We're 79 games into the baseball season, and the Boston Red Sox are—gasp—in first place in the AL East with a 46-33 record. They're sitting a pretty 2.5 games ahead of both the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles.
Not even the most hopeful of Boston fans could have seen this coming after last year's ugly 69-93 last-place finish.
We're nearing the season's halfway point, and it's looking good for the Red Sox to finally return to the postseason after missing it the last three years. To put it in perspective, on this day last year, the Red Sox were barely crossing .500 with a 38-35 record.
On this day in 2011, the Red Sox were in a similar situation (44-32) and remember, it took a seriously epic collapse for them to fall out of October (knock on wood).
Things are looking good. But where will they end up?
There are some signs for concern heading into the second half. The main reason for Boston's 12 more wins than losses is the team's performance in April. The Sox got off to a stellar 18-8 start that month.
But then they slowed down in May, going an even 15-15. So far in June, they're just above the fold, going 13-10.
For the Red Sox to remain dominant, they need to pick the pace back up. One of the biggest factors here is Jon Lester, who started the season 6-0 and then disappeared from the mound, going his next six starts without picking up a "W."
Lester finally won his most recent start in June 21, though he still allowed five runs and only lasted 5.2 innings. His 4.57 ERA is nothing to write home about, and after he pitched his absolute worst in 2012, fans are worried that he's slipping back there.
The Red Sox desperately need their No. 1 and 2 starters to be sharp. And speaking of which, Boston's true ace, Clay Buchholz, hasn't pitched since June 8 due to a neck injury. His rehab has been slowed, as he's still feeling some pain, and his return from the DL is unclear, though it shouldn't be long.
More than anything, the Red Sox need Buchholz healthy. He's a perfect 9-0 this season with a 1.71 ERA, allowing just 16 runs in 12 starts. He's also compiled 81 strikeouts in 84.1 innings. The Red Sox have won 11 games with him on the mound—which is nearly the complete difference between their wins and losses this season.
If the Red Sox can get Lester back to form and Buchholz healthy, their chances of staying at the top are very good. But before predicting where the Red Sox will finish, let's first take a look at the remaining series.