We're now a week into June, and the Red Sox find themselves once again sitting at .500, in last place in the East. Boston's 29-29, four games behind Tampa for the division lead. They've got a +23 run differential, intriguingly better than both Baltimore and Tampa. And yet still with the last place.
This week, at least, saw a few encouraging signs. Adrian Gonzalez is driving the ball. Dustin Pedroia's back on the field. Clay Buchholz seems to have returned to quality starterdom. There were hints of a Carl Crawford return in the near future. Slowly (ever so slowly) this team may be rounding into proper contending shape.
Of course, it's not like there wasn't a downside. The Orioles are still immensely frustrating. The outfield continues to be a shadow of its proper self, even with the impressive play of Daniel Nava and... well, I guess pretty much just Nava. Still, he's been quite good. Daniel Bard has fallen apart so spectacularly that he's been sent to Rhode Island. Rhode Island.
Let's get to the recapping fun, including bonus draft coverage.
The big story at the major-league level was, of course, the decision to send Daniel Bard down to Pawtucket. Bard's been just horrible lately, as he seems to have lost any idea of where his fastball is going at any given time. Ben covered exactly how bad it had gotten, and why Bard needed this trip to the minors. I offered a counterargument to Jon Morosi's claim that Bard's time in the rotation was merely an attempt to throw Boston writers off the stench of John Lackey's rotting contract. Hopefully Bard indeed finds whatever he's lost down in Triple-A, since at this point he's not even useful in the relief role so many have been advocating since the beginning.
In better news, the Red Sox got Dustin Pedroia back on the field this week. After leaving a game with a thumb injury (later diagnosed as a torn muscle), Pedroia had missed several games, even while avoiding a DL trip. Fortunately, he's been cleared to play, and is back at the top of the lineup trying to drive opposing pitchers insane. In longer-term absences, Ryan Kalish may finally be ready to end his: the young outfielder is on the field for Pawtucket, and hitting well. Kalish's health, along with the imminent return of a host of other outfielders, has made it possible for the Sox to DFA Marlon Byrd. It's a sad end, Byrd played pretty well in his limited time with the Sox, but there are certainly a half-dozen guys in the organization who can do what he does (or more) for cheaper.
Along the lines of cheap, young talent, it was draft week in MLB. The Red Sox selected a new crop of prospects, and we all combed through the internets trying to figure out which of those kids would be the next Mo Vaughn or Nomar Garciaparra (or, just as likely, the next Paxton Crawford). Marc summed up the results of the first round and the subsequent rounds. It's virtually impossible to judge a draft immediately, but one can get a decent sense of how we'll eventually see the players involved. Ben took a look, and came away underwhelmed with this year's haul, particularly in light of last year's bonanza.
Boston Red Sox baseball has not traditionally focused on the little aspects of the game. However, this week we discussed two classic smallball tactics: bunting and stealing. Matt Kory gave a rundown on Bobby Valentine's use of the bunt to this point, and pointed out that maybe for both winning and sanity's sake he should perhaps stop bunting so much. Ben discussed the iconic Dave Roberts steal in 2004, and its place among the great moments in Red Sox history.
A serious bright spot (maybe the brightest spot) in this Red Sox season has been the emergence of Felix Doubront as a major-league starter. Matt Kory covered all the ways in which Doubront has been arguably the best pitcher on the staff this year. Given how his 2011 went, and the uncertainty surrounding his role heading into this year, it's hard not to be thrilled with what Doubrtont's given Boston so far. Last night, alas, was a different story. Against the Washington Nationals and their two young phenoms, Doubront just didn't have enough. Bryce Harper smashed the ball all night and played spectacular defense, and Nats ace Stephen Strasburg was borderline unhittable through six frames. I had seats behind the plate for the game, and I can't recall seeing a pitcher as totally in control of events since Pedro Martinez. The Red Sox, despite some early success, just couldn't find an answer for him, and he only got stronger as the game went on, at one point striking out seven of eight batters in a stretch. It's going to be a lot of fun watching those two guys as they play for the next decade, and I'm extremely glad it'll be in someone else's division.
Daisuke Matsuzaka returns to the Fenway mound this afternoon to try to get the Sox back on track. Buckle up, and enjoy the weekend.