Your Chicago White Sox have won five straight series and are now headed to Boston, where they'll face the first-place Red Sox in historic Fenway Park.
In 2010, it was Manny Ramirez a return to Fenway with the White Sox; in 2012 it was Kevin Youkilis who made a heartfelt return. But now, it's the White Sox who will be seeing a teammate that was recently dealt away: fan favorite, Jake Peavy.
And a very deserving mention to Matt Thornton and BoSox pitching coach Juan Nieves, too.
The series gets kicked off at 6:10PM CST on Friday evening as Hector Santiago (4-7, 3.25 ERA) faces former Chicago Cub Ryan Dempster (6-9, 4.77 ERA).
On August 18th, two starts ago, Screwgie picked up his fourth win of the season and his first since June 21st. Don't let that confuse you, because Santiago has consistently been sensational in the White Sox rotation.
Although he has continued to churn out solid performances, his bugaboo of late has been an inefficiency with his pitches. Over his last four outings, he's tossed 23 innings (a bit better than 5.2/start) while throwing 106 pitches per start in that span. That's because he's issued 11 walks in that time (to go along with 27 hits).
So, should we totally okay with that, or should we be demanding he tighten those screws and take the next step forward?
Well I personally love to see young pitchers battle through adversity in the form of base runners and poor defense to find success. And that's what Santiago is done. I mean, the kid does have an ERA in the low 3.00's. And when you realize that he's only made 23 MLB starts, you're reminded that he still is figuring out the ropes. He just happens to be having much more success in the process than most others do.
The normal starting lineup for the Red Sox has not had much success against Santiago, going 3-for-23 as a group. Jacoby Ellsbury (1-for-3), David Ortiz (1-for-3), and Dustin Pedroia (1-for-2) are the only three guys with hits.
As you can tell by his poor record and ERA, the Ryan Dempster signing has been mostly disappointing for the Red Sox. They'll certainly like having a veteran like him on the team down the home stretch of the playoff race and possibly in the playoffs, but he may need to be better in order for them to get there. And if that pressure isn't enough, the tactics in his last start have certainly earned him the spotlight.
You remember, when he threw four straight pitches right at A-Rod before plunking him? Yeah, that stole the spotlight for a couple of days and earned him a nice little suspension. Making his first start since the 18th, he's been very inconsistent of late. He's struggled in three of his last four and four of his last seven starts.
Some White Sox hitters have had great success against him in their careers. Adam Dunn is 5-for-17 with two home runs, Jeff Keppinger is 13-for-29 (.448), and Alexei Ramirez has gone 7-for-17.
With the White Sox actually playing well, based on the pitching matchup, I'd probably favor the south siders in Friday night's affair.
Saturday's game is my 'game to watch,' as John Danks (4-10, 4.15) and our Sox are facing the aforementioned former White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy (2-1, 3.31).
John Danks, whom we wrote about at length recently, is one of the more interesting viewing points for us Sox fans over the next handful of weeks. No, he hasn't been great this year, but he is posting some stats that are the best of his career (as discussed in the previous post), inspiring hope for his future in a White Sox uniform.
The most success against him from Boston's lineup has come from David Ortiz (4-for-14, 2 HR) and Jacoby Ellsbury (4-for-7). However, guys like Dustin Pedroia (2-for-14) and Mike Napoli (4-for-24) haven't been able to figure out Danks, so you can't really say he has or hasn't been good or bad against these guys in his career.
As for our good friend, the 'Jakemeister' Jake Peavy. The two south siders that have faced Peavy before are veterans Adam Dunn and Jeff Keppinger. Dunn 5-for-28 with two home runs and seven walks, while Kepp has gone 2-for-10 with a triple.
Peavy's been pretty good since joining the Red Sox in late July, making five starts, four of which have been everywhere from solid to dominant. The 32 year-old's 2013 ERA is now at 3.99, and the trade looks like it was a good one for Boston. He's basically filling the Dempster role that Dempster hasn't been able to fill.
The series finale will be a matchup between Andre Rienzo (1-0, 4.21 ERA) and Felix Doubront (10-6, 3.74).
The start for Rienzo, you have to figure is a pretty big one. With September call-ups first in effect on that day, he could start to feel the pressure from Erik Johnson if he doesn't perform well.
Rienzo has never faced the Red Sox or any of their hitters, though the better his opponent, the better he's been for the White Sox to this point … for what it's worth.
In Rienzo's six starts, he's tossed a respectable 36.1 innings letting up 35 hits, but has walked 17 hitters. That's been the difference-maker for him. If he weren't issuing out free passes, he'd be consistently working very late into ball games. In an organization like the White Sox's, which may only have one spot, if that, open for the taking in the 2014 rotation, Rienzo is going to need to keep getting better and keep getting better quickly if he wants that spot next year.
I'm not sure he's one poor start away from having someone like Charlie Leesman taking his spot, but maybe Erik Johnson? Maybe. So we'll see; and for competition's sake, I sure do hope he shows up against Boston and pitches a gem on Sunday.
For the BoSox, Doubront continues to be just a solid pitcher that consistently puts a good offensive team in a position to win every time out.
This one may be a tricky one for the White Sox, as Doubront has been good of late, letting up three runs or less in nine of his last ten starts. He's second on the team in wins because of that.
Dayan Viciedo (4-for-7) and Jeff Keppinger (4-for-10) have had the most success against him in their careers, each with one home run.
Keys to the Series
Walk it out: As we've laid out, the big problem for two of the three Sox pitchers in this series are the free passes. Not that John Danks doesn't have to be economical with his pitches, but keep a close eye on how efficient Santiago and Rienzo are in their first few innings. Hopefully they keep the runners of the bases so they don't have to worry about getting out of trouble like they have so often of late.
Avi & Tank: The White Sox offense has depended a lot of late on whether or not Dayan Viciedo and Avi Garcia have been driving in runs. With an inconsistent Adam Dunn, Alex Rios gone, and Paul Konerko being near non-existent, that'll likely be the case from here on out.
We know they have the potential to to drive in runs at a scary rate, so hopefully they can continue to do so with some success this season to go into 2014 with high confidence.