The Boston Red Sox (43-52) return from the break by hosting the Kansas City Royals (48-46). The Red Sox have won 4 of their last 5 games and scored a season high 11 runs in their last game prior to the unofficial end of the season's first half.
Meanwhile, the Royals are in a tight battle for second place in the AL Central division, holding a 1 game lead over the Cleveland Indians. The Detroit Tigers are still running away with that division (6.5 game lead over KC), but this young Royals team is within 2.5 games of a Wild Card spot and fighting for their first spot in the playoffs since 1985.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington claims the team hasn't thrown in the towel on this season yet. There's less than 2 weeks until the MLB trade deadline, so if there is any chance for the team to jump back in the race, it starts here.
- Clay Buchholz (4-5, 5.42 ERA) is the first starter lined up coming out of the break. He also pitched in Boston's last game before the break, spinning a gem for his best game of the season – a complete game shutout where he allowed only 3 hits, no walks and struck out a career high 12 batters. Granted that came against an Astros team that has scored only 1 more run this season than the last place Red Sox, but the Royals aren't exactly a powerhouse offense either. They rank 10th in the AL in runs scored and next to last in OPS (.691).
- David Ross gets the start behind the plate tonight. Many expected Christian Vazquez would be in the lineup, with Ross being saved for Jon Lester and Jake Peavy's starts. Manager John Farrell says he likes the idea of the veteran catcher starting off the series, so he's going with Ross. The rookie should be back in there tomorrow, followed by Ross again on Sunday for Lester's start.
- Jackie Bradley drops to the bottom of the lineup tonight. That's a surprise, considering he's been one of the team's hottest hitters this month (.375) and had moved up as high as 6th in the order in several games leading into the break.
- Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks are both in Pawtucket on rehab assignments. If all goes well tonight, Victorino could be activated as soon as tomorrow, with Middlebrooks not far behind. It remains to be seen who gets squeezed out of a roster spot once they are both ready to return, but you have to expect Mookie Betts to be at the top of the list. The hyped prospect hasn't lit up the league the way many had hoped, hitting only .235 and playing sporadically. He still has some developing to do and needs to play everyday. That's not happening here, especially with Bradley heating up and Victorino returning. Or course any potential trade of one of the other veterans on the roster could change that.
- James Sheilds (9-5, 3.65 ERA) gets the start for the Royals. Big Game James is having another solid season, but his ERA and WHIP are both higher than they've been since 2010. His strikeout rate (7.58 K/9) is down a bit from the past few seasons, but he's offset that by allowing less walks. His K/BB ratio (4.07) is the best it's been since 2007.
- All-Star catcher Salvador Perez is tied for the team lead in hitting at .283 (among qualified hitters) and his 11 home runs are the most on this Royals roster that ranks last in the majors in that category (55). As great as Perez has been at the plate, it's his defense that really shines. He's the top rated catcher in the game in DWAR (1.3) and 5th in both Catcher's ERA (3.43) and Caught Stealing % (.349).
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