Last week they faced a measuring-stick series with the sizzling Dodgers, then returned home to face an Orioles team that has given them trouble for the better part of two years. Next week they'll take on the Tigers in a fight for the top spot in the American League, then begin the stretch where they finish the regular season by playing 19 of 21 games within the East division.
In between there is this weekend, and its series with the White Sox. The last-place, playing-out-the-string White Sox, whose arrival in Boston brings little of the intrigue and fanfare that has accompanied the Red Sox' most recent opponents, and will again starting Monday.
But don't sleep on the importance of this three-game set. Or, thus, the importance of Friday night's 4-3 victory in its opener.
Given how tight the races are atop the division (where the Red Sox lead the Rays by 3.5 games) and the league as a whole (where they lead the Tigers by half a game), every win obviously matters. Even more so, winning series matters. Especially against subpar teams that should be little obstacle for the supposedly elite.
The White Sox are one of those below-average teams. Even if they entered Fenway having won eight of 10, and having just given the Tigers all they could handle, they were still 56-76 overall, still occupying the cellar of the AL Central, and still owners of the third-worst record in baseball. Because of all that, they're still an opponent that presents the Red Sox with a chance to add some cushion along the bridge from August to September, before they begin a closing month where pretty much every contest carries two-game consequences.
A robust 22.5 games better than Chicago according to the standings, Boston merely needs to take care of business this weekend. That's been something of a challenge lately, when they needed 15 innings and a six-run ninth inning to beat Seattle, when they struggled in Houston before scratching their way to two wins against the barrel-bottom Astros, when they dropped two of three to the fifth-place Blue Jays a few days later, then when they lost a game they shouldn't have to the flailing Giants. They pulled a few of those games from the fire, and thus their playoff hopes lived to tell about it, but a hiccup now would not be good, given what lies ahead.
And Friday was a big step toward seeing that that doesn't happen. Not only did they win, but they beat the best of the three starters the White Sox will throw at them this weekend, and they did so by knocking him out in the fourth inning. That forced Chicago to use three relievers for at least an inning apiece, and that could have an impact over the next couple of days.
Meanwhile, Sox starter Ryan Dempster pitched into the seventh inning. Junichi Tazawa took over there, and spent only nine pitches in his inning of work. Craig Breslow didn't pitch at all. And Koji Uehara's four outs of perfection required him to fire only 17 bullets. So Boston's three best late-game relievers should all be at the ready if they're needed either Saturday or Sunday.
There was also the reemergence of David Ortiz, who snapped a long hitless streak with a two-run single, and also worked a couple of walks -- one of which came after the White Sox walked Dustin Pedroia intentionally to pitch to Big Papi. That bodes well, as does the continued success of Pedroia and Shane Victorino, each of whom reached base three times on the night.
The game never seemed to be in jeopardy, and once it was official the Sox had their fifth win in six games -- and after so much talk about their struggles against left-handed pitching, southpaw starters are 0-5 against Boston since C.C. Sabathia won ugly on Aug. 18. They'll face another of those Saturday, when John Danks takes the ball for Chicago, as the Red Sox look to take their major league-leading 28th series of the season.
And, importantly, take care of business.
|Jacoby Ellsbury, CF||0-for-5, 2 K: After tearing up the Orioles, he went hitless for the first time in four games, missing a chance to get back over .300 for the season. (He's at .297.)|
|Shane Victorino, RF||2-for-4, 2 R, RBI, BB, SB: As he marches toward .300 himself, Victorino has been a table-setter in a true sense. Over his last five games he has 10 hits, and he's scored nine runs.|
|Dustin Pedroia, 2B||1-for-2, 2 BB, 2B: His two-bagger moved him into a tie with Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the team lead in doubles, with 35. That's also tied for fifth in the American League.|
|David Ortiz, DH||1-for-2, RBI, 2 BB: It came as no surprise that the hit on which Ortiz finally busted his slump came on a pitch that was down in the strike zone. He got it, recognized it, and hit it hard to center.|
|Jonny Gomes, LF||0-for-3, K: It's of growing concern that Gomes is struggling against lefties. He's now at .201 for the season, which is 72 below his career average and about 100 points lower than he's hit over his four previous seasons.|
|Mike Napoli, 1B||0-for-3, RBI, BB, K: He didn't have a hit, but he added to his impressive bases-loaded RBI total with a walk in the third. He's now got 24 RBIs in 18 opportunities this season.|
|Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C||0-for-4, K: He left the sacks full after Napoli's walk, and Saturday could be a good time for David Ross to get a start. It's an afternoon game and Saltalamacchia is 0-for his last-8.|
|Stephen Drew, SS||1-for-4, K: Make it 13 straight starts in which Drew has either reached base or driven in a run as he continues to justify Farrell starting him (instead of Xander Bogaerts) against lefties.|
|Will Middlebrooks, 3B||1-for-3, R, BB, SB: He looked better at the plate than he has recently, and he found other ways to contribute, too. He stole a base and he took a run away from the White Sox by eliminating Paul Konerko at the plate on a grounder to third.|
|Ryan Dempster, SP||6.1 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 3 BB, 5 K, HR: It's convenient that Clay Buchholz's rehab schedule lines up precisely with Dempster's turn in the Red Sox rotation, but the veteran did well for himself Friday, holding the White Sox hitless until the fifth.|
|Junichi Tazawa, RP||IP, H: He hasn't been good as far as preventing inherited runners lately, and he let one of Dempster's score. He has recently been susceptible to the big hit.|
|Franklin Morales, RP||0.1 IP: Pitching for the first time in 10 days, the eighth inning of a one-run game seemed a weird spot to bring on Morales -- but he got the job done, inducing an Adam Dunn grounder to first.|
|Koji Uehara, RP||1.1 IP, 2 K: He threw 14 of his 17 pitches for strikes, and while the stats say he's a rather uninspiring 15 for 18 in save opportunities overall, he feels like every bit as much of a lock-down closer as Jonathan Papelbon ever did in Boston.|
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