Wednesday night, the Red Sox wrapped up June with a loss over the Rays at Fenway Park. Despite the loss, the Red Sox open up July just one game out of first place in the AL East, holding onto sole possession of second place (and the Wild Card lead).
It's a remarkable midseason run for the Sox, who were a full 8 1/2 games back of the Rays after an 11-9 loss at Yankee Stadium on May 17. Thanks in large part to a 13-5 record in interleague play, Boston wasted no time getting back into the thick of things.
A nice June, to say the least. Boston went 18-9 for the month, and were first or second in most every offensive category for the month.
Now, the real work begins. July, in many ways, is the most important month on the baseball calendar. Teams reach the midway point of the season, both physically and psychologically. The All-Star break is the annual pause button for baseball, a time when everyone gets away from the nightly grind of the ballpark. Baseball's a great game, but everyone can use a mental holiday. While the game's superstars gather in Anaheim on July 13, everyone else goes their separate ways.
We also reach the mathematical halfway point of the season, the 81st game, a time when teams can fully assess how their clubs are faring in the playoff chase. For the Red Sox, it's clear they are in this thing. They have made their kick to the front-running pack over the past six weeks and have the same expectations of contending they had when they broke camp in Fort Myers back in April.
The month of July ends with the MLB non-waiver trade deadline. For contenders like the Sox, it's one of the most important dates of the season. It's when a team can load itself up for a legitimate run deep into October.
A late-July addition doesn't always add up to playoff success. Last season, the Sox acquired Victor Martinez at the deadline. Despite leading the majors in home runs from July 30 to the end of the season, the Sox were swept away in three ALDS games by the Angels.
In 2008, the Sox brought Jason Bay aboard on July 31. Even with the loss of Manny Ramirez, the Bay-led Sox went seven games deep with the Rays in the ALCS.
Go back two years, to 2007, when the Sox made one of their worst trade deadline deals, bringing Eric Gagne in from Texas. Gagne was brutal, but the Sox still managed to win the World Series.
Theo Epstein's history tells us he is likely to do something by the end of the month. What makes the decision even more difficult is the increasing number of players on the DL. With a depleted roster, Epstein has to be tempted to make a move now. But doing so could lead to players with no place to play when the injured players return.
"I think if we do anything major, anything of real significance, it has to make sense now for the short term and also make sense once we get our guys back and healthy," Epstein said Tuesday. "You don't want to make a major trade that all of a sudden, three or four weeks from now, doesn't fit. We'll be on the lookout for something like that."
So what do the Sox do? They could use bullpen help, but so could every other contender. They could use help in the outfield, but they should have Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew together by August … and then where would a new guy go? They could use another catcher … who will wind up being the third-string backstop when Martinez returns.
The Sox have gotten this far with an incredible display of depth. Chances are that depth will continue to carry this team for the weeks to come, as we turn the page to the most important month of the baseball season.