In many ways the playoffs begin Friday for the Red Sox, who venture to Tampa to take on the Rays in the first of three straight.
Boston enters its last visit to Tampa 5 1/2 games behind both the Rays and the New York Yankees. It completed a 6-3 homestand with a day-night doubleheader split against Seattle on Wednesday at Fenway Park.
Jon Lester opposes David Price in the opener, pitting a pair of All-Star left-handers against one another in a critical Friday night contest.
WHEN AND WHERE
Red Sox (73-55) at Rays (78-49) Friday, Aug. 27, 7:10 p.m. NESN Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
LHP Jon Lester (13-8, 3.26 ERA) vs. LHP David Price (15-5, 2.97 ERA)
Lester is coming off the worst start of his career, statistically speaking, and is pitching on extended rest due to the injury to Daisuke Matsuzaka, who was scratched from this one with a sore lower back.
The All-Star southpaw gave up a career-high nine runs in just two innings, the shortest start of his career, against Toronto exactly one week ago. Prior to the implosion he had thrown 14 1/3 scoreless innings against a pair of first-place teams.
Lester’s ERA on six or more days rest is 4.06, almost half of a run higher than his career average. He is 3-0 with a 3.60 ERA lifetime at Tropicana Field.
Using almost exclusively fastballs, Price threw 7 2/3 strong innings in a win over the Sox on July 7. He has not lasted that deep into a game, posting a 3.83 ERA in that span.
Price, who turned 25 on Thursday, is 2-1 with a 3.79 ERA vs. Boston.
Marco Scutaro, SS Darnell McDonald, CF Victor Martinez, C Adrian Beltre, 3B David Ortiz, DH Mike Lowell, 1B J.D. Drew, RF Jed Lowrie, 2B Bill Hall, LF
B.J. Upton, CF Jason Barlett, SS Carlos Pena, 1B Evan Longoria, 3B Willy Aybar, DH Ben Zobrist, RF Sean Rodriguez, 2B Kelly Shoppach, C Matt Joyce, LF
Boston is 53-29 in the first two games of a series this year, yet 20-26 in the last two.
Mike Lowell is 8-for-17 (.471) as a pinch hitter since joining the Red Sox.
J.D. Drew has five home runs this month, more than in any month since last August.
Tampa Bay has used the same lineup in consecutive games just four times this year.
Catcher John Jaso is 9-for-22 (.409) with a home run and six RBIs in his last six games.
Second baseman/outfielder Ben Zobrist hit .195 (15-for-77) in July and has produced a .154 (10-for-69) mark in August.
BLACK AND BLUE
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia had his broken left foot put back in a boot Thursday, where it will stay for seven days. After one week, he will either continue his rehab or face season-ending surgery.
Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury has another broken rib near where he was hurt earlier in the year, the result of a collision at first base in Texas. He is out four to six weeks at minimum and will likely miss the remainder of the season.
Center fielder Mike Cameron will have season-ending surgery Friday to repair an abdominal tear.
First baseman Kevin Youkilis had successful surgery to repair the torn right adductor muscle on his right hand. He will miss the remainder of the season.
Catcher Jason Varitek (broken right foot) continues to try to recover from a broken right foot. He has yet to be able to run at full speed, one of the last major obstacles before he can eye a rehab stint.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is on the DL with an infection in his lower right leg. He has been released from the hospital and will begin a rehab assignment with Pawtucket at the end of the week.
Outfielder/second baseman Eric Patterson has also begun a rehab stint with Pawtucket. He is out with a neck strain.
Left-hander Hideki Okajima is on the DL with a right hamstring strain. He has given up five runs in 2 1/3 innings over three appearances at Pawtucket. Okajima was slated to be reevaluated prior to the flight to Tampa.
Right-hander Junichi Tazawa underwent Tommy John surgery in March. He is out for the year.
Outfielder Gabe Kapler (sprained right ankle) hopes to return Sept. 1.
Right-hander Grant Balfour also hopes to be back at the start of the month. He is on the DL with a rib cage strain.
Left-hander J.P. Howell had season-ending shoulder surgery May 19.
Strap yourself in. The playoff push begins in earnest Friday night.