The White Sox return home this week after a mildly successful 4-3 road trip. The Sox won four of the first five games on the trip but then dropped the final two games in Anaheim. The Red Sox are on the last stop of a three city, nine game road trip.
The BoSox come in riding a five game winning streak and are fresh off a sweep of the Twins in Minneapolis. The Red Sox have been impressive on the road this season, coming in at 14-7 away from Fenway. This begins a key stretch for the White Sox as they will play their next ten games in Chicago.
The series kicks off Monday night with Dylan Axelrod (1-3, 4.27 ERA) taking on Jon Lester (6-0, 2.72).
Lester is experiencing a major bounce back year for Boston. After going 9-14 a year ago Lester is off to a perfect 6-0 start. His ERA is also down over two runs from last year. Whatever was wrong last season, he seems to have figured it out and regained his stuff.
Lester has allowed two runs or less in six of his nine starts this season and has only allowed more than three runs once. He hasn’t allowed more than 8 hits in a start and only allowed more than 6 hits once and only 4 home runs all year. He has dominated left-handed hitters holding them to a .179 average with 20 strikeouts in 39 at bats.
The good news for White Sox fans is that Lester has historically struggled against the Sox. In 9 career starts he is just 4-4 with a 5.20 ERA and the White Sox have managed to hit a decent .259 against him. Paul Konerko (.435. 3 HRs) and Dayan Viciedo (3-for-8, HR) have had success against Lester while Casper Wells (0-for-10, 3 Ks) and Adam Dunn (1-for-6, 2 Ks) have not.
Dylan Axelrod is likely pitching for a chance to stay in the White Sox rotation this week. With John Danks working closer to rejoining the club it will come down to Axe or Santiago for the final spot in the rotation. While Axelrod has been solid so far, most people believe Santiago’s upside is higher. Dylan is coming off his first win of the season in Minnesota. He was far from great but finally got some offensive support and did enough to earn the victory.
After a pretty solid start to the season Axelrod has slumped off a little bit lately allowing 9 runs, 8 earned, in his last 11.1 innings pitched. Opponents have hit .327 against him over that stretch.
Axelrod has pitched 9 innings against the Red Sox in his career and has limited the Carmines to 2 runs on 10 hits with 1 walk and 10 strikeouts. He had a great start in Fenway last year when he went 6.2 innings allowing just 1 run and striking out eight. Of the current Red Sox hitters only Pedro Ciriaco (3-for-3) has more than one hit off Axe.
The middle game of the series on Tuesday will see Jose Quintana (2-1, 3.97 ERA) toe the slab and take on Felix Doubront (3-1, 6.03 ERA).
Doubront will be making his 7th start of the season for the Red Sox and has probably been a little better than his ERA would indicate. In five of his six starts he has allowed 3 runs or less, however he hasn’t worked deeper than 6.2 innings in any start this year. He will strikeout a lot of batters, 10.1 per 9 innings, but he will also walk quite a few as well, 5.3 per 9 innings.
After surrendering 24 homers last season, he has only given up 2 gopher balls this year. It is hard to say on any given day what to expect from Doubront but he certainly has the stuff to dominate.
He has struggled on the road, where opponents hit .354 against him as opposed to .254 at home. Surprisingly lefties have hit .393 this season against the 25-year-old Venezuelan southpaw. This will be his third career start against the White Sox.
In the previous two starts Doubront is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA. Paul Konerko (2-for-4, double), Dayan Viciedo (3-for-5, HR) and Jeff Keppinger (3-for-8, double) have had some success against Felix. Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez are a combined 0-for-14 against Doubront.
The Sox will also send a young, South American lefty to the mound as Jose Quintana looks to get back into the win column. He has gone four straight starts without adding a “W” next to his name in the stat book. While he hasn’t pitched terrible over that stretch, he has seen his ERA raise more than a full run since his last win.
The walks did him in the last time around, an uncharacteristic problem for Jose. This will be Q’s second career start against the BoSox and I hope it goes like his first one did. He went 8 shutout innings last year at Fenway, holding the Red Sox to just 5 hits.
He did not get the win but he certainly deserved one. As a result of that being the lone career outing against Boston no Red Sox player has more than one hit against Quintana and only four Boston batters have ever faced him.
The finale of the battle of the Sox will be Wednesday night and it will be must see TV as Chris Sale (5-2, 2.53 ERA) takes on Clay Buchholz (6-0, 1.78 ERA).
Much like his fellow 6-0 teammate Lester, Buchholz is having a bounce back year. After going 11-8 with an ERA north of 4.50 last year Buchholz seems to have re-found his 2010 form when he went 17-7 with a 2.33 ERA and finished 6th in the Cy Young voting.
Through nine starts in 2013 he leads the American League in ERA and has only allowed more than 2 runs in a start once this year. After starting the year winning each of his first 6 starts, Clay has not factored in the decision in each of his last three outings. He has still been good however, allowing just 8 runs over 21 innings with a .221 opponent’s batting average.
Buchholz has been equally tough on righties and lefties holding both to a sub-.200 batting average. In 5 career starts against the White Sox Buchholz is just 1-2 with a 5.02 ERA and the Sox have managed to hit .273 against him. Paul Konerko (6-for-12, HR) and Jeff Keppinger (3-for-11, HR) have had some success against Buchholz.
The White Sox will counter with their ace, Chris Sale, who has been about as good as they come lately. His last two outings were both dominant performances against the Angels, pitching 16.2 shutout innings allowing just 4 hits and striking out 19 batters. Over his last six starts Sale is 4-1 with a 1.40 ERA and has held opposing batters to a .155 average. He has also struck out 44 batters in 45 innings.
Sale has allowed 2 runs or fewer in seven of his nine starts including the last six straight. Left-handed batters are 3-for-48 (.063) against Chris Sale this year. Sale has also dominated at the Cell this year posting a 3-0 record with a 1.47 ERA and opponents are hitting just .162 overall against Chris at home. This will be the first time the Red Sox face Sale as a starting pitcher. Sale has 5.2 career innings of relief against Boston and has not allowed a run.
Current Red Sox batters are a combined 3-for-19 (.158) against Sale.
Keys to the Series
Rejuvenated Red Sox Pitching
Last season the Red Sox pitching staff ranked 12th out of 14 teams in ERA at 4.70. They also ranked towards the bottom in runs allowed, home runs and walks. This year the Red Sox ERA is almost a full run lower at 3.80 and their starters ERA is slightly lower at 3.72.
The only real issue was with the closer role but with Andrew Bailey set to return from the DL on Monday that seems to have worked itself out as well.
Former White Sox bullpen coach Juan Nieves has done a great job as the Red Sox pitching coach this year, along with the new manager John Farrell. The pitching has been a big reason the Red Sox are among the top teams in the American League right now and 10 games above .500. The White Sox have really struggled at the plate this season so this could be a mismatch in the series.
Get on a Roll
Right around this point last year the White Sox got on a roll and went from just under .500 to well above where they stayed for the remainder of the season until things fell apart late.
This year’s White Sox have a chance to do the same. As mentioned at the top of this piece the White Sox play their next 10 games in Chicago, eight at the Cell and two at Wrigley Field. This includes seven games against the Marlins and Cubs who are a combined 27 games under the .500 mark.
This is the perfect opportunity to get on a roll and take this season in the right direction, but they need to start it off with a well-played series against the Red Sox. It's time for the team's spark plugs to be spark plugs and get the team goin' on a consistent basis.
Over the last week the White Sox pitchers have averaged close to four walks per 9 innings and more than a few of those have come around to score.
It has been a bit weird to see free passes being issued by the likes of Jake Peavy and Jose Quintana but it has happened, and it has led to some jams that guys have not been able to wiggle out of. The Red Sox have drawn 172 base on balls this season, the second most in the American League. If the White Sox pitchers struggle with their command, the Red Sox hitters will patiently let them work their way into trouble via the base on balls.
White Sox pitchers must be sharp with their control or the Red Sox offense will have them right where they want them.
On paper this looks like a pretty bad match up for the White Sox. They are facing two pitchers in this series who are yet to lose a game, something very rare this late in the season. On the plus side the Sox are tossing their ace against the BoSox ace in the finale so if they can split the first two games they have just as good a chance of winning the series with Sale on the bump as the Red Sox do with Buchholz.
It would have been nice for the Sox to take one of the weekend games against the Angels to ride some real confidence into this series but it seemed like they ran out of gas at the end. I really don’t know what’s going to happen this series but my gut tells me the Sox struggle to win one out of three.