Tonight the Red Sox will face the New York Yankees, kicking off a gauntlet that will not come to an end for the better part of a month.
The Sox have never really "had it easy" yet this year. Between the remarkable parity found in baseball right now and the fact that some of their weakest competition plays on the West Coast--always a death trap for players used to starting games at seven o' clock Eastern--the Sox have had quite a few difficult matchups so far this season. Certainly more than you'd expect over the course of a typical season.
July, however, will be like nothing they've seen so far.
Four games against the Yankees, three against the Rays, four against the White Sox, three against the Blue Jays, then at the Rangers, at New York, and top it off with Detroit before finally getting a crack at the likes of the Twins again.
Altogether, that's six straight series against winning teams, with 10 games against division leaders including the two best records in baseball. So far this year, against these teams, the Sox are 16-17, but that's with a lot more games against the more middling elements in the Tigers and Blue Jays. This month will be top-heavy, on the other hand, thanks to the seven games against the Yankees.
The Sox would likely be happy to come out of this with a .500 record on the month, and indeed that could keep them in position to make a run in August and September (though neither of those months looks particularly easy either). It has to start now, however. The Sox just went 2-5 in a terrible West Coast trip, and while the All-Star Break could give them a chance to recover from a bad start, especially with healthy returns for Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, a series loss now puts them barely about .500 (if at all, given the possibility of the sweep), and puts the AL East so far ahead that it's almost impossible to see.
We've had a couple "point of no return" articles here in the past few months, and it feels like we're coming to one of those critical series again. Start winning now, or start planning for 2013. Because it's not going to get any easier.