Boston lost on Wednesday night, but they've won two series in a row against playoff-caliber clubs, and sit just 3-1/2 games back of a wild card spot. Tonight, they begin a four-game set against the Twins, who own the second-worst record in the American League. It's the last spot of sunshine on the schedule for the Red Sox until they face the Mariners at the beginning of September, as it's all playoff-capable teams from here on out. With that in mind, let's enjoy these pitching match-ups.
Game 1: Sam Deduno (23 IP, 1.1 K/BB, 99 ERA+) vs. Jon Lester (126-1/3 IP, 2.7 K/BB, 80 ERA+)
Game 2: Brian Duensing (59-2/3 IP, 2.1 K/BB, 91 ERA+) vs. Felix Doubront (113-1/3 IP, 2.5 K/BB, 101 ERA+)
Game 3: Cole De Vries (52 IP, 3.6 K/BB, 104 ERA+) vs. Clay Buchholz (115-2/3 IP, 1.9 K/BB, 93 ERA+)
Game 4: Nick Blackburn (82-1/3 IP, 1.5 K/BB, 55 ERA+) vs. TBD
Lester wasn't exactly vintage Jonny last time out, but holding the Yankees to four runs over six innings should qualify as its own category of quality start, especially when he struck out six and walked just two. Lester needs to maintain consistent mechanics, and stop opening up too early and giving his opponents a look at the pitch. Against the Twins lineup isn't a bad place to practice that, as they're solid, but nothing like the Yankees.
His opponent will be Sam Deduno, who has all of 28 innings in the majors split among three teams. He's a 28-year-old who has spent eight years in the minors, and while he's rarely had trouble missing bats, he's failed to find the strike zone far too often. The Twins are at the throw things at the wall and hope they stick without giving up two homers per nine portion of the season, though, so Deduno gets a chance to stick.
Duensing has spent most of 2012 in the bullpen, but Minnesota's rotation is a mess, especially after dealing Francisco Liriano to the White Sox, so this will be his sixth start of the season. Duensing is, arguably, one of the most Twins pitchers* in the league right now, as he strikes out 2.5 fewer men per nine than the average, keeps his walks low, and succeeds or fails almost entirely based on whether or not he gives up too many homers or not. As he's two days short of 12 months younger than fellow Minnesotan and similarly-styled hurler Nick Blackburn, it's fair to call the two Irish Twins.
Cole De Vries will join the Twins in Boston shortly after he finishes filming his role as the villain in an 80s coming of age movie. You will be shocked to hear this, but the 27-year-old strikes out a below-average number of hitters, keeping himself in the game by limiting walks. He'll be facing Clay Buchholz, who, in a phrase you should get used to hearing, is far more reliable of late than his season stats suggest.
Last up, it's the aforementioned Blackburn, taking on the ole To Be Determined. That's because there's no word as of this writing on whether Josh Beckett's back is feeling up to starting, or if Franklin Morales will take the mound in his place. Either way, Boston has the edge, despite what some overzealous booing Fenway fans might think about the issue.
Boston also has the lineup advantage, and the bullpen one, too. David Ortiz should be back sometime this weekend -- at least, that's the hope -- giving the Sox another boost. Minnesota can absolutely hit, though, even if there are some weak links, thanks to Joe Mauer (135 OPS+), Josh Willingham (155), Trevor Plouffe* (130), and a lineup mostly loaded with better-than-average hitters.
*I have been trying to come up with a joke involving Trevor Plouffe's name for well over a year now, and it isn't happening. I've hoped to fall into an Arrested Development reference, where Gob Bluth exclaims, "I should be in this Poof!" but with Plouffe's name inserted in a way that makes sense instead, but it just isn't happening. This is my official surrender on that topic.
Of course, since they just beat a few teams many feel they had no business winning against, following a sweep of the Sox by the Blue Jays, mentally prepare for the spiteful destruction of Boston at the hands of the lowly Twins, just because baseball.