Manager Bobby Valentine (R) and David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox look on during batting practice before the start of the Red Sox game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 22, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.

So far in 2012, the Boston Red Sox are 22-22 after 44 games. For comparison’s sake, they were 24-20 at the same point last year.

So what’s different about 2011 and 2012?

Well obviously the new faces and new manager. In both years, the Red Sox got off to horrible starts with the difference being that they got to .500 faster this year. The only problem being they haven’t been able to get over the hump.

Last year and this year as the weather has gotten warmer the Red Sox have played better. Lately, they have been playing some good ball with all the facets of the game working in their favor. Last year when they got over the .500 mark, it was the same thing.

One difference from last year was that when one of the facets wasn’t going their way, the others would step up and get the job done. While that wasn’t the case for the early part of the season this year, it has been lately.

The Red Sox are a good baseball team. They are not a great baseball team. They didn’t come in to this year with the same expectations placed on them. Although, here in Red Sox Nation, we expect them to win the World Series every year.

The one thing to me that has really cured the woes of the early part of this season is the bullpen.

The bullpen was a big reason for the slow start of the 2012 season. But collectively as a group, they have been pretty much lights out. Sure there has been a bump in the road or two but those little hiccups were nothing like what we saw early on.

Given the Red Sox have been battling injuries to key players, things could be a lot worse. Instead, they are 5.5 games behind the first place Baltimore Orioles and just 1.5 games out of one of the two coveted AL Wild Card spots.

I think we fully anticipate things getting even better for the Red Sox. Hopefully that starts tonight with the Tampa Bay Rays coming to town, a team the Red Sox have already taken 4-of-6 games from this season including 3-of-4 at the Fens.

One thing to watch for tonight is to see what Bobby Valentine does with his lineup.

When Kevin Youkilis returned from the disabled list, Bobby V moved Adrian Gonzalez to right field and put Youk at first base. That allowed Will Middlebrooks to stay with the club and man the hot corner.

But with the spacious right field at the Fens, Gonzalez could end up back at first with Youk at third and Middlebrooks on the bench. It’s not ideal for the Red Sox to keep Middlebrooks on the bench here and while he deserves to be up here, it may serve his development better by going back to the PawSox for the time being.

I know alot of people don’t want to hear this but I do think the Red Sox will move Youkilis sometime in June. They are not going to trade Middlebrooks even if he could bring a high yield or caliber of players. They can save money and get almost if not better production from Middlebrooks.

Youk is a fan favorite here in Boston so I think we’d all take it a little hard. But Ben Cherington needs to do what is best for this ballclub. And that is not to have Middlebrooks sitting on the bench here.

We’ll be back later with tonight’s lineups, batter/pitcher matchups and links from the day. So for now, let’s take at look at the overnight links from the media by clicking on the read more button below if you’re on the home page.

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A trusty closer emerges [Boston Globe]

Matsuzaka cleared for a start [Boston Globe]

Bradley gets notice, but no promotion [Boston Globe]

Wary of fan anger, athletes largely avoid political fray [Boston Globe]

For all the troubles, Red Sox remain in chase [Boston Herald]

Adrian Gonzalez must turn on power [Boston Herald]

After awful start, Red Sox relievers getting outs [Boston Herald]

Power outage [Boston Herald]

Red Sox Role Players Carrying The Load, Keeping Team Trending in Right Direction [Tom Caron –]

Lay off Bobby V. [CSN New England]

.500 at Fenway? [CSN New England]

Bobby V’s proclamation [CSN New England]

Jenny Dell Joins Red Sox Players at Hard Rock Cafe to Promote Commemorative Album [Jenny Dell –]

Math backs Bobby V.’s ‘championship’ talk [ESPN Boston]

Boston Red Sox are the best last-place team in baseball [ESPN Boston]

Video: Cafardo on Ortiz, Sox back at .500 [Extra Bases]

How Che-Hsuan Lin became the most famous defensive replacement in the world [Full Count]

Debunking myths about Daniel Bard’s velocity [Full Count]

Opinion: In the end, Curt Schilling was only about Curt Schilling [Full Count]

Will Middlebrooks Recognizes Father With Stevie Ray Vaughan At-Bat Music, Ryan Sweeney Gets Down With Drake []

Kevin Youkilis Pays Visit to Patriots, Brother-in-Law Tom Brady During Practice []

Carl Crawford, Kelly Shoppach Enjoyed Joe Maddon’s Road Outfit Costumes, Loved Miami Vice Attire []

Beyond the radar gun: The evolution of Josh Beckett [Alex Speier –]

For more slices of Red Sox goodness, head over to the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, CSN New EnglandESPN Boston, NESN, Providence Journal, and WEEI websites.

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photo credit: Getty Images