The Boston Red Sox have finally passed the Toronto Blue Jays for first place in the American League East. The next three games may decide it all, already.
After a lull in the scoring department, the Red Sox scored 12 runs in the last two games. The starting pitching has been solid, allowing 10 runs in their last six games. That total computes to just under two runs per game. Granted, those six games were against the Oakland Athletics and the San Diego Padres, whom are both basement dwellers of their respective divisions. However, the 7-2 victory, last night, put the Red Sox one game ahead of the front-running Blue Jays just before their series begins on Friday.
And, if one hasn’t been keeping track, this is exactly the time that the Red Sox want to be facing the Jays.
Toronto has lost six of the last 10 games on a disastrous road trip. After winning the rubber match against the Baltimore Orioles, the Blue Jays dropped the first two games in Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays. Then, the Jays were swept in Yankee Stadium, allowing the New York Yankees to score 14 runs in just three games.
To add salt to the wound, Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin, who had been on fire at the plate the last few weeks, had some major problems with his knee last night. Alykhan Ravjiani of MLB.com reported that “exited Wednesday’s 2-0 loss in the top of the ninth inning after tweaking his left knee. He is considered day to day.” Martin said, “Every swing it felt like something was biting me right in that knee […] I felt like in that situation, the way I was looking today, I wouldn’t really be helping the team just trying to grind it out and be a tough guy.”
Speaking of ailing performances, Estrada hasn’t looked nearly as good as he had last season. In his last seven starts, the righty is 3-3 with a 5.31 ERA. Recently, it’s looked pretty ugly for Estrada, giving up six earned runs on 10 hits against the Los Angeles Angels in five innings and another five runs on seven hits in the same amount of frames against the Rays.
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Saturday’s starter J.A. Happ has also not looked as sharp. He’s given up 10 runs in his last three starts, and required the hook after just 2.2 innings against the Rays.
Sunday’s starter Aaron Sanchez has been sent down and brought back up from the minors repeatedly, looking more like a table tennis ball than the skilled pitcher that he is. The Blue Jays kept flip-flopping on their decision whether to shut his young arm down, take it easy in the minors, throw him into the bullpen, or to keep him as a starter. Some fans have argued that all of the distractions that the Blue Jays brass have put on Sanchez have affected his game, making him less dominating than he was earlier in the season. The 2016 All-Star has given up seven runs in his last three starts, which required him to be pulled from the game against the Cleveland Indians after the fourth inning.
In the last seven games, as a team, the Blue Jays are 24th in the majors with a .229 batting average. The Red Sox are seventh with a .296 batting average in the same span. While the Red Sox have scored 40 runs, the Blue Jays have scored 22 runs. Even though the Blue Jays have walked more than any other team in the American League (30 times), they have not been able to capitalize with runners in scoring position as often as they’ve wanted.
That goes for the season, as well. While the Blue Jays are hitting .255 with runners on second or third, the Red Sox have not had the same problems. Boston leads the majors with a .288 average in the same situation.
The Red Sox starting rotation should also outmatch the Blue Jays, at least on paper. Clay Buchholz has proven his worth as a starter in each of his recent performances, making him an excellent matchup against Sanchez. In Rick Porcello‘s last 15 starts, he’s 12-1 with a 2.77 ERA. He’s finished the seventh inning in each of his last three starts, earning a combined 17 strikeouts and no walks in that stretch. If Estrada falters, Porcello should also be earning his league-leading 20th win of the season.
After getting shelled for five runs against the Kansas City Royals on his return from injury, Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez went into Oakland and blanked the Athletics for eight straight innings. He allowed only one hit and two walks in a great performance. If he can do the same to the struggling Blue Jays bats on Saturday, the Red Sox should look poised to sweep the Jays.
Red Sox Nation, just imagine what a sweep would mean. The Blue Jays would be a good four games back with a full 17 games before meeting them again for three games at the end of the season. If the Red Sox kept the lead that long, the Blue Jays could sweep the Red Sox and Boston would still win the A.L. East title.
The other teams in the A.L. playoff picture shouldn’t trouble the Red Sox too much, as long as they beat the Jays. The Orioles sit two games back of Boston, keeping stride with the Red Sox but never doing much else. Their starters are hurt and look to be limping into the final stretch of the regular season. The Detroit Tigers, the Houston Astros, and even the Yankees have been doing much the same, keeping their wildcard chances alive. However, Detroit and Houston can’t hurt the Red Sox because they are not in the same division. The Yankees, while also in the A.L. East and making a valiant effort, look more like wildcard contenders than division heavyweights.
All of that could change if the Red Sox lose two out of three games against the Blue Jays, but that shouldn’t happen. Toronto looks to be a wounded bird, taking a nose-dive in an attempt to escape the division hunters. The Red Sox, on the other hand, look to have their sights set on those Blue Jays, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness. And, they already smell blood.