The Red Sox aren't mathematically out of the playoff hunt, but they're exhibiting signs of realization that their chances are, at best, slim. Carl Crawford is headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery, pitching coach Bob McClure was fired to give assistant pitching coach Randy Niemann a chance behind the wheel for six weeks, and players like Mike Aviles and Aaron Cook, who were placed on waivers earlier in August, might be dealt if Boston receives enough in return to make that worth it.
Before they totally throw in the towel on the year, though, there are meaningful games to play. Maybe the Red Sox can't get back into the thick of the wild card race, but they can keep the Angels from reaching that promised land, too. You see, the Angels are in a very similar situation to Boston: high off-season hopes, a huge team salary, and loads of stars and names that should have made the post-season a foregone conclusion in the eyes of many. Baseball doesn't work that way, though -- loading up your team simply provides you a higher percentage chance of success. With the Red Sox seven games back of the wild card, and the Halos four back, now's a good time to remember that.
A sweep of the Angels would simply bring the Red Sox to 62-63, still under .500, and still well out of the wild card race. A sweep of the Angels would allow the Red Sox to play the role of spoiler, though, and in a season where the playoffs are likely out of reach, you take what you can get, even if that means rooting for the ruination of others.
Given that the Angels have pitched significantly worse than the Red Sox in the last month -- no, seriously: the Angels have a 5.94 ERA and .209 Isolated Power allowed over the 28 days -- playing spoiler just might happen, too.
Game 1: Ervin Santana (135-1/3 IP, 1.9 K/BB, 68 ERA+) vs. Aaron Cook (57 IP, 0.7 K/BB, 96 ERA+)
Game 2: Jered Weaver (141 IP, 3.4 K/BB, 138 ERA+) vs. Clay Buchholz (139-2/3 IP, 2.1 K/BB, 105 ERA+)
Game 3: C.J. Wilson (159-1/3 IP, 1.9 K/BB, 105 ERA+) vs. Franklin Morales (73-2/3 IP, 2.6 K/BB, 120 ERA+)
Santana has just not pitched well this year, and it's due to an ineffective slider. That pitch has been the difference between productivity and putrid pitching for Santana over the years, and in 2012, the needle is pointed at the latter. While his ERA has bounced around from the low six-range to the mid-fours, he's comfortable in the mid-fives now, and while he's pitched a bit better as of late (unlike most Angels' starters), he's had to reduce his strikeouts considerably to do so.
He'll be taking on Aaron Cook, who knows a thing or two about succeeding sans strikeouts. Cook is volatile, as his outings all depend on just how many balls don't find holes, and whether he can command his slider to stay down in the zone all game or not. But when he's on, he's really, really on.
Wednesday night's match-up is the premiere one of this series, as Jered Weaver takes on Clay Buchholz. Buchholz's ERA still doesn't look the part thanks to his horrendous April, but this is the meeting of these clubs' top starters. Weaver has an ERA of 2.74 for the season, while Buchholz is at 2.69 over his last 15 starts and 107 innings.
Last, we've got C.J. Wilson, who has seen his ERA+ plummet due to a 6.99 ERA over his last five starts and 28 innings. Wilson continues to miss bats, but the ones that connect have hit the ball very far: the opposition amassed a .297/.375/.525 line against him in those five starts. He'll face Franklin Morales, whose homer rates were destroyed single-handedly by the Yankees in his last start. Morales gave up four of the 11 homers he's allowed all season in that one start, raising his HR/9 from 0.9 to 1.3 in the process. Against the Not Yankees, he should be able to start to bring that back down.
Don't think the Angels aren't featuring a dangerous lineup, though. Over the last 28 days, the hitting has been as good as the pitching has been bad. Red Sox fans know a little something about how that works.
And hey, we get to see Mike Trout play at Fenway. He's allowed to do productive things for the Angels, but no one else is. I think we can all agree on that for entertainment purposes.