The Boston Red Sox will resume their interleague schedule Friday night as they welcome the Washington Nationals to Fenway Park for a three-game set.
While the Red Sox had been slipping over their last few games, a tremendous start from Clay Buchholz has them back on track, over .500, and looking to to gain back the ground they lost against National League opposition. For once, however, the Nationals are not a lucky draw.
At 32-23, the Nationals sit second only to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League, and there's no question what's gotten them to this point: pitching. With one of the most impressive rotations in the majors led by the phenom Stephen Strasburg and offseason acquisition Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals are not only the only team to have allowed fewer than 200 runs--they've actually surrendered 19 fewer then their nearest competition in the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Now the Red Sox will have to take their swings against not just the best rotation in the game, but the top three arms that rotation has to offer.
Boston Red Sox (29-28) vs. Washington Nationals (32-23)
Friday, June 8, 7:10 p.m. EST
Felix Doubront ( vs. Stephen Strasburg (
Felix Doubront has emerged as one of the more exciting young pitchers in the American League in his rookie year. It's just his bad luck to come up against the most exciting one the game has seen in years. If he has an ace in the hole, however, it's that he's coming up against a weak Nationals lineup which gets even weaker when facing left-handed pitching. With Doubront performing rather better against lefties himself, it could be enough to close the gap.
There's no questioning the ability of Stephen Strasburg. With an overpowering fastball, a deceptive change, and a devastating curveball, it's all a team can do to work good at bats against him. He is averaging fewer than six innings per start, however, so that might be exactly what the Sox should be aiming for: patience with an eye towards one or two runs and a shot against an admittedly staunch bullpen.
Saturday, June 9, 4:05 p.m. EST
NESN/MLB Network, WEEI
Daisuke Matsuzaka ( vs. Gio Gonzalez (
The Sox have traded the wild Daniel Bard for one of the most wild pitchers the team has seen in recent memory: Daisuke Matsuzaka. Making his way back from Tommy John surgery, ideally the Sox would be able to put him in a situation where he doesn't have to be lockdown, but that's not the situation he finds himself in here. With a 3.49 ERA in some 28 rehab innings in Pawtucket, Matsuzaka has at least been throwing well of late, but even if he transaltes that sort of performance to the majors it might not be enough against Gio Gonzalez.
While Gio Gonzalez is enjoying his new home in the National League, the Sox can perhaps take heart in the fact that he still seems to be the same pitcher he was in the American League--the same one who has never really managed to keep runs off the board against Boston. Once again, patience will be paramount, as Gonzalez has always been prone to the walk. Hopefully against him, however, the patience will come with the intention of scoring four or five in the process.
Sunday, June 10, 1:35 p.m. EST
Jon Lester ( vs. Jordan Zimmermann (
It's an odd thing to say that Jon Lester, with all the same advantages as Felix Doubront, doesn't engender the same level of faith as his southpaw comrade, but such is the case in 2012, where Doubront has emerged and Lester has declined. While his last outing was ruined by a bad error from Mike Aviles, Lester still just has not done a very good job of keeping opponents off the basepaths. It's been four games since he's had a really good start, which is what they'll likely be in need of against Zimmermann.
With a K/9 of 6.27 and a BB/9 of 1.41, you might expect Zimmermann to be the sort of soft-tossing pitcher the Sox have done so well against this year. No such luck. Sitting around 93 with his fastball, Zimmerman is simply aggression done right. Getting ahead in the count and pounding the zone without living in dangerous territory, Zimmermann isn't the sort of pitcher who can take the game completely into his own hands. As such, it's possible that the Sox can get lucky here for a good few runs no matter how well he pitches. But make no mistake, he's absolutely the sort of pitcher who swings those odds heavily in his favor with his approach. There's no being patient against a guy like Zimmerman. If he offers something to hit, the Sox may be best just taking what they're given and hoping.