THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

Sense of order has been restored

J.D. Drew got the Sox off on the right foot when he drilled a two-run homer - the 200th of his career - in the first. J.D. Drew got the Sox off on the right foot when he drilled a two-run homer - the 200th of his career - in the first. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / June 4, 2009
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DETROIT - This pretty much guarantees the Red Sox are going to lose today, but here goes anyway:

The Red Sox are good.

"That's a good team over there," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, pointing to the Boston dugout as he stood behind the batting cage last night. "I like the way they go about their business. They are professional. And they are good."

Order has been restored to the baseball universe. The Red Sox and Yankees once again are tied for first place in the American League East. The Sox and Yankees are going to the playoffs. They are the two best teams in the AL, and Boston has the better bullpen.

In our town, we tend to notice the negative stuff. So we harp on David Ortiz's monstrous slump, the black hole at shortstop, and the slow start by vaunted starting pitchers.

There were some untidy moments in last night's 10-5 win over the Tigers. Boston's infield made three errors in the span of four batters. The Sox led, 10-0, in the eighth, but allowed the Tigers to put the tying run on deck in the ninth.

"It got a little messy at the end," said Mike Lowell, who made one of the errors and was ejected for arguing balls and strikes.

Still, the Red Sox and Yankees look like the class of the AL.

"We're in a good spot for a team that hasn't hit a groove yet," said Sox captain Jason Varitek. "I still think we're trying to solidify who we are. We're built on pitching and we're getting people locked in. We have a lot of games ahead of us."

One thing in Boston's advantage is the indisputable fact that the AL is having a down year.

The Rangers are leading the West and the Sox will get a look at them at Fenway this weekend. But it's hard to take Texas seriously. The Rangers are the only team in major league baseball to never win a playoff series. They will tank. Sooner or later. Always do.

Meanwhile, the traditionally powerful Angels look old and wounded. They were a .500 team going into last night. And the Sox beat them like a bongo every October.

The Tigers lead the Central, but we've just seen them for a couple of days and their lineup is decidedly underwhelming. Detroit is the only team in the Central over .500. The Tigers don't hit anymore. Magglio Ordonez is doing what Ortiz is doing, just in a smaller market. Anybody worried about the Tigers in October? No. The Twins, maybe. The Tigers, no.

That leaves the mighty AL East, where the Sox and Yankees share the top spot and figure to be there again at the end. Toronto looks like a fraud team. The Blue Jays will experience serious market correction in the coming months. The Rays are still under .500, sagging under the weight of expectations and injuries. They've already lost their second baseman for the season.

It's early. But it's going to be Boston and New York. Just like the old days.

The Red Sox are going to be there at the end because they are blessed with 12 good pitchers. Boston's bullpen has been spectacular. Take away Javy Lopez and the bull gang hasn't given up anything.

The Sox' starters haven't been as good as predicted, but they seem to be finding their groove. Jon Lester is coming off a great start in Toronto, Dice-K finally won a game, and last night Josh Beckett looked like the Beckett of October '07 (he even drilled Gerald Laird in the eighth as payback for Laird trying to break up the no-hitter with a bunt attempt in the sixth). John Smoltz is almost ready and Clay Buchholz is ready when needed.

Then there's the lineup. Everybody hates to pitch to these guys. The top four hitters in last night's order are right off the Theo blueprint. They work the count and never swing at a bad pitch. They are masters of OBP and OPS.

Putting Jacoby Ellsbury in the No. 8 spot looks like a waste of speed, but he's got five hits and has been on base six times in two games at Comerica. Ellsbury's presence has rejuvenated the lower third.

"We haven't played to our capability yet," said Lowell. "To be tied at the top now, most people would take it. We have better baseball ahead of us."

The long trip ends this afternoon and the Rangers are at Fenway tomorrow night.

Then the Yankees come to town.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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