After getting embarrassed in front of an international television audience in London, the Red Sox flew back to the USA with their tails between their legs to finish the first "half" of the season with two road series in Toronto and Detroit. The chance to lick their wounds and pick up some wins against two of the worst teams in the league would normally look good on paper, but given how this season's squad tends to play down to the level of their competition and hasn't always faced adversity head-on, I had no assumptions as the games started.
(7/2 at Toronto Blue Jays): Rafael Devers almost single-handedly carried the team in this game, getting the scoring started in the first inning with a two-run homer and driving in six for the game. Behind strong games from Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and Christian Vazquez the Red Sox built up a 10-3 lead and it was a good thing, too, because as has been typical the bullpen gave up a few late runs. The Red Sox still held on to win 10-6, but it really should've have been that close. It was Trevor Kelley, a sidearm pitcher making his major league debut, who allowed those three runs in the ninth and while Boston escaped with the win, I don't think we'll be seeing too much more of Kelley this season (if ever again).
(7/3 at Toronto Blue Jays): Once again, Devers put the Sox on the scoreboard first and Boston took a 3-1 lead into the fourth inning before Chris Sale's miserable season continued with another implosion. He gave up a two-run shot to Danny Jansen to tie the game and then another two-run bomb to Brandon Drury in the sixth which made it 5-3 Blue Jays. For good measure (and in keeping with the season-long trend), the bullpen gave up another run in the eighth and the Red Sox dropped this game 6-3. On paper this should have been the easiest one to win, but Sale hasn't been Sale for most of this season and it's hard to win when your starter is giving up home runs all over the place to the tune of five runs in six innings. This series is starting to mirror the one in Boston a couple weeks ago when the Sox took the first game before Toronto took the last two. Hopefully they (Boston) can prevent a repeat from happening by winning tomorrow's finale.
(7/4 at Toronto Blue Jays): For the third game in a row, Devers drove in the first run for the Red Sox with a first inning solo home run. However, this game looked like it was going to get away from Boston when Toronto raced out to a 6-1 lead after four innings. It seemed like my premonition of the Sox dropping another series to the Blue Jays was going to hold true, but Boston exploded for six runs in the sixth inning started off by Bogaerts' RBI single. After RBI from JD Martinez and Jackie Bradley, Michael Chavis clubbed a three-run homer to put the Sox up 7-6. Of course, the bullpen (in this case, Brandon Workman) blew the lead by surrendering the tying run to Eric Sogard in the eighth inning. Unlikely hero Marco Hernandez came to the rescue with a solo home run in the ninth which helped Boston to an 8-7 win and a series victory. It wasn't pretty and it was a lot harder than it should have been, but a win is a win.
(7/5 at Detroit Tigers): Once again it was Xander and Devers getting things started for the Sox as they drove in the first three runs of the game to give the team a 3-0 lead. Holding an eventual 6-1 lead heading into the sixth inning, the bullpen once again nearly squandered it by allowing four Tigers runs to make it a one-run game. As they've had to do far too many times this season, the offense put up more runs to give them a little cushion. It's a good thing the Sox put up a nine spot, too, because Detroit picked up another run which would have tied the game had Boston not added insurance. Instead, the Sox earned one more in a long line of harder-than-it-should-have-been victories this season and opened the series with a 9-6 win.
(7/6 at Detroit Tigers): A four hour rain delay meant this afternoon tilt didn't start until well past eight o'clock and didn't finish until after midnight, but the Sox hung tough and ground out another win. It was Andrew Benintendi's birthday and he didn't disappoint in going 4-6 and helping the team get out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning. Boston raced to a 7-0 lead which seemed like it would be plenty for Rick Porcello, but Rick had a total meltdown in the sixth after allowing five runs. Colten Brewer continued to be terrible in allowing another run and as the Sox clung to a 7-6 lead, it was up to Devers, Eduardo Nunez, and Vazquez to drive in some runs and push the lead to 10-6 which is how it ended.
(7/7 at Detroit Tigers): The final game before the All Star break had the Red Sox best pitcher, David Price, on the mound and he delivered five solid innings in picking up his 150th career win. The Tigers scored first when Nicholas Castellanos hit an RBI double, but after that it was all Red Sox. Vazquez, Xander, and Benintendi all drove in runs to make it 5-1 and JD Martinez knocked a late run in for good measure to make it 6-1. Even the obligatory home run given up by Ryan Brasier in the eighth inning didn't hurt as the Sox finished off the game, series sweep, and first half of the season with a 6-3 win.
Quick Hits: Granted it was against two of the worst teams in the American League, but the Red Sox finished the last week of the "first half" of the season (really, their first ninety games) by going 5-1. In the process they picked up two games in the standings and are (still) in third place in the AL East, nine games behind the Yankees. They've still got a long, hard climb out of that hole to have a shot at the division (and they're currently two games behind Cleveland for the second Wild Card spot), but there was a lot to be encouraged about in this last week. Most of it had to do with the offense which looks like it has almost everybody clicking at the same time (finally!). The starting pitching is still a bit inconsistent and the bullpen is a disaster, so it will be interesting to see how the Sox come out of the All Star break and what they do (or don't do) at the July 31st trade deadline. There's a stretch at the end of this month and into August that will once-and-for-all determine what the Red Sox do this season: they play home-and-home series against both the Rays and the Yankees between July 22nd and August 4th. If they don't win every one of those series, their shot at the division will most likely be over (if it isn't before then) and they very well may be dead when it comes to the Wild Card, too. Still, let's not get ahead of ourselves...first up after the break will be an interleague series hosting the Dodgers; we'll just go from there.
49-41 record, 3rd in AL East, 9 GB the Yankees
Photo: (Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images)