If you were among those counting the Red Sox down and out a couple of weeks ago (you know who you are and some of you are Red Sox fans), shame on you. The Red Sox are still very much a factor in the American League pennant race and the three game series between Boston and the Tampa Bays Rays that begins tonight at Tropicana Field is about as big as it gets without someone actually being eliminated. Consider what's at stake:
- A Red Sox sweep would put them only 2 1/2 games out of the wildcard
- A Rays sweep builds that margin to a whopping 8 1/2 games
- If it's two out of three, whoever wins the series only gains one game on the loser...while three games come off an ever-dwindling schedule
The Rays (78-49, tied for 1st) return home after a west coast road trip that saw them split four games with the Oakland Athletics and take two of three from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They've won seven of their last ten games and tonight marks the beginning of a stretch that will see the Rays play 18 straight games within the AL East division. The Rays are 19-5 at the Trop since the beginning of July, the best home record in the majors over that time.
The Red Sox (73-55, 3rd) are beginning a six game road trip to Tampa Bay and Baltimore after finishing a nine game homestand where they won all three series two games to one. They're 6-4 in their last ten games and haven't lost a series since dropping two of three in Texas against the Rangers earlier this month. Injuries have been the major story with the Red Sox this season and they are without key contributors Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek and Diasuke Matsuzaka among others.
The Red Sox will start Jon Lester (13-8, 3.26) tonight in the series opener. He'll oppose David Price (15-5, 2.97). Price will be making his third attempt to win his 16th game after getting no decision in his previous two starts. Lester's last outing was last Friday night against the Tornoto Blue Jays when he gave up nine runs on eight hits in only two innings.