The Red Sox are out to improve on their 5-2 start to the second half of the season as they welcome the Toronto Blue Jays into Fenway Park.
Despite six of the nine games between these two teams having been played in Toronto, the Sox currently hold a 5-4 advantage in the series, taking each of the last two series 2-1. The bad news is that after both series the Sox would enter prolonged slumps, going 1-7 starting with the loss in the final game of the first series, and then dealing with the awful West Coast trip and Yankees series (3-8 in total) after the second.
Hopefully this time they can replicate just the first part of that. Or maybe the secret to keeping momentum is to sweep the Jays? Either one would suit the club and the fans just fine, and with the Jays suddenly suffering from injuries everywhere and the Sox finally approaching full health, now could be the time.
Boston Red Sox (48-45) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (45-47)
Friday, July 20, 7:10 p.m. EST
Josh Beckett (5-7, 4.44 ERA) vs. Aaron Laffey (1-1, 3.38 ERA)
There are two ways to look at Josh Beckett's last start: a textbook quality start against the Tampa Bay Rays. One is that he recovered from early difficulties to provide the team with six solid innings of work that helped them to a 7-3 win over their division rivals.
The other is that he allowed three runs in just six innings of work against a team he has traditionally dominated and which has all of zero intimidating bats in the lineup. Taken in the context of six mediocre weeks, it doesn't look terribly good. The Blue Jays have a better lineup than Tampa, after all, and if Beckett wants to keep the good pitching rolling from Buchholz' gem, he'll have to throw the ball better and more consistently than he did against the Rays.
Aaron Laffey will be the third straight lefty to get a crack at the Sox. The question is: will he end up like Jose Quintana, who dominated the Sox for eight innings, or Pedro Hernandez, who's currently sporting an 18.00 ERA after his first major league game. If history tells us anything, it's that he'll be more Quintana than Hernandez. Laffey's one start against Boston is remarkably similar to Quintana's: six shutout innings, three hits, no walks, two strikeouts. Two fewer innings, two fewer hits, everything else the same. The good news for the Sox is that now they've seen him, which can mean all the difference when it comes to hitting a young southpaw.
Saturday, July 21, 7:10 p.m. EST
Aaron Cook (2-2, 3.34 ERA) vs. Carlos Villanueva (4-0, 2.68 ERA)
Aaron Cook is on an unbelievable (and likely unsustainable) roll. Having allowed just five earned runs in 27 innings since his return from injury, Cook has earned his spot in the rotation and then some, holding the White Sox down for seven frames in his last appearance. While it's true that Cook isn't about to maintain a 1.67 ERA over his next four outings, he's doing things his way--almost to the point where he's become a caricature of himself. Two strikeouts and one walk are all he's got in those 27 innings, with an amazing 61 outs coming on the ground. If he can keep that up, then the Sox' strong defensive infield should be able to keep him in good shape ERA-wise.
Carlos Villanueva is Cook's polar opposite, with more than 10 strikeouts and nearly five walks per nine innings. So far it's a style that's worked well for him, but those peripherals get a fair bit worse against lefties. With the Sox capable of loading their outfield with lefties that love to hit righties, they might take the opportunity to feast after going against lefty after lefty.
Sunday, July 22, 1:35p.m. EST
Jon Lester (5-7, 4.80 ERA) vs. Henderson Alvarez (5-7, 4.29 ERA)
It's an odd situation the Sox find themselves in where Jon Lester is the worst they have to offer rotation-wise. After two ugly starts against the Yankees and White Sox, Boston has been left wondering what's happened to their one-time ace. No longer can Lester blame good pitches getting hit and bad luck--now he's just started throwing meatballs. It's time for Lester to start earning his spot in the rotation, because with options like Franklin Morales being sent to the bullpen it's getting harder to take his collapses.
Henderson Alvarez, on the other hand, has put together two of his best starts this year over his last three games. His last outing,against New York, wasgood for six solid innings of two-run ball while the Angels could manage just one run in seven innings. That's two good teams held low after seven games of allowing at least three earned runs a piece. Two of those games, however, came against the Red Sox, who have put up eight earned runs in 17 innings against the young hurler over the course of the year now. Add in the five earned he allowed to Kansas City in between, and it's pretty clear he's not invlunerable. Can the Sox outpace the Jays against Lester, however? Hard to say.