The Red Sox are out to start a new winning streak as they welcome the Minnesota Twins into Fenway Park for a four-game set.
So far this season, the Red Sox' modus operandi has been to go on a good run, and then completely implode, sacrificing all the gains from their streak. Rinse, lather, repeat. As such, when the four-game winning streak came to an end Wednesday night against the Detroit Tigers, it was all-too-easy to predict a long period of futility from the home team.
Not so fast! With the Twins coming to town, the Red Sox are in perfect position to break this trend. They've had difficulties against mediocre teams in the past, yes. The Blue Jays swept them after a strong 5-2 start to the second half, and the Athletics did a doozy on them before suddenly emerging as a very real playoff contender, but these are theTwins. Middling offensively and having allowed a full 40 runs more than the next worst team in the American League (despite having played one fewer game), these Twins are just an ugly train wreck right now.
This is either an opportunity for the Red Sox to finally shed their bad habits, or an opportunity to be royally embarrassed against one of the American League's truly bad teams.
Boston Red Sox (53-52) vs. Minnesota Twins (44-60)
Thursday, August 2, 7:10 p.m. EST
Jon Lester (5-8, 5.49 ERA) vs. Sam Deduno (2-0, 3.13 ERA)
You know it's bad news when your one-time ace is smiling in the dugout after an unusually good six inning, four earned run outing against the Yankees. Still, the Red Sox might have an ace up their sleeves tonight. While Ryan Lavarnway isn't Kelly Shoppach defensively, it might just help to get away from Jarrod Saltalamacchia. So far this year Lester's OPS against is a full 200 points higher with Salty behind the mound. Maybe a new battery partner will help Lester shake his slump?
Sam Deduno has been a lone bright spot for the Twins lately, but the light is only to be found in results, not process. With an absolutely giant walk rate of 6.26 per nine innings, Deduno could represent a chance for the recently-patient Sox to keep playing offense the way they did in the good old days.
Friday, August 3, 7:10 p.m. EST
Felix Doubront (10-5, 4.37 ERA) vs. Brian Duensing (2-6, 4.53 ERA)
Much like Deduno, Doubront has been plagued by the walk of late, but not hurt terribly much by it, allowing five free passes and just one run to the Yankees in his most recent effort. Doubront really hasn't been the same since the first few months of the season, and he does seem like a pitcher who's hit the wall in his first full season in the majors, but for now he's forging ahead with decent results when the Sox really need them.
Duensing is something of a poster boy for the Twins' general approach to pitching this year: let them put it in play, and hope. A K/9 under 5.00 isn't going to impress the Red Sox, but if he can keep the ball in the yard against a powerful right-handed lineup he'll at least give his serviceable defense a chance to pick him up and keep themselves in the game.
Saturday, August 4, 7:10 p.m. EST
Clay Buchholz (9-3, 4.75 ERA) vs. Cole De Vries (2-2, 3.98 ERA)
Clay Buchholz overcame a rough first inning to pitch eight strong innings against the Tigers, and given the way he's going right now shouldn't have much trouble against the Twins. For the first time in a while the Sox have someone who can be expected to go to the mound and perform, with Buchholz having provided a sub-3.00 ERA in both June and July.
If Duensing is the poster boy for the Twins' strategy, De Vries comes close to the ideal. He strikes out a few guys, but his real value lies in putting the ball in the zone and letting the defense do its job behind him. At least for the most part. The problem is that De Vries allows a TON of fly balls, and given the power in the Sox lineup, there's a good chance for some homers. Up against a typical pitcher that's not such a big deal, but if Buchholz is shutting out the Twins, it only takes one or two shots to make all the difference.
Sunday, August 5, 1:35 p.m. EST
Josh Beckett (5-9, 4.54 ERA) vs. Nick Blackburn (4-6, 7.43 ERA)
It says Josh Beckett there, but it remains to be seen if Beckett will even be on the 25-man roster come Sunday given the back spasms. If he is, Sox fans will be a lot more upset than they should be. For all the grief Beckett earns with his personality, off-field actions, etc., he's actually a decent starter for a team that hasn't been able to put together scoreless innings very often.
Beckett looks even better through the lens of one Nick Blackburn. 3.83 K/9, 2.62 BB/9, 1.86 HR/9. Simply put, if the Sox don't score against Blackburn, it will be a complete embarassment.