By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Depending on which way you view the world, you could say the Boston Red Sox are currently in first place or currently in second place.
Technically, they’re in second place, on account of being a game behind the Yankees in the loss column. But in actuality, tiebreaking scenarios don’t matter a whole lot in late June. So if you want to say they’re tied for first, it is your right as an American to do so.
Whatever your worldview may be, the point is this: We don’t really know exactly what to make of the 2017 Boston Red Sox.
They’re 41-34, sitting atop the AL East standings and planted firmly in a group of five or six teams that could lay claim to being the second-best team in the entire American League. Yet whether they’re at the top of that cluster or closer to the bottom is something that’s yet to be settled.
The baseball that is played between now and the All-Star break might help present a clearer picture.
Over the next two weeks, the Red Sox will play four series — one at home, three on the road — that falls short of being make-or-break but should for better or worse reveal the Red Sox’ mettle.
It begins Monday night at Fenway Park with a four-game set against the first-place Minnesota Twins, who are a half-game up on the Cleveland Indians with a 39-34 record. The Twins have been streaky of late; they just completed a three-game sweep in Cleveland, just a few days after getting swept in a four-game series vs. the Indians in Minnesota. In the first series, Cleveland outscored Minnesota 28-8. In the most recent series, Minnesota outscored Cleveland 13-2.
The Boston-Minnesota four-game series ought to start off with a good one, as Chris Sale (9-3, 2.85 ERA, 0.904 WHIP) will be opposed by Jose Berrios (7-1, 2.67 ERA, 0.907 WHIP). The Red Sox won two of three in Minnesota in early May.
After that, the Red Sox hit the road for a 10-game trip — their second such excursion in the span of a little over a month. They’ll first head to Toronto, where they’ll hope top assert some AL East dominance over the Blue Jays. However, even though the Blue Jays sit in last place, they’re about two good weeks away from climbing back into the race, as they currently sit just five games out of first place.
Then the Red Sox go to Texas to face the Rangers. Though Texas is 13 games behind the runaway Astros in the AL West, the Rangers’ 38-37 record would be good enough to be in the thick of the AL Central race. And Texas in July can be a difficult place to play.
And before taking the four-day break for the All-Star Game, the Red Sox will head into Tampa for a four-game set with the Rays. At 40-38 and 2.5 games out of first in the East, the Rays have been hanging around through the first three months of the season, so the games in St. Petersburg ought to have an enhanced level of intensity compared to the past few years.
The Red Sox and Rays have already played seven times this season, with the Red Sox coming away with four wins. The Rays did win two of three in their most recent trip to Fenway.
Of course, it’s a distinct possibility that the Red Sox emerge from this 14-game stretch with a record of 8-6 or thereabouts. The Yankees — who play the White Sox and Astros on the road before hosting Toronto and Milwaukee — may perform comparably, and the standings may not look a whole lot different come July 10.
But the actual standings can be put aside. For a team that has had a mediocre June (aside from the series win in Houston) and has struggled on the road all year, the Red Sox have an opportunity to show whether they actually belong among that top crop of AL clubs.