Interleague play is over, but that just means it's back to the American League East for the Red Sox. Boston finds themselves one game ahead of the Blue Jays, at 38-34 compared to Toronto's 37-35, heading into this three-game series. With the Orioles, three games up on Boston and four up on Toronto, facing the Angels for their own three-game set, this is a good opportunity for someone to open up some space on those closest to them.
That, or things will even out just enough that the end result looks mighty similar to the current predicament.
Toronto's pitching staff looks much different than it did last time around, since they decided to pull a 2011 Boston and see how well they can perform once everyone has a UCL problem. Then again, so does Boston's, since it currently has its own TJ recoveree in tow, a starter on a minor-league contract, and a reliever returned to starting.
Game 1: Henderson Alvarez (90 IP, 1.4 K/BB, 98 ERA+) vs. Felix Doubront (79-1/3 IP, 3.0 K/BB, 96 ERA+)
Game 2: Aaron Laffey (9 IP, 2.0 K/BB, 145 ERA+) vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka (16-1/3 IP, 3.0 K/BB, 69 ERA+)
Game 3: Ricky Romero (95-1/3 IP, 1.5 K/BB, 97 ERA+) vs. Jon Lester (94-1/3 IP, 2.8 K/BB, 92 ERA+)
Henderson Alvarez has had a rough June, as the lack of strikeouts seem to be getting to him. He's allowed 17 runs in 24-1/3 frames in the month, striking out just eight while walking four and giving up four long balls. His rough close to May hasn't let up as the end of June approaches, and with any luck for the Red Sox, they'll handle him as well this time around as they did the last. He'll be taking on Doubront, who had some trouble last time out, but so did nearly every other starter at Fenway during the last week/heat wave.
Aaron Laffey is still just 27, but he's a long way from his days as a early-20s pitching prospect in Cleveland. He's split his time between rotations and bullpens the last few seasons, been selected off of waivers twice and traded once in that stretch, and is now filling in as a starter for the beleaguered Blue Jays rotation. His opponent will be Dice-K, who is himself in the midst of a fill-in rotation job.
Last, we have Romero against Lester, in a match-up of who can be a bigger disappointment to their respective clubs. Lester has started striking hitters out and limiting walks, but as his last effort against the Braves reminded us, he's seemed far more hittable than someone with his recent punch out rates should be. As for Romero, he's been almost entirely problematic since May began. He allowed just two runs in his May 8 start, and one run against the Mets on May 18, but besides that, he's given up at least four runs in every start over the last two months. The strikeouts are down, the walks are up, and Boston hopes to capitalize.
As for the lineups, the Red Sox will have Brent Lillibridge in tow following the trade of Kevin Youkilis, though, whether he's given any playing time or not is another question to be answered in another post. Another side effect of that deal is that it will be Will Middlebrooks and Adrian Gonzalez at third and first respectively, without any juggling of their defensive positions. The Blue Jays have promoted Adam Lind once more after he tore up Triple-A, though it's anyone's guess as to which version of him is actually going to show up in the majors this time around, or if the Jays will utilize him appropriately, either. Ben Francisco was activated from the disabled list as well, and these two moves sent Mike McCoy and David Cooper back to the minors.
Boston has the superior lineup and, you would think, rotation, even in its weakened state. Now would be a good time to show both of those things off, though, and get more than a hair ahead of Toronto in the standings.