So, that's it then? Everything is fine?
Forgive me for not waving the foam finger a little more enthusiastically today following the Red Sox' three-game sweep of the awful Orioles. Cautiously optimistic? Maybe. Confident in the fact that these Sox are a serious threat for October? Eh.
This was, after all, a Baltimore team against which Boston went into the series 8-1 this season, far and away the Red Sox' best head-to-head mark vs. any opponent.
In fact, the Red Sox are not even more than a game above .500 vs. any other AL opponent.
Anything but a sweep against those guys at home would have been a disappointment, so let's not go tossing around playoff rotations just yet. For all the good will the Red Sox might have gained for themselves at the culmination of yesterday's 11-9 win, let's not lose sight of the matter that they just went 6-7 against the four worst teams in the league.
And all they have to do now is face three of the best.
A reeling Detroit hits Fenway tonight, losers of its last five and holders of a dwindling lead in the Central all of a sudden. Then it's the Yankees for five over the long weekend (feeling confident in that Jason Johnson-Jon Lester doubleheader on Friday?), which could indeed be one of the longer ones known to the old yard if things don't go well. The West Coast beckons after that with three against the fighting-for-their-lives Angels.
The Sox most likely can't put things in the rearview mirror over this stretch, but they can almost certainly find the opposite coming to fruition. If the Sox allow the Tigers to end their longest losing streak of the year, and if the Yankees take care of business against the Orioles beginning tomorrow, Boston could be a looking at a much deeper deficit than the one game it faces currently.
We should know by the middle next week precisely where this team stands. Are they a legitimate playoff contender? Are they a superior team to the likes of the Tigers, Twins, and White Sox? We await the answers, even if we all have a slight inclination to the negative result.
The White Sox hosted Detroit over the weekend and put a hurting on the Tigers to put themselves just 5 ½ games out this morning. When have the Red Sox made such a strong statement this season? Granted, the White Sox have the Tigers' number even if anyone else doesn't, but taking care of the best team in baseball and causing concern throughout the Detroit metro area is a defining moment for the defending champs.
Put up or shut up time came, and the White Sox put up.
Time for the Red Sox to do the same.
And the Tigers, too.
In the next three days, the Tigers face Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling and David Wells, who all have pitched exceptionally well for World Series champions. Sounds daunting. Yet for every game of this Boston series, the Tigers' starting pitcher will have a lower earned-run average than his Red Sox counterpart.
How do the Tigers see themselves? As a bunch of no-names facing mega-stars? Or as a team with a better record and better starting pitching than Boston?
The Tigers went just 2-4 vs. New York and Boston the last time around, and coming off this latest sweep at the hands of Chicago, a lot of eyes are going to be watching Boston to see which team shows up when it matters.
In Boston, while it's all well and good to point to the Red Sox as having the fourth-best record in the AL, it won't change the fact that since the All-Star break they are just 15-15, a record largely based on injuries and a rotation that can't find its way much past the sixth inning.
If the Red Sox want to be known as more than the middling team they have shown themselves to be lately, it begins tonight, perhaps fittingly when Josh Beckett takes the hill against Detroit's Nate Robertson. Of all Red Sox players who need to step up in this current stretch, perhaps Beckett stands in the forefront. The de facto No. 2 on this staff has not gotten it done lately, new contract in hand and all. He has a 6.75 ERA for the month of August, he's winless since July 24, and his resume this season vs. good offenses is ugly.
Plenty of folks threw in the towel after last week's debacle at Kansas City, after the Sox were swept by the worst team in the bigs. That's a rush. Hold off until these next 11 games, which should determine if these Sox are going to sink or swim.
Despite all their issues, they haven't sunk yet, thanks to the weekend resurgences of guys like Mike Lowell and ... David Wells? Yes, indeed. And based on the MASH unit they are, those are precisely the guys who need to step up this week if the Sox are going anywhere.
And they've just been tossed an opportunity to pull themselves right back into first. Whether they can reach it is another story.