That's where the Red Sox are at with about 40 percent of the season gone by. Soon enough, June will turn to July, and not only will the heat be turned up on the thermometer, things may get a little more uncomfortable for a Boston team that has underperformed this season.
The Sox are at .500 right now, and they sit 7 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East with a new week upon us. In other words, it's time to get moving.
With that, we get moving on this week's Red Sox 6-4-3.
Six Red Sox Thoughts
1. Lester needs to be an ace
The Red Sox won two out of three over the weekend in Chicago, and with the way things are going right now, you take anything you can get. There was, however, something that was a little alarming on Saturday night. Jon Lester turned in a brilliant effort for six innings, only to see things unravel in a heartbeat. It all appeared to begin with a borderline pitch to Wellington Castillo. The pitch was called a ball; Lester did not agree. From there, Lester ended up walking Castillo before offering up a belt-high fastball to Luis Valbuena, who deposited it in the bleachers for just his fourth home run in the last three seasons. Once again, Lester appeared to become distracted by one call, and he let it almost ruin what was otherwise a gem. And if we're going to read anything into body language, Lester looked ready to tackle Bobby Valentine in the Sox dugout after the manager pulled Lester with two outs in the inning. The Red Sox need Lester to be dominant if they're going to get back into this. The key to that may be doing a better job of letting go of the things he can't control in order to avoid the big innings that have been a problem for him at times in his career. True "aces" don't let those types of things bother them, and they're also capable of putting a team on their backs. The Sox need both out of Lester right now.
2. Beckett's interesting ride
Josh Beckett has had an interesting last year or so. In fact, if you break it up over the past 12 months, it's pretty incredible to see how up-and-down things have been for Beckett. For instance, he went 7-3 in 14 starts from June 15 (the one-hitter no one knew about because it came on the same night the Bruins won the Stanley Cup) through Sept. 5. He also posted a 2.88 ERA in that stretch. From there, though, the wheels completely fell off, as September was a total mess for Beckett and the rest of the Sox. Then, the chicken and beer surfaced. This year didn't start much better with a disastrous start that was "lowlighted" by the golf outing and a subsequent stinker against the Indians. Beckett bounced back from that to give up only 13 runs over 43 2/3 innings, with his win-loss record being victimized by poor run support. Finally, the roller coaster hit another low, with Beckett hitting the disabled list over the weekend. One thing is for sure. It's never boring with Beckett.
3. Outfielder shuffle
It's really incredible to see what has happened with the Red Sox outfield this season. As Baseball Prospectus points out, the Sox have used 23 different outfield combinations this season. The latest was (left to right) Scott Podsednik, Ryan Kalish and Darnell McDonald. The shuffle could continue, too, with Podsednik suffering a groin injury Sunday night. It is nice to see Kalish up, though, as the 24-year-old was tearing it up at Pawtucket, hitting .378 with four home runs and 10 RBIs in just nine games.
4. Interleague dominance over?
The Red Sox were 9-9 in interleague play in 2004. Since then, they've finished no worse than 11-7 in a season against the Senior Circuit, but that run of winning seasons against the NL may be in jeopardy, with the Sox currently sitting at 6-6 in interleague games. Boston has just two series left — at home against Miami and Atlanta — to finish above .500 against the NL. Interleague play has been where the club has found momentum in the past, but that hasn't been the case so far this season.
5. Gonzo experiment getting dicey
It looks like it's almost time to give up on the Adrian Gonzalez experiment in right field. What exactly does that mean for Kevin Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks? It's tough to say at this point, but Gonzalez has looked shaky in the past week out in right. His willingness to play wherever he's needed is admirable, but there's just so much that could go wrong out there. He's painfully slow, which was obvious on Ryan Dempster's triple on Friday afternoon. Gonzalez dove on that play as well, offering another reminder that he's putting himself in danger out there, especially given his shoulder problems in the past.
6. Down on the farm
A handful of Red Sox prospects are giving fans hope for the future. Middlebrooks has obviously been tremendous since being called up, but if you dig a little deeper, you'll find the real young guns are tearing things up this season. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Matt Barnes, first-round picks from just a year ago, have been terrific in their first full seasons. You can read all about that right here.
Four Observations Around Baseball
1. Back in a New York groove
We touched on the Yankees in this place last week, but we have to mention them again this week, because the Yankees haven't lost a game since. The Bombers are the hottest team in baseball right now, and they're looking like the best team in the bigs. The Yankees fell to .500 on May 21 at 21-21. Since then, they're 19-4, a stretch that has propelled them to the front of the AL East pack, and leaves them percentage points behind the Dodgers for the best record in baseball. They're eating up interleague play, with all of the nine wins on this streak coming against the NL, capped with a very impressive sweep of the Nationals over the weekend in Washington.
2. Perfect Cain
Matt Cain was simply unreal last week in his perfect game against the Houston Astros. The gem reinforced the notion that the big right-hander has become the ace of that Giants rotation, jumping ahead of Tim Lincecum. Cain is finally starting to get some run support for seemingly the first time in his career, and he's making the most of it. He's one of the leading candidates to start for the NL in the All-Star Game, with his record up to 8-2 to go along with a 2.18 ERA. The most impressive number for Cain this season, however, may be 6.00. That's his strikeout-to-walk ratio, the best in the league, as he now has 96 strikeouts to just 16 walks.
3. Kings of the hill
NL All-Star Game manager Tony La Russa will have his work cut out for him when it comes to deciding who will be his starting pitcher. We mentioned Cain already, but there are options, no doubt. Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has been the real surprise when it comes to pitching dominance. The knuckleballer — who just missed a no-hitter this week — has been virtually unhittable this season, and he keeps getting better. Stephen Strasburg is also up for consideration, assuming his innings limit doesn't keep him from making the trip to Kansas City. Lance Lynn, who La Russa is familiar with, is also a candidate.
Remember when some people laughed at the Reds for giving Joey Votto a huge extension? Well, the early returns have been pretty darn good. The first baseman is playing out of his mind right now, hitting .459 over his last 10 games with three home runs and nine RBIs over that stretch. Votto has been unreal in June, hitting .491 for the month as well. He's arguably the best hitter in baseball. His hit tool is through the roof, thanks in large part to the fact that he's not afraid to take a walk. Add that up, and you see where his league-leading .489 on-base percentage comes from.
Three Things to Watch This Week
1. Mr. Stanton comes to Boston
If you have tickets to any of the Red Sox-Marlins games at Fenway this week, be sure to get there as early as you can. And if you're there for Marlins batting practice and you're in the bleachers, look out for your life. That's because Giancarlo Stanton will be in town. There is no one in baseball with better raw power than this Stanton, and there's a chance he may put a ball through the Monster this week.
2. Will Theo start wheeling and dealing?
Keep an eye on the Cubs. They're the worst team in the majors by far, and Theo Epstein and Co. don't sound afraid to start selling off pieces. With the new playoff system in place, there figures to be fewer sellers and more buyers, which of course, only helps the Cubs. After watching Dempster dominate the Red Sox on Friday, he's someone who you have to think will be moved at some point. The same could also be said for Matt Garza and a handful of position players.
3. Seven in a row for A.J.?
A.J. Burnett is fitting in quite nicely for the Pittsburgh Pirates after an awful tenure with the Yankees. In fact, Burnett became the first Pirates pitcher since 1990 to win six straight starts when he beat the Indians on Sunday afternoon. The Buccos probably don't hate that kind of mojo, as the '90 season marked the first of three straight NLCS appearances for Pittsburgh.