Boston will open a busy week of games against the Chicago White Sox on Monday night at Fenway Park. The four-game series with the White Sox, followed by a three-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays, falls in the middle of a stretch of 13 games in 13 days for the Red Sox. Luckily for the Sox, they will avoid Chicago ace Chris Sale, who just might be the best pitcher in the American League at the moment.
The signs from last weekend's series against the Tampa Bay Rays were encouraging, particularly as far as starting pitching is concerned. The Sox got another solid outing from Franklin Morales on Friday night, as the lefty threw five scoreless innings before the bullpen closed the door on a 3-1 victory.
Clay Buchholz looked effective Saturday night in his return from the disabled list, striking out eight and departing with a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning. Unfortunately, Buchholz left the game with runners on second and third, both of whom would later score, to hand the 27-year-old his third loss of the season.
In the series finale on Sunday, Josh Beckett went six innings, allowing three runs and striking out seven batters to help the Sox to a 7-3 win.
Although none of the pitching performances this weekend were dominant, the starting pitchers gave Boston a chance to win every game. If the starters can keep that up, that should be enough for plenty of victories in the second half with an offense like the Red Sox'.
Aaron Cook is scheduled to take the mound in Game 1 of the series against the White Sox on Monday. Cook will have plenty of rest, as his last start came against the Oakland Athletics on July 4. Cook allowed three runs in six innings in that contest, but the Sox' offense was still swooning at that point, and Boston fell, 3-2. No matter how well Cook pitches Monday, his performance will likely be overlooked as the game will also feature the returns of Carl Crawford, from injury, and Kevin Youkilis, to Boston.
Jon Lester, who will get the ball Tuesday night, has something in common with the man who will oppose him on the mound, Philip Humber: Both have thrown no-hitters. Lester was the last Sox pitcher to do so, blanking the Kansas City Royals on May 19, 2008, while Humber threw the first of the league's five no-hitters so far in 2012 when he tossed a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners on April 21.
The outcome was slightly different in Lester's last start, against the New York Yankees on July 8, when he allowed five runs — four earned — in just 4 1/3 innings, his second-shortest start of the season. Lester has given up at least three runs in five of his last six starts and will have to pick it up for the Sox to have a successful second half.
Wednesday's Game 3 features two pitchers in their first full seasons as starters in Felix Doubront and Jose Quintana. Both have flashed potential, although Doubront has had a rough go of it as of late, with a 5.61 ERA and 1.43 WHIP over his last six starts. He was moderately effective in his last effort, however, surrendering four runs — three earned — in 6 1/3 innings in the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Yankees on July 7, the Sox' only victory in that series. Quintana has been a revelation since entering the White Sox' rotation on May 25. He has a 2.60 ERA in 62 1/3 innings, but he's allowed five runs or more in two of his last three starts.
Morales will start against former Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy in Thursday's series finale as the Red Sox begin the second time through their six-man rotation. How Morales and Cook fare against the White Sox will certainly have an impact on how long Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine decides to continue the six-man experiment.
Among Sox relievers, Mark Melancon and Alfredo Aceves pitched well last weekend against the Rays and appear to have put their early-season struggles behind them. Combined, they pitched four scoreless innings against Tampa Bay, with Aceves getting the final out in both Sox victories, including his 20th save of the season on Friday. Aceves looked a little shaky on Sunday, however, walking the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth before a deep fly ball from Hideki Matsui fell harmlessly into the glove of Cody Ross to end the game.
So, who do you think will be this week's Amica Pitcher of the Week?