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Saturday, July 05, 2003

  Mid-Season Reflections

It's the Independence Day weekend, 85 games into the season and a week to play before the All-Star break - an appropriate time to take stock.

After spanking the Yankees to take the first two games of this four-game series, the Red Sox are back to within two games of first place. Whereas just a couple weeks ago we were in the thick of a three-team battle, Toronto's more recent slide has made the AL East, for the time being, a two-team race again.

All things considered, I think we're in a pretty good spot. True, our bullpen continues to struggle mightily. But we are within realistic striking distance (a sweep will tie us for first) against a team that woke up yesterday having won 16 of its last 19 games.

The obvious key has been the offense. Sox batters have scored double-digit runs in six of the last 11 games. Even taking the 25-run thrashing of Florida out of the equation, in that span we have averaged eight runs per game. In the last two games, we've hit ten home runs to go with an impressive season total of doubles and triples. Yesterday, Jason Varitek alone accounted for 12 bases. David Ortiz had back-to-back two-homer games. Nomar is leading the universe in triples. Two thirds of our lineup is batting over .300.

My concern at this point is that that kind of production cannot continue, even with the magnitude of talent we have. At some point, you need to rely on pitching. And while the starters have done admirable work lately, the bullpen has been blowing it. Even the Fox announcers commented during this afternoon's game that Boston fans can't get comfortable with a six-run lead. That's sad.

Ramiro Mendoza's start today was encouraging, and having Byung-Hyun Kim to close is a good feeling. But getting from the sixth or seventh inning to the ninth is key.

With the trading deadline just four weeks away, Theo Epstein knows he needs solid, reliable arms. And Todd Jones isn't exactly what we had in mind.

For the first time in several years, the Red Sox have owners with money to spend. With offense this hot and respectable defense to back it up, that money can be well-focused on relief pitching. Imagine how much better the team ERA (currently 4.82) would be if the 'pen stopped giving away late-inning leads.

What happens between now and July 31 will foretell the story for the rest of the year. A stabilized pitching staff will almost certainly mean baseball in Boston this October. Let's hope Theo doesn't blow it.

Just my opinion.

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