BOSTON - The bad news: The 12-14 Red Sox are in sole possession of fourth place in the A.L. East.
The good news: They're just one game out of second, and 3 1/2 games behind the division-leading Yankees.
The best news: The Sox are finally all pretty much healthy, and there's plenty of optimism they can get rolling with a full lineup.
With Will Middlebrooks returning last Friday prior to the three-game series in Toronto, and Shane Victorino activated the day before, manager John Farrell can finally employ the lineup he envisioned before the season started.
"The most important thing is our lineup gets lengthened up," Farrell said. "To have Will in that bottom third, that presents a threat, a power threat. He was swinging the bat well before the injury. He came back and swung the bat well in Toronto. I think more than anything, it doesn't allow for that potential breather by a starting pitcher once they get through or into that bottom third in the order."
Middlebrooks went just 3-for-11 in the series, but one of those hits was a home run and another a double. He has two homers for the season.
Victorino has come along a bit slower; he's hitting just .133 (2-for-15). It's nothing Farrell is concerned about, though, as Victorino just needs some more plate appearances under his belt.
Farrell sees the depth of the lineup as a huge advantage, and one that allowed so many comeback wins last season.
"It's hard to get a full read on what our team is going to be when it's incomplete," Farrell said. "But to me, the overriding thing is the quality of at-bats up and down the lineup. That's going to give us opportunities if we do find ourselves behind in games to come back, to mount innings as [we saw] this team do last year time and time again. There's no shortage of competitiveness in this group."
Mike Napoli, who has had no trouble finding his own personal identity so far this season (.304, 5 home runs, 15 RBI, 21-game on-base streak), says that getting those players back will allow for some consistency in the batting order.
"They're a big part of this lineup and we can find our identity and just flow," Napoli said. "Everybody is going to be in the same spot in the lineup and be able to do the things: the guys that get on base just worry about doing that and then [the RBI] guys try to drive them in. Just nice having them back and hopefully [we] start playing good ball."
Grady Sizemore has come back down to earth after a spring training that had some wondering if the Sox had pulled off the steal of the century over the offseason.
Sizemore is batting .208 so far, with 2 home runs and 7 RBI, but his last 10 games have been abysmal. Sizemore is just 3-for-37 (.081) with a OBP of .167. He has three RBI in those games.
Farrell says a lot of it is opposing teams simply mixing pitches.
"There's been a willingness by the opposition to throw a little more offspeed with him," Farrell said. "We've got a chance to rotate him in a little bit more now with Victorino being back. But I think it's just been more off-speed and some elevations and fastballs where he's chasing at times."
A.J. Pierzynski will get the start behind the plate for the Sox Tuesday night with John Lackey taking the mound.
Farrell likes what he sees between Pierzynski and Lackey, and notes that an off-day yesterday and Pierzynski's success against Rays starter Erik Bedard helped make the decision.
Pierzynski is 9-for-21 (.429) with 2 home runs and 4 RBI against Bedard for his career.
"They're coming off a couple games in which they worked very well together," Farrell said. "A.J. has had a lot of success against Bedard as well and continues to fight. We're looking to continue to lengthen up the lineup as best as possible. That doesn't mean that [David Ross] is going to find himself not playing against left-handed starters. Coming off the off-day, everyone is rested to go and this is the combination."