The two best teams in the American League happen to reside in the AL East. They also happen to clash tonight in Fenway Park for the first of a four-game series.
Although the Boston Red Sox (60-40) are 9-3 against the Tampa Bay Rays (58-41) this season, those first 12 games came at a time when the Rays were middling around the lower-half of the division. Now, the Rays are on a tear, winners of 17 of their last 19 games to climb from the cellar to within 1.5 games of the first-place Red Sox. I know it's been over a year, but Red Sox fans be prepared: This is the beginning of a pennant race.
Forgive Boston if it’s a little sluggish tonight, as it comes into this series on the heels of a four-hour, 46-minute, 11-inning 8-7 walk-off victory over the Yankees. The win was thanks to a couple of monster home runs by Mike Napoli, the second of which was a solo shot to center that sent Fenway Park into a frenzy.
Red Sox rookie Brandon Workman gets his second start – first appearance at Fenway – to open the series with the Rays. Workman allowed two runs on two hits in 6.1 innings with five strikeouts against Oakland in his only Major League start. In that game, he didn’t allow a hit until the seventh inning before giving up a single and a two-run home run that knotted up the game, eventually ending in a 3-2 extra-inning Athletics win. Red Sox Nation would love nothing more than a similar type of start tonight.
Here is tonight’s Red Sox lineup (first pitch – 7:10 pm EDT):
1. Ellsbury, CF
2. Victorino, RF
3. Pedroia, 2B
4. Ortiz, DH
5. Napoli, 1B
6. Gomes, LF
7. Lavarnway, C
8. Snyder, 3B
9. Iglesias, SS
Left-hander Matt Moore takes the hill for the Rays. Moore is having a Cy Young-esque season, compiling a 13-3 record with a 3.44 ERA. He became the first Rays pitcher to collect 13 wins before the All-Star Break.
Rays coming in hot
As previously mentioned, the Rays come into Fenway as the hottest team in baseball. They have won seven consecutive series, their last series loss in Boston when they dropped two of three between June 18-19. However, it was noted that this series is the first this month (17 games) that the Rays will face a team not in fourth or fifth place of their respective division. The Rays are 15-2 in July with games against the Astros, White Sox, Twins and Blue Jays.
Napoli all or nothing
We know about the two home runs Napoli hit Sunday night (and Monday morning) that accounted for half (four) of the Red Sox runs. Napoli went 2-for-6 with those two dingers, but his other four at-bats were three strikeouts and a ground-ball double play to erase a bases loaded situation in the bottom of the eighth. Napoli admits he has been this way his whole career and Red Sox fans have come familiar with the all-or-nothing prowess of Napoli, who is hitting .258 with 13 home runs and 62 RBI, slugging .459 with an OPS of .801.
One more mini-season in the books
Another 10 games gone, another winning record for the Sox. In keeping track of our 10-game mini-seasons, we here at RedSoxLife have detected a pattern. And what do you know? In mini-season No. 10, the Red Sox went 6-4 and are 60-40 in their first 100 games. The .600 record keeps the Red Sox on pace for 97-98 wins, the same amount they’ve been on track for all season. Amazing? No. Just simple math. Here’s how the rest of the mini-seasons have played out:
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