The Red Sox are 3 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot heading into Monday's game — certainly not an insurmountable deficit with 66 games to play. But five teams sit between Boston and that slot, including three division rivals, and making up ground will not be easy when multiple teams in that group are winning every day.
The Red Sox open a three-game series in Arlington on Monday against the Texas Rangers, who, at 56-38, have the second-best record in baseball. After a day off Thursday, the Sox will enter a three-game set in the Bronx against the New York Yankees, who, at 57-38, have the best record in baseball. That's a tough week for a team that was swept at home by the middling Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend.
Starting pitching was a problem for the Sox against the Jays, as Josh Beckett, Aaron Cook and Jon Lester combined for a 9.92 ERA during the series. That number is inflated a bit by Lester's 11 earned runs in four innings on Sunday, but Beckett and Cook were not their sharpest against Toronto, either. In particular, the early innings were a struggle yet again for the Red Sox, as they trailed 4-0 after two on Friday and 9-3 after two on Sunday.
To remedy those struggles, Boston will call on Felix Doubront and Clay Buchholz, both of whom are coming off strong starts against the Chicago White Sox, in the first two games of the series with the Rangers. Doubront starts Monday night after allowing one run in six innings while earning his 10th victory of the season against the White Sox on Wednesday.
July has been kind to the lefty so far, as he's posted a 2-0 record and 2.70 ERA in three starts this month. With Doubront scheduled to get the ball twice more before the calendar turns to August — in addition to Monday, he's also scheduled to pitch against the Yankees on Sunday night — the Sox are hoping for a couple of strong efforts from the 24-year-old.
Buchholz is beginning to look like his old self again after pitching eight innings of one-run ball against Chicago on Thursday. He has a 2.63 ERA over his last seven starts and may be counted on to anchor the rotation going forward now that Beckett and Lester are struggling.
Beckett — like Buchholz, a Texas native — will get the start in Game 3 in his home state, squaring off against the Rangers' Derek Holland. Beckett allowed four earned runs Friday against the Blue Jays, and although he did strike out seven batters, he also gave yielded a couple of hard-hit balls that came back to hurt him later on. The righty has struggled all season, but he's been particularly ineffective over the past three starts, with a 6.88 ERA against the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays. With a matchup against MLB's third-best offense on tap, Beckett will have to bring his A game against the Rangers.
Even the Sox' normally solid bullpen struggled against the Blue Jays — in Boston's defense, only the Red Sox have scored more runs this season than Toronto — posting a 5.91 ERA in 10 2/3 innings. Right-hander Junichi Tazawa saw action in all three games, allowing one run in 4 2/3 innings while striking out five. It was just the second run Tazawa has surrendered all season, a period spanning 15 1/3 innings over 10 appearances.
With six huge games against division leaders, who will be this week's Amica Pitcher of the Week?