That would be the Toronto Blue Jays, who went 15-9 in April to seize control of the AL East. The Jays have since faded back to the middle of the East pack, and they've drawn a difficult opponent to open the second half of their season. The AL-best Red Sox are in town for a three-game set, and young Clay Buchholz will be on the mound for his first start of 2009.
When & Where
7:07 p.m. ET (NESN), July 17, 2009
Rogers Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Red Sox (54-34, 1st place in AL East)
Blue Jays (44-46, 4th place in AL East)
After a torrid start to their season, the Blue Jays have returned to the middle of the American League pack as their offense has begun to regress. Middle infielders Aaron Hill and Marco Scutaro have begun to revert, and the Jays are getting surprisingly weak production out of the two guys they expected to carry them, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios. The Jays have gone from division leaders back in May to possible trade deadline sellers here in July — hence the ubiquitous discussion of Roy Halladay as a possible trading chip. A disappointing fall from grace for the Jays.
|Red Sox||Blue Jays
|J.D. Drew, RF||Marco Scutaro, SS|
|Dustin Pedroia, 2B||Aaron Hill, 2B|
|Kevin Youkilis, 1B||Adam Lind, DH|
|David Ortiz, DH||Scott Rolen, 3B|
|Jason Bay, LF||Lyle Overbay, 1B|
|Mike Lowell, 3B||Alex Rios, CF|
|Jason Varitek, C||Jose Bautista, RF|
|Rocco Baldelli, CF||Rod Barajas, C|
|Nick Green, SS||David Dellucci, LF|
RHP Clay Buchholz (7-2, 2.36 ERA in Triple-A Pawtucket) vs. LHP Ricky Romero (7-3, 3.00 ERA)
It's finally the night we've all been waiting for — Buchholz finally gets his chance at the major league level. It's hard to believe that almost two years ago, he was up in the big leagues throwing a no-hitter; he's bounced back and forth a lot since then, and this is his first time back with the big club in 2009. There are no guarantees about his future in the Show, so he'd better make this start count.
Buchholz has been strong in Triple-A Pawtucket this season, as the above numbers indicate, but control is still a problem. The flame-throwing 24-year-old right-hander walked 18 batters in his last seven starts of the first half; the lingering control problem makes it difficult for him to pitch deep into games. He's only seen the seventh inning once during that stretch.
If Buchholz can find his command in the major leagues, great; if not, he'll be a burden on the Sox' bullpen, and the club might opt to give him more innings in the minor leagues.
For the Jays, a similar rookie with great promise but questionable command will take the mound. That will be Ricky Romero, the hard-throwing lefty making his 14th career start. Romero has been solid this season with a 3.00 ERA, but there's reason to question whether his peripheral numbers will support that mark over the long haul. Stay tuned.
The Red Sox' run differential is plus-85, best in the American League. The Sox have scored 465 runs and allowed 380.
The Red Sox are 23-20 on the road this season.
Clay Buchholz has faced the Blue Jays three times in his career, twice as a starter. He has a 4.22 ERA in 10 2/3 career innings, striking out 13 Jays and walking five.
Kevin Youilis is among the AL's top 10 in both on-base percentage (second, .419) and slugging percentage (seventh, .566).
Dustin Pedroia has scored 65 runs this season, second in the AL. He also leads the league with 30 doubles.
Jason Bay has driven in 72 runs this season. He has topped the 70 mark in six consecutive seasons.
Jacoby Ellsbury is second in the AL with 40 steals. Tampa Bay's Carl Crawford leads the league with 44.
David Ortiz has four home runs and 11 RBIs in July.
J.D. Drew is a career .247 hitter against the Blue Jays.
Jason Varitek has 437 career at-bats against Toronto. He has 18 home runs and 68 RBIs.
Nick Green has a batting line of .226/.305/.312 on the road.
Mark Kotsay is slugging just .308 on the road. He has one extra-base hit in 26 at-bats.
The Blue Jays lost eight of their last 10 games in the first half.
They enter the second half 25-18 at home.
Ricky Romero has struck out 69 batters in 87 innings this season.
Scott Rolen is hitting .320, sixth in the AL.
Vernon Wells is the only player in the AL with 90 games played.
Adam Lind is hitting .351/.408/.597 in 41 home games this season.
Aaron Hill is a career .307 hitter in 62 games against Boston.
Marco Scutaro has faced Clay Buchholz twice in his career, striking out once and walking once.
Black & Blue
Third baseman Mike Lowell is still recovering from surgery on his right hip. He may return to the Red Sox this weekend.
Jeff Bailey suffered a high left ankle sprain in the Red Sox' July 4 loss to Seattle and was placed on the 15-day DL.
Daisuke Matsuzaka was placed on the 15-day DL on June 20 with what the Red Sox termed a mild right shoulder strain. The status of his return is uncertain.
Pitcher Shaun Marcum made a huge step forward in his rehab process as he recovers from elbow ligament replacement surgery — he hurled 4.2 innings for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats on Thursday night.
Pitcher Scott Richmond was placed on the 15-day DL on July 1 with right shoulder tendinitis.
Pitcher Jesse Litsch was placed on the 15-day DL on April 14 with a strained right forearm.
This Date in Red Sox History
In 1990, the Red Sox become the only team in baseball history to hit into two triple plays in the same game. Each was a 5-4-3 trifecta turned by Minnesota third baseman Gary Gaetti; the Sox beat the Twins anyway, 1-0.
"The Red Sox … are 'desperately' trying to trade shortstop Julio Lugo, according to a major league source."
–FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal. With the trading deadline approaching in two weeks, the Sox are running out of time.
The Press Box
Clay Buchholz is happy to help out.
Josh Beckett is in the zone.
Do the Sox need a lefty specialist?
What do the Jays do with Roy Halladay?
Aaron Hill cherished his All-Star start.
Shaun Marcum is on the way back.
A new take on the Kevin Bacon Game …
Happy 200th to Ryan Howard.
The Roger Clemens HGH controversy continues.
With both Boston and Toronto starting unpredictable rookie pitchers in their second-half opener, anything could happen when these two teams return to action at the Rogers Centre. Certainly the Red Sox are the hotter team at the moment, but Romero has established himself at the major league level this season and Buchholz is still a work in progress. Win or lose, this game should help the Red Sox learn a lot about the most promising young pitcher in their organization.