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Red Sox vs. Royals: Clay Buchholz for a few marbles, maybe

Clay Buchholz is looking good this past month. Can he keep it up against the Royals?

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The now mathematically eliminated Red Sox will play their first officially meaningless game of 2014 Thursday night, sending Clay Buchholz to the mound against the Royals.

Today's Lineups

Mookie Betts - RF Norichika Aoki - RF
Xander Bogaerts - SS Omar Infante - 2B
David Ortiz - DH Alex Gordon - LF
Yoenis Cespedes - LF Josh Willingham - DH
Mike Napoli - 1B Eric Hosmer - 1B
Will Middlebrooks - 3B Salvador Perez - C
Jackie Bradley - CF Mike Moustakas - 3B
Christian Vazquez - C Lorenzo Cain - CF
Jemile Weeks - 2B Alcides Escobar - SS
Clay Buchholz - RHP Liam Hendriks - RHP

Like the Red Sox, Clay Buchholz can no longer have a successful season. That ship has long since sailed. Even if he manages to throw three complete game shutouts, his ERA would just barely dip under 4.50. He was too awful for too long to make up for it in a few short weeks.

However, he's actually been pretty good of late. Over the last month, Buchholz has thrown 44 innings in six starts, allowing just 16 earned runs (a 3.22 ERA), striking out 37 while walking 10. He has held opposing batters to a .522 OPS over that period, and while he doesn't quite look like the Buchholz we had in the first half of 2013, there's plenty of reason to hope that 2015 will be a productive season for a healthy-once-more Buchholz, so long as he can stay healthy.

We've seen bad follow good from Clay before this season, but never after quite so much good this season...which is not surprising because we haven't seen this much good from Buchholz in 2014 until now. Still, every start is another potential pitfall, and all it will take is a couple bad games to undo all the good work he's done over these last six games and leave Red Sox fans without what hope they've built. He's up against a playoff contender in the Royals, but they are not a team built on bats. If Buchholz is really back, there's no reason for tonight to be anything but another positive sign.

First pitch is at 8:10 p.m. ET with broadcasts on NESN and WEEI.