A quarter of the way through the 2011 season, the Red Sox were back where they started.

After a weekend sweep of the Yankees in New York – Boston’s first in nearly seven years – and the win over Baltimore Monday, the Red Sox are over .500 for the first time this season.

Losing half the games on the schedule was certainly not the goal of this team when it embarked on this season of great expectations.

Still, climbing back to a 21-20 record after starting the season with eight losses in 10 games was an important achievement.

The 1996 Red Sox were the last Boston team to start the season 2-8, and they didn’t get to .500 until August.

Fenway Park was a happy place when a seven-game homestand began Monday night against the Orioles.

The Sox were .500, and had gotten there with an impressive weekend in New York. The Sox outscored the Yankees 18-9, hit six homers to New York’s three and left the Bronx Bombers in disarray.

Boston pitching, stretched to the breaking point by rain delays and extra-inning games in the days leading up to the series, posted a 2.67 ERA against a Yankee team that started this week with the most runs scored in the American League.

The Sox have dominated the Yankees this season. They have averaged 5.8 runs a game against New York, a full 1.8 runs/game more than their season average.

Most important, they have won five of the six games they’ve played against New York this season.

The five wins is the same the Red Sox have compiled against the rest of the AL East.

It’s just another reminder that this division has gotten deeper and tougher than ever before. Gone are the days of the Sox winning 16 of 18 against the Orioles.

While the Sox have to feel good about the progress they’ve made this season, and the fact that they are just three games out of the division lead, the sobering reality is that the Sox are still closer to last place than they are to first.

Nothing makes Red Sox fans happier than wins over the Yankees.

But going 15-3 against New York won’t guarantee a playoff appearance for Boston.

Not if the team has a losing record in its remaining 54 games against Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay.

That’s why this little two-game set that finishes tonight is just as important – perhaps more important – than the weekend in New York.

The Sox won’t face another AL East foe for three weeks.

These “four-point games” are vitally important when it comes to hopes of winning a division.

The series with Baltimore is also important because of the pitchers the Sox send to the mound against the Orioles.

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched Monday night, and Tim Wakefield steps in tonight for John Lackey, who was sent to the disabled list Monday night.

Terry Francona had juggled the rotation to put his three best pitchers on the mound at Yankee Stadium, and the move paid off with three wins.

Now he needs the back end of that rotation to start delivering.

The Sox used their best and played their best against the Yankees.

At the quarter-pole of this 2011 season, we are suddenly realizing that the season could well be defined by how the rest of the staff performs.

Thanks to a big weekend in the Big Apple the Sox were back to .500. Boston will need to avoid a letdown if that record is the foundation for a successful season for a team with pennant aspirations.

 

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.