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Title talk with Bobby V

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  May 24, 2012 09:01 AM

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The Red Sox are back at .500, getting stellar outings from their starting pitchers (Daniel Bard, aside; yeesh), the bullpen has been nails, and the offense continues to rake, as evidenced by Scott (Burly) Podsednik going deep for the first time since May 6 - 2010 - in Wednesday's compelling 6-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Things are clearly better, and whether or not it was indeed that team meeting that steered things back on course, these Red Sox all of a sudden seem more in tune with each other and the job at hand, making them a lot more fun to watch than they have been in a long time.

"I am so proud of this group of guys," manager Bobby Valentine said. "I know it's an overstated line, but those men played 20 days of hard baseball, hard travel, hard competition . . . [there] were weather factors, injury factors . . . We play like this the rest of the season, we're going to win the championship."

Wait, what?

"We play like this the rest of the season, we're going to win the championship."

Come again?

"We're going to win the championship."

Um?

"Championship."

I see. Can we, I dunno, make fourth place a goal for now?

Yes, the Red Sox are 10-3 since Josh Beckett's deplorable performance - on and off the mound - earlier this month, but they're still at .500 and in last place in what is turning out to be a fascinating AL East. By my count there are 15 other teams with a .500 or better record in Major League Baseball. Can they hold 16 parades in 16 different cities? (This does not include the Tigers, Angels, or Phillies, who have been mathematically eliminated for not reaching .500 on the Bobby V playoff calendar.)

In a way, that's the type of bravado we expected from Valentine, thus far reserved mainly for calling out Kevin Youkilis. But let's pump the brakes here a bit, V. The immediate future holds the 27-18 Rays, the 20-23 Tigers, the 24-21 Blue Jays, the 28-17 Orioles, and the 26-18 Nationals, a fairly difficult stretch leading into a mid-June road trip to the new pinball wizard park in Miami and the laissez-fair atmosphere of Addison Street. Come out of that stretch feeling good about yourself, and we'll talk.

But don't bring up championship. Beckett may figure it's time to take the rest of the year off, things being a foregone conclusion and all.

Don't bring it up in July. Don't bring it up in August. And certainly don't bring it up in September. That's when the players do their best checking out on things.

The fact is, if the Red Sox hadn't played like the walking dead the entire month of April, the hangover of last season's collapse still resonating in people's minds, the team could be in much better position as we hurtle toward Memorial Day weekend.

Adrian Gonzalez's willingness to play the outfield with the team's depleted roster speaks of a leadership that seemed bare from the slugger in his year-plus here, but saying that might tick off David Ortiz, so we'll just call it a "nice thing to do." But it also speaks to the team's issues, both welcome and concerning. Did you know that the next Red Sox outfielder to go on the disabled list this season will make it 156 for the year? Look it up.

The banged-up outfield has, however, allowed Will Middlebrooks, Gonzalez, and Youkilis to all be in the lineup, a bonus from a subtraction. But once guys like Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, and Carl Crawford (Ha, just kidding) come back, there's an offensive logjam. That is, of course, a good problem to have from a managerial perspective, not so great if you're in the final year of your deal and a kid seems ready to snatch your spot away.

So, let the intrigue begin.

But championship talk? Valentine needs to re-familiarize himself with the "marathon not a sprint" cliché before he starts huffing up Heartbreak Hill trying to line up his Game 1 starter.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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