The Red Sox have just taken seven of eight games from a combination of some of the best teams in baseball: the Yankees, Phillies, Twins and Rays. All but two of those wins came away from home. Now, if they want to keep their momentum going, the Sox will have to take care of business at home against some weaker competition. First up, the Kansas City Royals.
There is no sugarcoating the 19-28 record of the Royals—they are not a good team this year. And it's not hard to see why. Pitiful pitching combined with poor defense is rarely a recipe for success. Not even Zack Grienke, last year's Cy Young winner, has an xFIP under 4 for the Royals rotation—though he is the lowest at 4.2, and is likely suffering from having not had time to recover from last Sunday's meltdown.
The Red Sox will have to take on Grienke on Saturday, but the rest of the schedule is considerably easier. Neither Kyle Davies nor Bruce Bannister are overpowering pitchers, and neither can cover up their underwhelming stuff with pinpoint control. Fly ball pitcher Davies should be especially vulnerable in the confines of Fenway against the homer-hitting Red Sox. The worst of the bunch is undeniably Gil Meche, though. After a few good seasons to start his career with the Royals, Meche had an unimpressive 2009, and has declined into disaster territory in 2010. Walking over six batters per nine innings, striking out only five-and-a-half, and giving up a good few home runs, Meche should be an easy target for the Sox.
If the Royals can get the ball to the pen in good time, they should be in slightly better shape, but not by much. Kansas City has already tried fourteen different arms in the pen this season, with some mixed results. Rookie Blake Wood has come on strong, with a powerful fastball getting results, but not really missing many bats. Kyle Farnsworth and Joakim Soria both have low ERA with passable peripherals. Otherwise, there are few names who are really providing both.
The Royals do bring an average offense to the table. Jose Guillen, Alberto Callaspo, and especially Billy Butler are all strong bats, while Mike Aviles, Scott Podsednik, and David DeJesus are all solid. When Sox pitchers get to the bottom three, though, things should get much easier, as no combination of Bloomquist, Maier, Betancourt, Getz, Kendall, or Pena is really threatening. While their best three can all hit the ball hard, there's just not a lot of scary bats in the lineup.
The Royals' lineup might cater well to the Sox starters. They swing at a lot of outside pitches, and don't walk much--good news for walk-prone Daisuke Matsuzaka, breaking ball aficionado Clay Buchholz, and the potentially wild Tim Wakefield. Their tendency to drive the ball into the ground should play to the Red Sox' strengths, too.
With a relatively average lineup, you might expect to find a really strong defense. But that's not the case in
Kansas Missouri. The only players that break zero in UZR are Maier in CF, Podsednik in LF, Butler at 1st, and Callaspo at 3rd. Noticeable weaknesses are DeJesus in RF, and Aviles at 2nd. Put the ball in play, up the middle, and it should be a hit.
Another series win here would be big for the Red Sox, who find themselves back in the playoff race just five-and-a-half games back of the Rays, and only two behind the Yankees. Up against an unimpressive team, they are in a good position to possibly push into second, or at least close the gap. But if this situation feels familiar, that is for a reason. Just under a month ago, the Sox were six back of the Rays, and three back of the Yankees going into a series against the bottom-dwelling Orioles. Three days later, they were freshly swept and seven games out of the division lead. The Sox have to keep their foot on the pedal if they want to take advantage.