade him.

6. Who will finish the season as the Red Sox MVP?

Edes: Kevin Youkilis has been extraordinarily consistent, but since May 10, David Ortiz has had second-highest OPS in big leagues, behind only Josh Hamilton of the Rangers. I'll take Youkilis, but Papi will be in the mix.

McDonald: Adrian Beltre has been tremendous for the Red Sox this season. Both offensively and defensively, he has accomplished exactly what he's wanted so far, proving to the rest of the league he can still be a productive and consistent player. There's a reason he wanted to sign a one-year deal with Boston: He'll be looking for a big payday if he can continue to produce. He has a $1 million buyout for his 2011 option if he reaches 575 plate appearances, and that option increases to $10 million if he gets to 640 plate appearances. At the break he has 349.

7. Where will Jon Lester finish in the American League Cy Young voting?

Edes: Felix Hernandez of the Mariners is pitching extraordinarily well over his last 10 starts, but I think Lester wins his first AL Cy Young. He doesn't throw 100 mph like David Price, but he has a better repertoire.

McDonald: Lester was my preseason pick to win the AL Cy Young, and I still believe that to be true. He's having another typical season in which he starts off slow but really picks it up. The left-hander has proven to be one of those guys who improves the more he pitches.

8. Which Red Sox player is most likely to experience a drop off in the second half?

Edes: Adrian Beltre has produced offensively at a level unseen since he was with the Dodgers in 2004. Terry Francona likes to say that by the end of the season, players usually settle at their career norms, so some drop off should be expected. Still, Beltre is playing for a new contract, and the Sox clearly suit him.

McDonald: Daisuke Matsuzaka. The right-hander has dealt with nagging injuries for the past season and a half. Even though he's been able to make 12 starts (6-3, 4.56 ERA) in the first half of 2010, his reliability will be in question the rest of the way.

9. How big a role will Jacoby Ellsbury end up playing this season?

Edes: That's the great unknown, as Ellsbury has just begun working out in Fort Myers, Fla., and it's unknown how long it will be before he's game ready. This is shaping up much like Daisuke Matsuzaka's 2009 -- a lost season. Ellsbury has the skill set to be a difference-maker, but will it be too late?

McDonald: Since suffering four fractured ribs in a collision with Beltre on April 11 in Kansas City, Ellsbury's situation has been a strange one. He recently cleared the air and explained his side of the story. Once he's activated from the DL, the disagreements between him and the Red Sox over his injury will be forgotten for at least the remainder of the season because the Red Sox are a better team with him in the lineup and hitting leadoff.

10. Give us your prediction for how the AL East will play out. Will the second-place finisher win the wild card?

Edes: No question in my mind that two teams from the AL East will be playing in October. The Red Sox have too many injuries to win the division, which I think the Yankees will take. I'll take the Red Sox to nose out the Rays for the wild card.

McDonald: The AL East will be a three-team race to the very end of the regular season. If the Sox can get, and remain, healthy, they should be able to outlast the Rays. It will be close between the Red Sox and Yankees once again, but Boston comes up a bit short and will settle for the wild card.

Gordon Edes and Joe McDonald cover the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.