Boston has been on a roll lately, and are now tied for third place in the American League East, just 1-1/2 games behind the Orioles for a Wild Card spot, and two back of the Angels for the top one. They don't have much in the way of soft schedule in front of them, but for at least this four-game series, they get what should be an easy opportunity to continue pushing forward while time lets the cavalry heal.
The Mariners are in last place, but not in the way the Red Sox were a few days back. Seattle is 15-1/2 games back of the Rangers, and own a .416 winning percentage. They're just half-a-game ahead of the largest gap between first and worst in the league, and while it's not on their offense as much as it has been in years past, that doesn't make things any easier to deal with: despite their pitcher-friendly home park, the Mariners have allowed the sixth-most runs in the AL this year.
Game 1: Felix Hernandez (101-2/3 IP, 3.3 K/BB, 110 ERA+) vs. Franklin Morales (34-2/3 IP, 4.1 K/BB, 134 ERA+)
Game 2: Hector Noesi (86-2/3 IP, 1.7 K/BB, 67 ERA+) vs. Aaron Cook (7-2/3 IP, 0.0 K/BB, 46 ERA+)
Game 3: Erasmo Ramirez (28 IP, 3.3 K/BB, 90 ERA+ ) vs. Josh Beckett (78-1/3 IP, 3.3 K/BB, 100 ERA+)
Game 4: Jason Vargas (109 IP, 2.6 K/BB, 82 ERA+) vs. Felix Doubront (85-1/3 IP, 3.0 K/BB, 92 ERA+)
Hard to believe, but Felix Hernandez and Franklin Morales are the same age. Back in 2004, Hernandez was the #30 prospect via Baseball America, and moved up to #2 overall before the 2005 campaign. Morales had similar rankings in his own time, also coming in at 30, except in 2007, and then at #8 before 2008. They've had very different career paths other than that, with the right-handed King Felix figuring things out nearly immediately, while the left-handed Morales went through the typical young lefty control issues and a prolonged bullpen demotion before coming back to the rotation.
This isn't meant to imply that Morales is Hernandez's equal -- Hernandez threw more innings in 2011 than Morales has thrown in his entire major-league career. It's more just a reminder that no matter how highly-touted, sometimes pitchers just don't work out as planned. Or, as Morales is trying to prove, sometimes you just need to be patient.
Noesi has been a mess for the Mariners, failing to miss many bats while giving up far too many homers. He'll be taking on Aaron Cook, who has yet to log a strikeout on the year, but did manage to avoid having his leg severed in half in his second start of the year.
Erasmo Ramirez is starting in place of Blake Beavan, and is about to log game 15 and start four doing so. Maybe he's not going to be a great starter, but considering Beavan is a significant reason for Seattle's struggles on the mound this year -- 5.92 ERA in 12 starts, with 1.7 homers per nine allowed -- he doesn't have much of a hurdle to clear to be better than what they've had. He'll face Josh Beckett in his return from the DL and shoulder inflammation.
Last up on Sunday is Jason Vargas against Felix Doubront. The lefty Doubront has not looked good as of late, but maybe getting out of what has been a very high-powered Fenway Park as of late will cure what ails him.
Seattle's bullpen has its holes, but overall, it's been much more productive in terms of results than the rotation. Hitting the starters hard before the pen comes in will be the key to this series, and Boston's lineup, as per usual, is up to that task.