Lester Takes The Mound In A Must-Win

While the rest of the country is preoccupied today, the Red Sox will be fighting for their playoff lives.

The limp to the finish line has turned into a crawl, and the Tampa Bay Rays are one win away from making things very interesting in the AL wild-card race. Fortunately, the Red Sox will give the ball to Jon Lester this afternoon, the pitching staff's one saving grace in the last month.

Lester has once again put together a dominant second half. He's allowed one run or less in each of his last five starts, posting a 4-0 record. Since the start of the stretch, Lester has struck out more batters (32) than Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland combined, and has 18 fewer earned runs (4) than John Lackey (22).

Fittingly, Lester's hot streak began when he defeated James Shields and the Rays on August 16th, allowing one run and striking out eight. Today, the two aces meet again in a virtual must-win for both teams.

The Red Sox desperately need to avoid a series sweep, one that would bring the surging Rays to within 3.5 games of Boston. With only 16 games to play after Sunday, a victory would all but end the Tampa threat. But if Jon Lester can't stop the bleeding, it's going to be a scary couple of weeks.