You know the big news: Kevin Youkilis is coming back to Fenway Park (and you best cheer him, if you're in attendance). You don't have to root for him, though, as he's now wearing far paler hose, and his success counts against Boston's playoff hopes. So don't feel bad if your lone cheers come when he first steps to the plate.
On the non-dramatic side of things, the Red Sox have some games to play, as they sit just 1-1/2 out of the wild card at the start of this four-game set with the White Sox. Chicago, on the other hand, is 3-1/5 up in the AL Central, over the Tigers, who are fighting for wild card relevance just like Boston. A vote for a successful Red Sox series isn't just a vote for Boston, it's one in favor of chaos elsewhere.
The White Sox can hit and pitch, and it's why they're where they are in the Central. They've had some injuries in the rotation cause them to dip into the reserves, but, like the Red Sox and the seemingly endless supply of useful outfielders, the White Sox seem to have found some goodies in the bottom of their bag.
Game 1: Dylan Axelrod (30-2/3 IP, 2.0 K/BB, 70 ERA+) vs. Aaron Cook (22-2/3 IP, 1.0 K/BB, 93 ERA+)
Game 2: Philip Humber (67-1/3 IP, 2.0 K/BB, 71 ERA+) vs. Jon Lester (112-1/3 IP, 3.1 K/BB, 96 ERA+)
Game 3: Jose Quintana (62-1/3 IP, 3.2 K/BB, 164 ERA+) vs. Felix Doubront (96 IP, 2.8 K/BB, 98 ERA+)
Game 4: Jake Peavy (127 IP, 4.2 K/BB, 137 ERA+) vs. Franklin Morales (51-1/3 IP, 3.3 K/BB, 137 ERA+)
It should be pointed out that this isn't a set plan, as far as the White Sox go. Dylan Axelrod is starting in place of Gavin Floyd Monday, but Floyd might be able to be back in time to pitch in one of the four contests. That would mean Peavy would be skipped this time around -- pick your poison there, as Floyd has pitched very well against the Red Sox the last few seasons, while Peavy... well, you saw his numbers above.
Axelrod has had a rough go of things, and he'll be taking on a pitcher who might be able to limit the things the White Sox do best: namely, hit for power, and draw walks. Conversely, though, Cook is also likely to put a whole lot of balls in play, as his 0.8 strikeout rate is the equal of his impressive walk rate.
Humber has been a mess since his perfect game, a strange occurrence since he threw just 96 pitches in that outing -- it's not as if he strained himself and threw an extra 15-20 pitches to complete the game. Since then, Humber has started 10 games, thrown 53 innings, and allowed nearly as many runs (44) as he's struck out hitters (47). This is his first start back from a DL stint for a right elbow strain that cut his June short. He'll take on Jon Lester, who, BABIP aside, has been phenomenal as of late. The problem, of course, is that the BABIP has been a serious issue, one that's overshadowing any of the return to form that Lester has shown.
Felix Doubront has not looked good in his last three starts, striking out just 12 in 16-2/3 innings while walking seven and giving up four homers. He threw just 59 percent strikes in that stretch, thanks to a reduction of strikes of both the called and swinging variety. He's quickly approaching his career-high in innings -- the most Doubront ever tossed was 129, back in 2008 -- and one wonders if he's tiring a bit, or if this is just a short stretch of poor performance, the kind of thing that happens to a back-end starter with stuff that can sometimes belie that position.
His opponent is Jose Quintana, who is having himself the kind of season that a mere series preview won't be justice to. If you're interested in learning a bit more about him -- this former Yankee farmhand, who was allowed to walk as a minor-league free agent this past winter -- I've got you covered as of a couple of weeks ago over at Baseball Nation.
Last, Franklin Morales will take on Peavy, Floyd, or maybe Quintana, if Floyd comes back earlier than this. Regardless of who he faces, Morales, if he pitches like he has of late, should give the Red Sox a chance to win.