The Boston Red Sox (47-56) take on the Tampa Bay Rays (50-53) in the second game of their weekend series. The surging Rays won their 8th straight game after winning a battle of aces last night to extend Boston's losing streak to 4, putting a 3-game gap between the teams for last place in the AL East.
Jon Lester pitched well, allowing only 2 runs in 6 innings of work, but a stressful 35-pitch 5th inning built up his pitch count and knocked him out early. It was his shortest outing since June 7, but with Lester at 110 pitches to that point, manager John Farrell turned it over to his bullpen. Unfortunately, they couldn't hold the one run lead, as Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa combined to give up 4 runs in a 7th inning meltdown.
We called this a make or break series for the Red Sox and losing the opener wasn't an ideal way to start. Boston now sits 10.5 games out in the division and 7.5 back of a playoff spot. Trading Jake Peavy to San Francisco this morning may have just been the first domino to fall as the team looks to make moves before the deadline with an eye on the future.
- John Lackey (11-6, 3.66 ERA) will take the mound for Boston. Now that Peavy has been shipped out of town, it's conceivable that this could be Lackey's last start in a Red Sox uniform, as his next turn in the rotation doesn't come until deadline day. What makes Lackey a great trade chip is also the best argument for keeping him – his contract. He has a team option for next season for the bargain price of $500,000 due to a clause that was triggered when Lackey missed the 2012 season with a pre-existing elbow injury. Keeping a cost effective starter that is performing as well as he is would be a tremendous value to any team. On the other hand, there's always the chance Lackey could force the team to restructure his contract with an extension or threaten to retire instead of honoring the agreement he made when he signed this contract. If they get offered some enticing prospects for him, the Sox may be inclined to let another team take that risk.
- Shane Victorino will get the night off after starting the previous 4 games. He has at least 1 hit in each game that he's played in since making his return from the DL earlier this month, hitting .435 over those 6 games.
- Jeremy Hellickson (0-0, 2.08 ERA) gets the start for Tampa Bay. He started the season on the disabled list and didn't debut until July 8, when he made his only appearance of the season so far. He was then optioned to Triple-A prior to the All-Star break to allow him to get some work in during the extended layoff and was just recalled to start tonight's game.
- Jake McGee closed out last night's win for the Rays. Grant Balfour was acquired in the off-season to take over as the team's new closer, but after imploding earlier this season, the Rays were forced to strip him of that role. McGee managed to emerge from the committee of relievers as the most trusted choice. Despite allowing a run in the 9th inning last night, he's been spectacular in his new position. He's posted a 1.57 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 11.54 K/9 ratio this season, while converting 10 of 11 save opportunities. He needs only 1 more to tie Balfour for the team lead in saves this season, despite not being given his first opportunity until June 15.
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Tags: Andrew Miller, Baseball, Boston, Boston Red Sox, Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Junichi Tazawa, MLB, Shane Victorino