Series preview: Phillies vs. Red Sox

USA TODAY Sports

Boston will host Philly for two at Fenway, then head off to Citizen's Bank Park for the rest.

Fresh off their series win against the Indians, the Red Sox get to spend two more games at Fenway Park before they pack up and head off to Philadelphia. They will face... well, the Phillies in those first two games. Part of this season-long interleague setup that Major League Baseball has going on includes what are essentially the baseball version of a home-and-home series, except rather than one game in each team's locale, you get two a piece. So, the Sox will start things off in Fenway, then head off to Philly to complete the four-game set.

At least they don't have to travel far after the back-end of this series, as they will take on the Yankees this weekend. One series at a time, though. The Red Sox are essentially tied for first atop the AL East, behind the Yankees by .004 in win percentage thanks to New York playing two fewer contests on the year, and also jointly lead the AL wild card race at the moment. The Phillies are 24-26, 6.5 back in the NL East and seven back of the closest wild card.

With any luck, the Red Sox will take the series, guaranteeing themselves a winning record in May, which would give them back-to-back winning months to start the season for the first time since 2009 -- not coincidentally, that's also the last year the Sox made the playoffs. Given all the injuries and some poor starts by various players, you can't ask for much more than that to get the season going in, at the least, the right direction.

For the sake of consistency, Phillies pitchers will be listed first in all four games below.

Game 1 (7:10 pm ET) Tyler Cloyd vs. Alfredo Aceves

It should have been Clay Buchholz starting this game, but he was scratched with irritation in his collarbone. So, instead, we get Alfredo Aceves, who was called up late last week due to Clayton Mortensen throwing 50 pitches on Thursday in a loss to the Indians, making himself unavailable as the long man.

Aceves wasn't all that great during his time in Triple-A Pawtucket, striking out 21 batters against 11 walks in 23 innings of work. He gave up one hit and struck out a batter in a scoreless inning on Friday, but hasn't started a game since May 17 while still with the PawSox. He's been horrible as a starter this year overall, so hopefully his trip to the minors brought him back to at least tolerable, like he was when he first filled in for John Lackey back in early April.

His opponent will be Tyler Cloyd, who has all of 46 major-league innings logged. He's made a couple of starts already this year, and while those have gone well, homers were a problem in 2012. Pitching at Fenway against the Red Sox lineup could be problematic if that issue was to reappear, but then again, he's opposing Aceves: this game could go in just about any direction.

Game 2 (7:10 pm ET) Cliff Lee vs. Ryan Dempster

Dempster has not been so good as of late. He's managed just 12-2/3 innings over his last three starts, allowing 15 runs, three homers, and 11 walks in that stretch. He just seems to have lost the strike zone a bit, and while he's still racking up the strikeouts, the walks are piling up right next to them. With Felix Doubront looking a bit better recently, Boston can afford these issues with Dempster, but only for so long: hopefully, taking on the Phillies, who are third-to-last in OPS+ in the NL, helps him along the path to recovery.

Even if he twirls a gem, though, things could be tough, as he'll be opposing Cliff Lee. He might be striking out under seven batters per nine, but that means his strikeout-to-walk ratio is "only" 4.2 thanks to continued excellence in command and control. As per usual, he is awesome, and if Dempster isn't on his game, this game could easily go Philly's way.

Game 3 (7:05 pm ET) Kyle Kendrick vs. John Lackey

We can sum this one up pretty quickly. Red Sox fans: Kyle Kendrick is better than you remember. Phillies fans, John Lackey is better than you remember. Kendrick owns a 119 ERA+ that's not far off from the 112 he's put up over the last three years, and Lackey has a 2.72 ERA with over a strikeout per inning and a walk rate reminiscent of his pre-Red Sox career. He's not quite this good -- a few unearned runs have helped keep his ERA looking lopsided in a good way -- but he's been great for the Red Sox at the back-end of the rotation, and looks to be getting stronger with more work.

Game 4 (7:05 pm ET) Jonathan Pettibone vs. Jon Lester

Pettibone has made seven starts this year -- injuries to the Phillies' rotation has it looking a lot different than it was supposed to -- and the 22-year-old has done very well in them. He's not striking out many batters, but he's managed to keep his walk rate down and thrive in spite of homers. It won't last forever, though, as he's stranded 86 percent of his baserunners. If the right team strings hits and walks together in the proper sequence, his ERA will shoot right up. Lester has now made 11 starts, and owns a 3.34 ERA. His strikeouts aren't quite what they used to be, but 7.4 per nine with 50 percent of his balls in play on the ground has helped him out plenty.

*****

The Red Sox will be without former Philly Shane Victorino, as he's on the disabled list for his hamstring and back, as well as Will Middlebrooks, whose own back has him out for two weeks. The Phillies have their own issues, as catcher Carlos Ruiz is on the 15-day DL, and Chase Utley was just placed there as well, and isn't expected back until about mid-June. Clay Buchholz could return at any time and bump the rotation around a bit, but for now, expect to see these specific match-ups in this four-game set.

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