The Red Sox finished another strong home stand today by taking 2 of 3 from the Angels matching the result versus Texas to begin the stand. After 64 games the Red Sox are 39-25, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees with the Rays and Orioles nipping at the New Yorkers' heels. The Sox have a winning percentage of .609, which ( cliche alert) puts them on a pace for 98 to 99 wins. I am still not sure the Red Sox win that many, but I am more sure that the AL East champ will not need to win that many.
So now the Red Sox begin a stretch of games over the next month or so, that will bring them to the statistical halfway mark of the season, and then onto the traditional "halfway" mark, the All Star break.
Beginning tomorrow the Red Sox begin a 10 game stretch versus two of their main competitors for the AL East crown: Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Beginning with a seven game trip, 3 with Rays and 4 in Baltimore. The Red Sox then come home for a pit stop two day three game series again with the Rays. On the 18th there is a day-night doubleheader to make up for a April 12th rainout.
Following the AL East games, the Red Sox go to Detroit to play four with the Tigers, the toughest non AL East team( along with Texas). The Sox then come home again for an more appropriately long home stand, a nine gamer: 2 with the Rockies, 4 with the Jays and 3 with the Padres. The first of these games with Toronto, barring any rainouts will be game 81, half through the 162.
To bring the Red Sox up to the July 16th All Star Game ( and up to game 97) they venture on a ten game west coast swing: 3 in Anaheim, 4 in Seattle and 3 in Oakland. This will be the only trip Boston makes to all three of these cities, although there is one remaining left coast trip, it will be to play the Giants and Dodgers three each in August.
There are several challenges which jump out from those games beginning with the immediate ten games in the division. This will be an opportunity to keep both teams in the Sox rear view mirror and a record of anything like 7-3 would likely increase the lead over both. Catching the Tigers in their own ball park present their own set of challenges ( Miggy, Prince, Verlander, and the other Tiger starters, etc.) And of course any long west coast trip is potentially fraught with peril, but hopefully the Sox can fatten up on the Angels and Mariners.
Let's take a look at a few concerns going into the next 33 games.
Nagging injures-- Other than closer Joel Hanrahan, the Sox have avoided any long term or season ending injuries. But all season the Sox have been bit with nagging or ongoing injuries. This has involved mostly Shane Victorino, Will Middlebrooks, David Ross, Jacoby Ellsbury, and recently Clay Buchholz. Of course of these Buchholz is the one Boston must have healthy. After leaving Saturday night's start with a sore neck, he may be looking at another missed start, as he did recently. Even if he has to miss a scheduled start versus Baltimore, they have to play it safe here.
Outfield Depth/Pop-- Referring back to the nagging ills of Ellsbury and Victorino( especially), if these two can go nearly every day in CF and RF, the Sox have plenty of depth in left with Nava, Gomes, Mike Carp, and maybe even JBJr. As a matter of fact Nava may be able to hold down left every day on his own. But if Jacoby and Shane cannot go to the post with regularity, the Sox may well need to trade for another OF bat sooner rather than later.
Shortstop/Third Base Triangle-- In other words, what hath Jose Iglesias wreaked here? How close is Jose to making his way in the everyday line up, even when ( if?) Middlebrooks comes back from Pawtucket. By all indications Iglesias is at least going to stay and take Pedro Ciriaco's utility job. But with Jose hitting better than either Middlebrooks or Stephen Drew, what gives? I believe the Sox may take their time and let Middlebrooks work out some of his batting issues at AAA ( he can be left on rehab for up to 20 days, and could be optioned down for more if need be). But I still think they need the power production Will can bring if he gets his stroke back and is healthy. Would the Sox hand the keys to shortstop to Jose over Drew? I doubt it ....yet.
Keep on Keeping on with Starters-- Buchholz was discussed above, all they need from the others is more of the same. Although an uptick from Doubront would be nice. And Jon Lester needs to prevent any backslide to the 2012 Lester.
Overworked Pen?--I think that Farrell and Nieves have managed this so far, and have been careful to attempt to avoid back to back days for guys like Uehara. But with the pitch count dominated game today, it seems like the pen is asked to work at least 2 innings, if not more, every day. But with the exception of Felix , I think the other starters can toss up an occasional (or more often) 8 inning start.
So there is no question from June 10 until the All Star Break could determine if we have a contender here in Boston in 2013. If the Sox can keeping winning a majority of each series, as they have so far, the answer is gonna be YES.