Now some of the rest of you get to experience weather that is de riguer for summer in Texas. It seems like the entire country is in the grip of 100+ degree temperatures.
But the Red Sox, about whom I have not written of late, are also pretty damned hot. They are 8-2 in their last ten games, have the second best record in baseball, and have hit the 60 win mark faster than at any point since the Fred Lynn-Jim Rice "Gold Dust Twins" era. And they have been doing it all with a depleted roster that has been beleaguered by injuries -- 60% of the starting rotation is on the disabled list and Carl Crawford just returned.
I'd like to think that all of this means that this team is not even close to peaking. Which is good for at least two reasons. For all of their accomplishments just past the midway point the Sox are still only two games clear of the Yankees, who are the only team with an even better run differential than the Yankees, which is the key factor in figuring out Pythag projections. And if we are willing to project to the end game I hope happens, the likely National League champion right now seems to be a Phillies team that looks even better than the Sox do and that has what is clearly one of the better rotations in a generation or more, surpassed only by the 1990s Braves in my memory.
The Sox just started a twenty game stretch of games that should help clarify things. They host Seattle now, facing a wretched Mariners team and will follow that up with a Kansas City visit in which the away team's rallying cry is "we're not quite the worst team in the AL!" From there they get a three game trip to Chicago to face a White Sox team whose most interesting element their cumbustible manager but who are probably still in the running for a mediocre AL Central. Then it is back home to face Cleveland, which had every sign of a team ready to fold it in after setting the world on fire in April and then collapsing soon after but that is back in the running of the aforesaid Central. Three games in Fenway against the Yankees should give us a really good sense of the direction the divisional race will take, though that is likely not to be the last clash between these two teams, and then the Twins meet up with the Sox in Fenway before the Sox get their next off day.
A few words on Derek Jeter and Jim Thome. Both have hit or are about to reach monumental landmarks, Jeter becoming the first Yankee to reach 3000 hits and Thome about to surpass 600 home runs. Jeter is surely a great player even if he is simultaneously a vastly overrated player. Thome is probably rated right about where he should be given that we do not really know what power numbers mean anymore even for those of us who think the steroid scandals, while bad for the sport, created ginned up outrage among the media that did not really reflect fan outrage to the same degree. But while we are on the steroids thing, let's just keep in mind that a lot of those same media members are now saying that Jeter and Thome have never been tainted by steroids. And it would be unfair to do so without evidence (not that lack of evidence has stopped the speculation before, but the media loves Jeter in a way that they never loved other guys). But one of the forms of circumstantial evidence that people happily used against, say, Barry Bonds was that OMG Look How Big He Got. And his head grew!!! Ok.
Jeter as a rookie:
And Jeter more recently:
All I'm saying is that using the head growth argument as a form of evidence brings us down a slippery slope because, and I want to be nice here, Jeter's current head appears to have swallowed his rookie head and left room for seconds.
And Jim Thome:
(Please do your own Google image searches because obviously this is an imperfect measurement -- which is, of course, my point).
See, when journalists say that an athlete "has not been tainted" the passive construction masks who tends to do the tainting, which is, of course, that selfsame media. Now, before anyone goes crazy, I do not have any reason to believe that Jeter or Thome (or for that matter Cal Ripken, who also got a lot bigger over his career, and whose longevity streak happens to coincide with the one thing that we know that steroids do even more than increasing power, which is increase the ability to fend off and recover from injury) ever took steroids. I'm just saying what I'm saying, which is that there was always an asymmetrical approach to steroids (by a media that managed to miss almost the entirety of the steroid era while it was happening, by the way, and yet managed to be the most outraged constituency of all once they caught up to the story) that was based as much on personality as it was on concerns about journalism.