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Touching All the Bases

Time is Now for Red Sox -- as a Team and Individuals -- to Start Playing Like Contenders

Eleven games to get it right. That's what I'm giving the slumbering Red Sox to straighten out this mediocre drag of a season before consequential changes must be made.

Eleven games. That seems fair without being detrimentally patient. It also takes them to something of a benchmark on the schedule. They're 20-23 now; 11 games takes them to the 54-game mark, or one-third of the schedule.

You don't have to have watched Moneyball (a good, solid B+ of a baseball fathers-and-daughters movie) on endless loop on FXX recently to recognize that number, 54, and remember the axiom it represents regarding Billy Beane's construction of his A's teams from that era. As Tom Verducci put it in Sports Illustrated in 2011:

[You spend] the first [54 games] to see what you have, the second to fix it and the third to let it ride.

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Perhaps Beane's philosophy has been altered over the years. The A's, with their plus-99 run-differential, seem to have adopted a motto now of Sure, Our Ballpark is a Septic Tank, but We're Gonna Stomp The Rest of the AL West from the Season's First Pitch to the Last. (Catchy, right?)

But the incremental 54-game measuring sticks still make a lot of sense in certain team-evaluating situations. I think it applies in evaluating the Red Sox, allowing them a couple of weeks of warning to get it right with this cast before changes beyond the cosmetic must be made.

gambledinn519.JPGExample: Jackie Bradley's Oscar Gamble Tribute Hairdo: Cool. Jackie Bradley, every-day center fielder with a .603 OPS and a strikeout every third at-bat. Not cool, and soon worthy of reevaluation. Say, in 11 games from now.

The championship defense thus far has been one of fits and stops for the Red Sox. They're consistent only in their inconsistency -- well, that, and their inability to hit with runners on base.

Luck, such a good friend a year ago, also seems to have abandoned them -- Grady Sizemore's line-drive double play last night down two runs with the bases loaded stands as the most recent reminder. Perhaps that is only temporary. But it can't be denied that they haven't made their own breaks, either.

For those who expected them to get their act together in May, there was a flicker at the beginning of the month that suggested a flip of the calendar was all they needed to find their form. The Red Sox took 6 of 8 games against A's, Reds and Rangers. Since, they've lost four in a row -- something that never happened a season ago -- and five of six to the Twins and Tigers. One step forward, one step back. Phrases like that don't end up on NESN championship videos, you know?

It's worth remembering now that last year, May was when the Red Sox really proved their mettle. It was their worst month in terms of a won-lost record (15-15), but that tells the final story, not how they got there.

From May 2 to May 14, they went 2-9. From May 15 to 27, they went 10-3. After brief hiccup at the end of the month, they then ripped off eight wins in the first 10 days of June. They overcome their here-we-go-again skeptics and proved their legitimacy. You know how it went from there: They ruled the summer and were crowned in the fall.

Now is the time to get their act together this season as they did in the last. The Red Sox have an offday today, then begin a weird pair of two-game, home-and-road series with their imaginary natural rival, the Braves. Tuesday is the advent of a stretch in which they play 36 games in 37 days, with one day off (June 5) between tomorrow and June 25.

Their next offday after that? Thursday, June 26, after the 79th game of the season. That's right before they begin a three-game series with the Yankees before taking on that decidedly unnatural rival, the Cubs. It's also obviously the near-midpoint of their season, and it's also obviously far too late to still be plodding along waiting for this team to string a stretch of wins together.

They need to figure it out sooner than that. They need to decide whether Xander Bogaerts remains at shortstop, whether Mookie Betts can help this year, whether Daniel Nava should be recalled and Mike Carp relocated, whether Stephen Drew is worthy of a multi-year offer, whether Will Middlebrooks has any value at all, and whether Clay Buchholz can be something other than a start-to-start enigma. There's a lot to like about this team, still. But there's also a lot to solve.

Eleven more games until the one-third mark of the season. If some answers don't arrive by then, perhaps it's time to start changing the questions.