Red Sox Nation is humming with anticipation about the upcoming series with the Tampa Bay Rays. The time for Boston to regain ground is now, as September is just around the corner, meaning this series has playoff implications written all over it.
Adding to all the excitement are the incredible pitching matchups that will be on display during the three-game set in Tampa Bay. Leading off on Friday evening is a battle of the southpaws, as Boston's Jon Lester heads to the mound for the first time in a week against Tampa's David Price. Clay Buccholz and Matt Garza go head-to-head on Saturday, in what is sure to be another intense pitcher's duel. In the Sunday matinee we see John Lackey take on Jason Shields — another battle that is sure to be jam-packed with dramatics.
But who will take this battle at the Trop to the next level? Which Red Sox pitcher will thrive under the pressure of this crucial series, and pull out a playoff performance?
Don't let Lester's last outing fool you, there's a reason manager Terry Francona saved him for Friday's series opener. The lefty knows how to take command of a game, and he knows how to pull himself out of a rut. Throughout the first half of the season, he was the go-to guy for the Sox, and one little blip on the radar isn't going to change his dominance heading into Tampa.
The other half of the Red Sox one-two punch is the righty Buchholz. What Lester was to the Sox early on this season, Buchholz has become in the past month. He hasn't lost a game since July 21 and the Red Sox are undefeated in his last six starts. Buchholz hasn't really established himself as a postseason pitcher yet, but his AL-Leading 2.26 ERA and dominance of late proves he is maturing as a pitcher and ready to take on big challenges.
He may not be living up to the hype that was set when the Red Sox signed him in the offseason, but Lackey knows how to pitch under pressure. He won Game 7 of the World Series as a rookie and pushed the Angels to a three-game sweep in the 2009 ALDS with a series-opening win. Not only does he know how to open up a series, but he knows how to close it as well, which is just as important this late in the season.
Other than the three guys going this weekend, is there any other Red Sox pitcher you would trust going down the stretch? Josh Beckett has been facing some troubling innings which have gotten led to Red Sox losses in his past two starts, but in both of those games, he was lights out for the first five-plus innings. If he can find his rhythm and maintain it, he may be able to bounce back for a scorching September.
Or is it one of the Red Sox' bullpen staff members that holds your trust for high-pressure moments. There's no doubt they are experts when the heat is on.
So now that we're coming down to the wire, which Red Sox pitcher do you trust in big games?
Share your thoughts below.
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