Summer brings deserved focus on Red Sox

Summer brings deserved focus on Red Sox

ST. PETERSBURG -- It was a red-hot David Ortiz who surmised the following after another big night at Yankee Stadium last week:

"As hot as the weather gets, that's how hot Papi gets."

Yes, we have entered the thick of summer, and Ortiz's big bat is just one reason the Red Sox figure to be a must-watch the rest of the way.

While much of Red Sox Nation has been trying to multi-task of late -- the Bruins are playing in Game 7 of the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday night -- baseball is about to take Boston's center sporting stage for the next few months.

Of late, the Red Sox have been pounding the baseball at the plate and limiting the opposition from the mound.

It promises to be one of the most enjoyable seasons since perhaps 2007, when manager Terry Francona's team last won it all.

Though the Red Sox just had a nine-game winning streak snapped, they own the best record in the American League at 39-27.

Offensively, Boston is recalling the summers of 2003-04 with a lineup that leaves an opposing pitcher no breathing room.

"Me and [Jacoby Ellsbury] just got to get on base, and then it's just this gauntlet behind us," said second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "There's nowhere to put those guys. You have to pitch to them. Me and Ells have been doing a good job getting on and when we do, man, it's fun to watch. The guys behind us man, they're talented."

It starts with Adrian Gonzalez, who promises to make a legitimate run at his first Most Valuable Player Award.

The reason general manager Theo Epstein obsessed on acquiring Gonzalez for so long has become blatantly clear. He is a wrecking machine at the plate.

Almost looking as if he was born to hit third for the Red Sox, Gonzalez is hitting .347 with 13 homers, 60 RBIs and a .984 OPS.

"If I know my body is going to respond the way I want it to, I'm confident," Gonzalez said. "When I go into funks, it's because my front hip is flying open or something in my body is not staying square the way I want it to. But when it does, I'm able to see the ball better and stay behind it and take the right hand path to the ball."

The amazing thing is that Gonzalez might not be having the best season by a Boston left-handed hitter. The resurgence of Ortiz has been eye-popping.

The designated hitter is having his most complete season in years, batting .321 with 17 homers, 43 RBIs and a 1.009 OPS. Yes, Papi is back, and he's back big.

But the man who is getting it all started is a legitimate candidate for the AL Comeback Player of the Year. Jacoby Ellsbury, who played just 18 games last year because of left rib woes, has been a certifiable force at the top of the order.

"Jacoby, we've said all along, when he's leading off and doing his thing, we're a different team," said Francona. "That's exactly what he's doing. He's stealing bases, he's getting on base, he's been terrific. He's played [just about] every inning of every game. He's done a great job."

As gaudy as the offense has been, the Red Sox's ultimate success will probably hinge on their pitching.

Josh Beckett has been simply marvelous, joining Ellsbury in the discussion for Comeback Player of the Year.

Jon Lester is a horse for the fourth straight summer.

Clay Buchholz has already proved that last year was no fluke.

John Lackey was shelled early in the season, but has won both of his starts since coming off the disabled list.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is done for the year, but the venerable Tim Wakefield is filling in. Keep an eye on Wakefield and his quest for 200 wins. He is just four away.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.