Victor Martinez is returning to Boston for the first time since leaving the team in free agency this past offseason as the streaking Red Sox take on the Detroit Tigers in a two-game series starting Wednesday.
The AL Central has been one of the most wild divisions in baseball so far this season, with traditional contenders like the Twins and White Sox falling to the bottom of the group with the typically cellar-dwelling Cleveland Indians holding not only the best record in the division, but in the entire American League. The one constant, however, has been the Detroit Tigers. Currently leading the wild card race with a 22-19 record, there has been no unexpected fall-off for Detroit.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, have recovered from their terrible start to the season, and ride a four-game winning streak into a series which could establish them as leaders in the wild card race just a month after having the worst record in all of baseball. To do so, though, they'll have to go through Justin Verlander and one of the more productive lineups in the game.
Boston Red Sox vs. Detroit Tigers
Wednesday, May 18, 7:10 p.m.
Clay Buchholz (4-3, 3.94 ERA) vs. Phil Coke (1-5, 4.54 ERA)
Coming off his two best starts of the season, Clay Buchholz is suddenly looking like the old Clay Buchholz. Not the one who was a Cy Young contender in 2010, mind, but the high strikeout ace-in-waiting who established himself as one of the best prospects in all of baseball. If Clay can keep up this combination of ground balls and strikeouts, then he could quickly find himself back in the conversation of the league's best.
Phil Coke has been solid in his conversion to a starter, but by no means spectacular. However, he's had a lot of light competition, with four of his seven starts coming against Seattle, Oakland, and Minnesota. Despite some occasional bouts of wildness, Coke will generally pitch to contact and will make the Red Sox beat him. Of course, given that Coke is traditionally a fly ball pitcher, that might not be too difficult in the cozy confines of Fenway.
Thursday, May 19, 7:10 p.m.
Josh Beckett (3-1, 1.75 ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (4-3, 2.91 ERA)
Once again, the Red Sox will send Josh Beckett into a battle of the American League's best. The last time around, that resulted in six shutout innings against the Yankees with nine strikeouts for good measure. At some point, Josh Beckett will have another bad game, but right now it's pretty difficult to expect him to lose on any given night.
Of course, the same can be said for Justin Verlander. While Beckett hasn't allowed any runs in his first 17 innings in May (his first outing was a rain-shortened performance against the Angels), Verlander has allowed only four runs in 23 frames,with nine of those scoreless innings coming in his no-hitter against Toronto. With both starters in top form, this one could easily come down to one small mistake.