Magic Number: 14
Well, I didn’t count on the Red Sox squandering all those chances and scoring only 3 runs, but they did cash in with 2 singles with men in scoring position, just enough to win with Beckett pitching well and deep again.
The Yankees are hot. The Red Sox need to sweep Tampa Bay to keep a comfortable lead going into their 3 game series against the Yankees next weekend. The Red Sox certainly have the easier schedule than the Yankees for the next 3 games.
At least, on paper. However, Tampa Bay has been hot of late. They come in to Boston winners of 12 of their last 16 games, including series victories over Toronto this past weekend, and the Yankees the weekend before that.
They have Scott Kazmir going tonight. He’s a lefty who has given Red Sox hitters fits over his career. This season has not gone as well for him. In August, he had an excellent 6 inning shutout performance in Boston, followed in his next start by a bad performance against Boston in Tampa, giving up 6 runs in 5 2/3 innings.
Some newcomers to the Sox, like Ellsbury, Moss and Pedroia, didn’t face the "dominant Kazmir" of previous years, so their lack of "memory" might give them the confidence they need to succeed against him. In fact, Pedroia is 7-for-12 lifetime against him.
Moss, being a righty, is likely to play tonight, since he hasn’t started in a while, and the Red Sox other outfielders are 3 lefties (Drew, Ellsbury & 1B/OF Hinske) and a switch hitter (Crisp). Who will the lone lefty be? Drew, or Ellsbury? Drew hasn’t had a day off as recently as Ellsbury, so my guess is Ellsbury.
Schilling has been doing better of late, getting quality starts in 4 of his last 5 starts, including 3 in a row. However, he does poorly against Tampa Bay’s lefthanded hitters. Look for the Rays to stack the lineup with lefties.
With the weather cooling, this is likely to be a low-scoring game. It’s tough to call. 2 hot teams, with 2 proven quality starters pitching mostly well of late. Kazmir’s last 3 starts have been mediocre after a bad start against Boston, so you could say "he’s due", but he’s unlikely to be dominant. The Sox young hitters will probably do well enough against Kazmir to get his pitch count up.
The Red Sox are also better than other teams at getting pitch count up, so they should be able to expose the Devil Rays’ bullpen weakness.
The starters will probably each give up about 2 runs through 6 innings, then turn it over to their bullpens, which is where the Red Sox have a decided advantage.
Also an advantage: the Red Sox are returning home from a short road trip.
The air is turning crisp and cool and it’s starting to feel like playoff weather, which means "raise your game" to the Red Sox, and "shut it down for the winter" to Tampa Bay.
So the prediction is a close game until the late innings, at which time the Red Sox will pull ahead.