The Red Sox began this nine-game road trip in the midst of a downward spiral that saw them fall from first place in the AL East to a record of just 22-16, and their loss to the Rays in game one of the trip didn't help matters any. Since then, though, they've reminded us all that it's a long season, and sometimes the hits and wins drop in, and other times they don't. Right now, they're falling in, and the Sox have reeled off five-straight victories and consecutive series' wins, pushing them to just half-a-game out of first once more and three games up on a wild card spot.
They head to Chicago to face the White Sox, in the hopes of wrapping up this road trip with yet another series win and that much better of a record. Chicago is in fourth place in the Central, avoiding last despite consecutive losses thanks in part to the Red Sox sweep of the Twins, and currently sit at 19-23. Their pitching has been fine, but the offense... well, this is probably not the most opportune time for them to be facing both Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz in the same series. Things can change rapidly, being baseball and all, but they're scoring 3.7 runs per game, own a team OPS+ of 79, and have struck out the fifth-most in the AL before facing the Sox, who are punching out 9.5 per nine as a team. If they weren't second-to-last in walks, the appeal of Felix Doubront would be that much higher, too. Then again, let's not pretend like the current version of Doubront can't find a way to make them walk. Because he can, and he might.
Game 1 (8:10 pm ET): Jon Lester vs. Dylan Axelrod
Axelrod has been about average to this point, with a 104 ERA+ and roughly 5-2/3 innings per start. He doesn't miss many bats, but hasn't handed out many walks in 2013, either: since the Red Sox strike out and walk all the time, he's likely to break from at least one of those trends. In his career, he tends to walk more than he has this year, so the safe bet might be on Boston's lineup succeeding. Just about anything can happen in five-to-six innings of work, of course.
He'll take on Lester, who is making his 10th start of the year as he looks to wrap up roughly his first third of the year in much more productive fashion than in 2012. Last year, Lester posted a 4.72 ERA through his first 10 starts, but this time around, he's at 2.72. The strikeouts still aren't quite there -- he's the only one in the Sox rotation who isn't logging them at ridiculous rates -- but his command is. As that was the issue in 2012 more than anything, that has been and should be enough.
Game 2 (8:10 pm ET): Felix Doubront vs. Jose Quintana
Doubront has been maddening this year, as he's walking 5.3 batters per nine yet somehow maintaining a strikeout-to-walk ratio around two. He's managed to get by thanks to keeping the ball in the park, but when I say "get by" I mean "post an ERA around six instead of seven". He's been awful, easily the worst part of Boston's starting in 2013, and with Franklin Morales down to just one last rehab start, Doubront is going to have to show that he deserves more chances, starting with this game. Giving up just two runs to the Rays helped, but he also walked six of the 24 batters he faced and lasted for just five innings in that outing, with the number of runs having more to do with the lucky sequencing of baserunners than skill.
Quintana will be his opposition, as he continues his successful run of coming out of nowhere. Quintana is with his third club, none of which put him in the majors before the White Sox did in 2012, and he's logged 181 innings of 114 ERA+ ball with the opportunity. He's missing a few more bats this season, and it makes him more believable as a productive hurler. As with any pitcher, though, facing the club second in the AL in runs scored is a test that needs passing.
Game 3 (8:10 pm ET): Clay Buchholz vs. Chris Sale
Chris Sale is great. So is Clay Buchholz. If any of the three games is going to combine for three or fewer runs, it's this one. Not much more needs to be said, as this is two great arms working at the top of their game.
Of course, there's always the chance this one turns into a laugher for one team, because baseball. But let's hope for the insanely pitched game, shall we?
The White Sox have three hitters with above-average OPS+: Alex Rios (141), Dayan Viciedo (119), and Connor Gillaspie (107). Catcher Tyler Flowers has a .275 on-base percentage, but without the power to prop that up. Adam Dunn has been improving and has 10 homers, but is still at .169/.263/.408 overall. Jeff Keppinger drew his first walk of the season last week. Alexei Ramirez continues his unexpected and sudden decline into useless hitter, Alejando De Aza's follow-up campaign to a solid 2012 is not going so well, and Paul Konerko somehow has an even lower OPS than Dunn, who again, is hitting .169.
Please do not let this be the series when Chicago's bats wake up, okay guys?
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