Back on April 22nd, the baseball gods and the weather gods cooperated on giving Red Sox Nation a much desired rain out at Fenway vs. the Yankees one day after the embarrassing blowing of a 9-1 lead, which became a 15-9 loss. At that time the Red Sox finished a brutal opening portion of their schedule featuring games with all of last year's AL playoff teams plus the Jays, with a record of 4-10.
At that juncture, we all looked forward to a long "easy" stretch in the schedule. The upcoming 22 games would be completely played versus teams who finished 2011 under .500. So how did it go? First the good news, the Sox began the stretch with 6 straight wins on the road and finished with 5 consecutive wins at home. Now the not so good news. In between those two win streaks the Sox went 2-9, for an overall 13 wins and 9 losses for the "easy" stretch. And pending tonight's other results will be 4 1/2 or 5 1/2 games out of first, still in fifth place.
So they did not make up all the ground we were hoping for. However, they did play at a .591 clip, which is a pace that if carried throughout an entire season would give a team about 96 wins. 96 wins will very likely win the AL East this year.
One other fallacy of the "easy" schedule also came into play. Just because a team is under .500 one year does not keep them from being a contender the next. Also, at any given time of any season, any team can play well. For example as of May 15 two of the so called bad teams we just played are in first place, one in our own division: Cleveland and Baltimore. In addition, Oakland is over .500.
Now the Red Sox enter an even longer "tough" stretch of the schedule. The next 24 games are all against either winning teams or expected strong teams who are slumping. Starting tomorrow ( May 16) all the way to June 13 the Sox play eight games on the road: Rays, Phils, Orioles, a 7 game homestand vs. Rays and Tigers( 4 games), followed a quick 3 game trip north of the border to play the Jays, and back to Fenway for the O's and Nationals.
And realistically you could really say the Red Sox have a tough 39 game stretch( that is basically 1/4 of the entire slate) because the 24 mentioned above are immediately followed by a 6 game DH-less trip to Miami and to Wrigley Field to play the Cubs, followed by a nine game homestand with the Marlins, Braves, and Jays. This stretch beginning May 16 goes all the way to last series of June!
The last time through the Red Sox rotation, they have appeared to have righted the ship. With this more than a month of tough games ahead that had better be true. I really believe we will know by June 27, the end of this stretch, if the 2012 Red Sox are contenders or looking to be sellers a month later at the trade deadline.
By continuing to play well the Red Sox will not only have a chance to show their mettle against some of the better MLB teams, but the longer they can survive (or thrive) through this part of the season, they will be ever closer to, if not at, the returns of Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, Dice K, and maybe Andrew Bailey. It is also very plausible the Kevin Youkilis/Will Middlebrooks scenario will play itself out to some conclusion by the end of June, if not sooner.
Now as discussed above, some times easy opponents are not, but sometimes tough foes turn not to be either. Readers may notice I have included six games with Baltimore in the "tough" portion right after including the earlier three with the O's in the "easy" portion. Hey, they are in first and have beaten up on all of the other AL East teams, so for now the are a tough foe. But when does the Oriole chariot turn into a pumpkin? next week, July, not until they are in the playoffs ? Perhaps, the Sox can hasten the transformation back to pumpkins by taking 4 or 5 of the 6. Then the Phillies, the have pretty much mirrored Boston's season: high expectations followed by a 17-19 last place start. Are they tough or not? Lacking a DH playing in the City of Brotherly Hate, will not help, but another "who knows" series. Also the Cubs, Marlins, and the banged up Nats are difficult to label as of May 15th.
At this point, despite sitting in fifth in the AL East, we know Boston has the offense (second to the mighty Rangers in AL runs scored), and on paper have the starting rotation. The bullpen seems to be rounding into shape, with guys finding their roles and lefties Rich Hill and Andrew Miller helping.
Early season and small sample size excuses are over. It is time beginning in St. Pete for the real 2012 Boston Red Sox to step forward, please.