The Red Sox cannot be disappointed with how they've started June. 6-3 with series wins over the Yankees, Rangers, and Angels? They'll take that any day.
But that hasn't given them any real separation in a tightly contested American League East. Even with their victories over New York, the Yankees have kept pace over their last ten games, trailing by just one-and-a-half games. Baltimore and Tampa Bay haven't been quite as impressive, but are each easily within striking distance at three-and-a-half and four games back respectively.
Over the next week, while the Yankees deal with an always-tough West Coast trip, the Red Sox will put it all on the line. Nine games against the Rays and Orioles which could grant the division some clear definition at long last, or demolish the lead they've built over the first two months. These next nine days aren't for all the marbles, but it's about as close as it gets this early in the season.
Game 1 (7:10 pm ET): John Lackey vs. Alex Cobb
Alex Cobb may not have a win over the Red Sox in two tries this year, but that's no reflection on how the young righty has pitched. One of the stingiest pitchers in the American League, Cobb seems like yet another one of those Rays arms that the Red Sox are going to be dreading for years to come.
Still, they've managed to hand the Rays two of only three losses they've suffered with Cobb on the mound, and that's been thanks largely to their own ability to keep runs off the board. The Rays scored all of three runs for Cobb in those two games, facing off against Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront. While they may be one of the game's top-scoring teams, that hasn't shown up against Boston at all.
They have, however, hit John Lackey. So far this year that May 14 start represents an aberration as both the only time the Rays have scored that many runs against the Red Sox, and the only time Lackey has given up more than three earned runs (five in four innings). If what we saw out of him against Texas is any indication, he's ready to make up for that.
Game 2 (7:10 p.m. ET): Jon Lester vs. Roberto Hernandez
The first 45 days saw Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz dominate the competition, giving the Red Sox the strong 1-2 punch they so desperately needed at the top of the rotation. Over the past few weeks, though, it's been Lackey who has filled that #2 role, while Jon Lester has given the team plenty to worry about. 17 earned runs in 25 innings, only one game with a strikeout-to-walk ratio anywhere near where it should be. No, the last time Lester was Lester, it was May 15th...against this same Rays team. Hopefully they bring him back to those better times when he looked for all the world like the Lester of old.
Roberto Hernandez is an anomally in this Rays rotation. At 32 years old, he is not young. And after 1011 innings of 4.66 ERA ball (propped up by two good years in a sea of pretty awful results), he does not appear to be much of a pitcher. Somehow, though--perhaps because it's that typical, terrible Rays magic having some small effect--he's striking more batters out. A lot more. It's not something to be too concerned about since his swinging strike rate hasn't really strayed much from his career norms, but still something to watch for.
Game 3 (7:10 p.m. ET): TBA vs. Chris Archer
After this weekend's doubleheader, the Sox are in need of a spot starter. Who will get the call? The spectre of Alfredo Aceves remains in Pawtucket, but with Franklin Morales back on the roster, the Sox may prefer to keep things simple and go with him. The lefty was spectacularly bad in his most recent relief appearance, completely unable to find the strike zone, but threw only thirty pitches, and managed to hold the Phillies to two runs in five innings in his only start this year.
The bad news for the Red Sox is that they're right back to the whole "young phenom" thing on Wednesday when Chris Archer takes the mound. The good news is that Chris Archer, for all that he's a top prospect, hasn't set the world on fire this year. He's been good, but not as good as could be expected down in Triple-A Durham, and while he did just hold the Orioles to two hits in seven innings, it was a bit of a Jeremy Hellickson BABIP special. In his other start, he allowed five runs to the Indians in four innings. More of that ,please.
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