How good are they?
Do we have any sort of clue? Really? Oh sure, you open up your morning paper and see the Red Sox atop the standings every morning, a perch of increased significance and satisfaction the closer we creep to the solstice. But do we really know whether what weíve seen from them these two months is what we should expect over the next four?
Consider this: Fresh off last nightís 7-6 loss in Toronto, Bostonís sixth loss this season to the Jays, the Red Sox are a perfectly mediocre 15-15 against any team not hailing from the Inner Harbor of Baltimore or the Tampa-St. Pete amalgamation. Conversely, half of their 30 wins are courtesy of those Orioles (8-1) and Devil Rays (7-3).
While Baltimore is a respectable 22-20 against everybody but Boston, and the Devil Rays are vastly more competitive than in years past, itís not exactly encouraging that the Red Sox are so one-sided with their first-place record. They can beat Baltimore. They can beat Tampa. Great. And then?
Familiarity might breed superiority, but sooner or later you have to stop hanging out with the dregs and make a name for yourself. Boston, as it stands now, is an uncertain commodity in the AL, world-beaters against a pair, second-rate when itís anybody else.
The Red Sox are 0-1 thus far on this pivotal (or as pivotal as one can be pre-June) road trip through Toronto, Detroit (to face the first-place Tigers ... and no, thatís not a typo), and the Bronx, from which the Red Sox can come back home showing how we can expect them to fare against everybody else in the American League.
Their reward for such a grueling trip: a four-game homestand against the first-place Rangers. The Orioles arenít even back on the slate until August.
Cruel, isnít it?
You canít say that theyíre a mess, but things are certainly askew with the Sox. Matt Clement has gone from bad to seemingly useless. David Wells made a cameo and could be headed back to the DL, if not the golf course. Mike Timlin is sidelined for the time being, making Keith Foulke the (rickety) bridge to Jonathan Papelbon. On the bright side, Coco Crisp is back, giving Boston its intended lineup for the first time since week one, but the concerns about the pitching staff are reaching -- if not panic -- certain alarm.
And yet, here they are, still in first place. Maybe the question then that needs to be asked isnít how good are they, but how good is everybody else?
It was said ad nauseum last season, ďThe Red Sox had better win the East because the wild card is coming from the Central this year.Ē We know how that worked out, even if Cleveland did give it a run until choking it all away on the final weekend.
Fast-forward to 2006, and weíre saying the same things, all the while knowing the Red Sox and Yankees will be 1-2 again, ho-hum.
Iím not so sure. Iím less certain of it happening this season, actually, thanks to the great starts of the Blue Jays and Tigers in particular. The Jays are legit, with much better pitching, and a bullpen far better than we all expected, to go along with a top-notch lineup. The Tigers are for real. Period. This is not a case of the í05 Orioles, not with the young pitching staff theyíve had on display. Detroit has a 3.38 team ERA, which is far and away the best in the American League, more than a half-run better than No. 2 Chicago (4.04). Although, to be fair, as reader Tom Egan points out, they are a combined 15-2 against the Royals and Twins, their own O's-Rays 1-2 punch.
Thatís not to say either the Jays or Tigers will win their respective divisions. They might indeed. But at the very least, Toronto has proven it can beat up the Red Sox, and if it can do the same to the Yankees, the Jays can cut down on the win total itís going to take to win a much more competitive East. In the Central, the Tigers and White Sox get to play the Royals an unseemly amount, and the Indians are a winning streak away from posing a threat.
Compound all that with the fact that the sure-to-be second-half surging Aís are just four games out, thanks to a recent 1-9 stretch, and the Angels simply canít be as bad as theyíre playing, and thereís a lot more out there to be concerned about. Really, this time.
Which brings us back to this 10-game road trip, one from which the Red Sox might return to Fenway no longer in possession of that top spot. Weíre not going to sit here with a straight face and say this is a road trip of utmost importance, what with you probably not even finished wiping your chin from your holiday picnic feast.
But sooner or later, the Red Sox need to prove they can beat someone besides their personal door mats.
Reality is, we have no idea how good they are, or could be. But we do know there are a lot more teams out there that are much better, and if the Red Sox intend to still be a power in the American League, thereís no better time to prove it.