The All-Star break couldn’t come at a much better time for the Red Sox. After going 30-18 from May 11 to July 1, the Sox have dropped six of their last seven games, falling back into a tie for last place in the American League East at 43-43.
Pitching, once again, has been tremendously important to Boston’s success (and failure). Red Sox starters struggled mightily in losing three of four to the Yankees over the weekend, surrendering first-inning runs in all four games. For the series, Sox starters posted a 9.00 ERA in 19 innings pitched.
The pitching staff will have plenty of time to rest now, however, as no Red Sox pitcher will be making the trip to Kansas City. Boston begins the second half of the season Friday night as the Sox open a three-game series with the Rays at Tropicana Field.
Franklin Morales will get the call for Boston in the first game of the series against Rays righty Jeremy Hellickson. After three solid starts for the Red Sox, Morales was roughed up in his last outing, Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Yankees. The Venezuelan lefty lasted just 3 1/3 innings, surrendering six runs, including four homers.
Morales’ role in the rotation appears uncertain going forward now that Clay Buchholz is scheduled to return from the disabled list. Manager Bobby Valentine has said that the Red Sox will use a six-man rotation as they begin play post-break, but it’s unclear how long that plan will last. Morales’ last outing prior to Saturday came out of the bullpen in a 3-2 loss to the Athletics on Wednesday. Morales threw 1 1/3 innings in the game, so that may have had an effect on his start three days later.
Buchholz will start Game 2 of the series against the Rays after returning from the DL following a nasty stomach illness. The 27-year-old looked solid in a rehabilitation start for Pawtucket against the Syracuse Chiefs on Sunday, throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings and allowing just one hit while striking out three. Buchholz’s last action in the majors came June 19 against the Marlins, when he allowed five runs in six innings.
Josh Beckett is scheduled to start in Sunday’s finale opposite the Rays’ James Shields. Beckett had a very shaky first inning in his last start against the Yankees on Friday, allowing six of the first seven hitters of the game to reach base in allowing five runs. Although Beckett calmed down from there, allowing one run in the second before tossing a scoreless third, fourth and fifth inning and departing with a 7-6 lead, the Red Sox could not hold on for the victory.
The bullpen struggled in Friday’s loss, but a pair of Red Sox relievers were particularly impressive in the Yankees series. Mark Melancon threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings between Friday and Sunday, surrendering just two hits while striking out five. Justin Germano also pitched well in a mop-up role in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings and striking out seven to preserve the bullpen, setting the stage for a Sox victory in the nightcap — a game in which Boston used four relievers.
How the Red Sox pitchers perform during the season’s second half will go a long way toward determining the team’s playoff fate. Who will be this week’s Amica Pitcher of the Week?