After a 4-6 road trip took the Red Sox even further from playoff contention — they're now 7 1/2 games back of the second wild card spot in the American League — Boston will return home for seven games with the Los Angeles Angels and Kansas City Royals beginning Tuesday.
Although the team appears headed to another baseball-free October, the Red Sox have seen some promising signs as general manager Ben Cherington evaluates who he wants to keep in 2013. Clay Buchholz continued his dominance, pitching eight strong innings in a win over the Indians on Thursday, while Jon Lester turned out the best start by a Sox pitcher last week in keeping the Yankees to just five hits and one run over seven innings in a 4-1 victory Saturday.
Even the much-maligned Josh Beckett submitted a semi-decent performance Sunday, yielding four runs over six innings in a 4-1 loss to the Yankees. Take away a pair of home run balls served up to Ichiro Suzuki, and the Sox were right in that ballgame, although they still struggled to score against Hiroki Kuroda, who yielded just four hits in eight innings.
Aaron Cook is set to get the ball in the series opener against the Angels at Fenway Park on Tuesday, and if there's one team that can relate to the Red Sox' struggles, it's L.A. The Angels were pegged as World Series favorites by many in 2012 after an offseason spending spree yielded both Albert Pujols, the most feared hitter on planet Earth, and C.J. Wilson, who had 31 wins and 3.14 ERA over the past two seasons. But L.A. stumbled to a 7-15 start before catching fire over the summer. Now they're stumbling again and are just 5-13 in August, falling to 4 1/2 games behind the Orioles for the second wild card spot. A bad start, hot summer and late-season fade? Sounds just like the 2011 Red Sox.
Cook struggled in his last start, a 5-3 loss to the Orioles on Wednesday, after an errant throw to second base sparked a five-run fifth inning. Although only two of Cook's five runs enter the book as earned, Cook was clearly at fault for the throw, so he doesn't have anyone to blame but himself. His opponent Tuesday will be Ervin Santana, one of baseball's worst pitchers in 2012. Santana is coming off a good start against the Indians on Wednesday, however, surrendering just one run over seven innings.
Wednesday's matchup is a neutral fan's dream, with Buchholz squaring off against Jered Weaver, one of the favorites for the American League Cy Young Award. Buchholz is coming off that eight-inning, three-run effort against the Indians on Thursday. Weaver had his worst start of the season in his last go-around, allowing nine runs in three innings Friday to a Rays offense that ranks just 18th in MLB in runs scored. Still, expect to see a lot of zeros on the board Wednesday when these two face off.
Franklin Morales takes on Wilson in Thursday's series finale, and he'll be happy he's facing anyone but the Yankees. Morales was roughed up in his last start, surrendering five runs in 5 1/3 innings to New York on Friday, and in four appearances against the Bronx Bombers this season, he's allowed 12 runs in 11 1/3 innings, with an opponents' on-base percentage of .370. Wilson, like Weaver, was kicked around by the Rays, allowing seven runs in 4 2/3 innings. Perhaps that's why the Rays lead the wild card race and L.A. and Boston are also-rans: Tampa is No. 1 in the AL in ERA, while L.A. and Boston rank ninth and 11th, respectively.
This week's bullpen report is very promising. Not only did Andrew Bailey return — although he was used more as a situational reliever instead of a closer/setup man — and record three scoreless appearances, but Alfredo Aceves recorded two saves to push his season total to 25. For the week, Sox relievers allowed just two runs in 13 innings of work, a very good number no matter how you slice it. Here's hoping they keep up the good work against the slumping Angels and the surging Royals (13-6 in their last 19).
Who do you think will be this week's Amica Pitcher of the Week?