Back at .500, once again, and now here comes a series against the second place team in the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers. In addition to that standing, the Tigers are also one game back of a wild card spot, or, from Boston's point of view, three games up on the Red Sox. This series, like the previous two against potentially playoff-bound clubs, represents a great chance for Boston to either make some needed progress, or dig a deeper hole for themselves.
Even better, this series starts up one day before the trade deadline, with the second contest just three hours after that threshold. Whether Boston will be closer or further out from their goal before the deadline will be determined Monday night, although whether that will cause them to lean one way or the other is a lot less obvious.
Game 1: Max Scherzer (116-1/3 IP, 3.3 K/BB, 93 ERA+) vs. Clay Buchholz (107-2/3 IP, 1.9 K/BB, 88 ERA+)
Game 2: Justin Verlander (155-2/3 IP, 4.1 K/BB, 160 ERA+) vs. Josh Beckett (108-1/3 IP, 2.8 K/BB, 95 ERA+)
Game 3: Rick Porcello (116-1/3 IP, 2.3 K/BB, 91 ERA+) vs. Aaron Cook (40 IP, 1.0 K/BB, 97 ERA+)
Scherzer and Buchholz both started out poorly, but, just like the story you know about Clay Buchholz, Scherzer has been much better since May. Over his last 15 starts, Scherzer owns a 3.62 ERA, despite allowing 1.5 homers per nine. Everything else has been working out for him, though, as he's punched out 11.3 per nine in that stretch, and against 2.9 walks per nine. The homers can be a problem, though, for a lineup who can put enough men on base, and the Red Sox are capable of that.
Justin Verlander is pretty good at baseball, if you hadn't heard. He'll be facing Josh Beckett, who, according to both local and national beat writers, isn't likely to be dealt despite Boston's hopes of netting something for him. But hey, it's the day before the trade deadline: who knows what will happen by the time Beckett is supposed to be on the mound.
Rick Porcello against Aaron Cook is the match-up of who can get the most outs via the ground ball. Porcello needs more strikeouts to be of more use to the Tigers, but he looks like Randy Johnson compared to Aaron Cook these days. Cook is just below one strikeout per nine, and succeeding entirely due to a walk rate that mirrors that.
If the Red Sox can win this series, they'll be in a good place, as they get a four-game series against the Twins before having to face potentially playoff-bound teams again. They'll have to deal with the TIgers' potent lineup -- anchored by Miguel Cabrera, who has hit .332/.401/.653 over the last two months -- to get there, though, and while Boston has its own strong 1-to-9 each night, they also don't have Justin Verlander taking the mound for them in one of the three contests.
This is an important series, and while the outcome of Monday's contest won't necessarily sway the entire direction of the team's plans for the trade deadline, the three-game set itself could have major implications for the rest of the year.