(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
The Red Sox have everything to gain and everything to lose as they take on their arch-rivals in the Yankees in a crucial four-game series.
The Red Sox have one chance to set things right before they head into the All-Star break.
It's also, of course, a chance to fall into a hole that's nearly impossible to escape from.
Four games against the Yankees in three days. Already facing a 7.5 game deficit in the AL East, the Sox are headed into their most difficult month of the season on the back of a 2-5 slump that saw them scores just 14 runs total. Beset on all sides by injuries, slumping, and without any sort of cushion whatsoever, the Sox seem to be in line to take a hit they can't afford.
Still, there's always hope. At 3-4 over their last seven, the Yankees aren't too hot right now either, and are dealing with some injuries of their own. With their backs against the wall and Fenway hopefully offering up some home cooking, the Sox have to take this dangerous scenario and make an opportunity out of it.
Boston Red Sox (42-40) vs. New York Yankees (49-32)
Friday, July 6, 7:10 p.m. EST
NESN/MLB Network, WEEI
Josh Beckett (4-7, 4.06 ERA) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (8-7, 3.17 ERA)
Josh Beckett was solid in his return from the disabled list, but the Sox will be hoping for something more against the Yankees--something closer to the dominance he showed for stretches in May. It's been a while since the team has seen consistently strong efforts from Beckett, who has been yanked in and out of starts by a conservative front office. Hopefully the time off has him well-rested and ready to go at 100% again.
The (most recent) "one that got away" continues to look like a bargain for the Yankees. Striking out 11 batters in the process of throwing seven shutout innings in his last time out, Kuroda is on a season-long tear that should be making the Sox' upper brass feel awfully foolish for trying to lowball him during the offseason. The Sox haven't had a chance to face him yet, but right now it's looking entirely possible that Kuroda makes them pay for their penny pinching with a loss.
Saturday, July 7, 12:35 p.m. EST
Franklin Morales (1-1, 2.51 ERA) vs. Phil Hughes (9-6, 4.29 ERA)
This is the real test for Franklin Morales. After shutting down three straight weak lineups, Morales will have his chance to prove that he can stand against the best as a starter. He should be well rested, having only pitched a short relief inning against Oakland since his last start on June 28. One just hopes the layoff isn't enough to throw him off his game.
After a thoroughly mediocre April, Phil Hughes has been a lot like Josh Beckett, mixing implosions with gems to produce a pretty decent bigger picture. Given that he's shut down some good offensive teams along the way and blown up against the Braves, it seems like Hughes is just ne of those pitchers who is either on, or off. Boston's offense might not have much say in this one on the whole.
Saturday, July 7, 7:15 p.m. EST
Felix Doubront (8-4, 4.42 ERA) vs. Freddy Garcia (2-2, 5.94 ERA)
Ideally, the Red Sox would've been able to give Felix Doubront an extended vacation aroundthe All-Star break. Unfortunately, however, Daisuke had his implosion, went straight to the disabled list, and left the Sox in a sticky situation. While Doubront was able to keep the runs off the board in his last outing, he just wasn't very good, and had to leave the game very early as a result. Given the doubleheader, that might be the worst thing he could possibly do in this game. Given the Yankees' power bats, Fenway, and Doubront's homer troubles, however, things don't look good for a turnaround.
The good news for the Sox is that they still might be able to win even if Doubront falls entirely to pieces. After having mixed results as a reliever, Freddy Garcia is making just his second start back in the rotation--a role from which he was knocked emphatically by the Red Sox back in April, even if the Yankees did mount a massive rally to overcome the early deficit.
Sunday, July 8, 8:05 p.m. EST
Jon Lester (5-5, 4.33 ERA) vs. Ivan Nova (9-3, 4.05 ERA)
The Sox finally saw a glimpse of the old Jon Lester in Oakland. After a tough first inning against the Athletics saw him surrender a run and throw tons of pitches, the southpaw not only settled down, but caught fire, limiting the A's to just a paltry few baserunners and striking out nine in 6.2 innings of work. The Athletics are not the Yankees, of course, but Lester has had success against the Bronx Bombers in the past, and if he really gets locked in on the mound, there are few better.
Ivan Nova may have been let down a bit by his defense in a 7-4 loss to the Rays, but after a bad April and May, the young righty has really stepped it up, bringing his numbers to respectable territories with an incredible June. Hopefully the loss to the Rays will have shaken him up some, since before that he was night unhittable, throwing 36 innings of five-run ball.