Sunday, July 20, 2014

Streaking Sox Sweep Royals

With their 8-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox on July 8th, the Boston Red Sox hit rock bottom. They'd dropped seven of their last eight games, all at home, to fall 12 games below .500 and 10.5 games out of first. They were last-place in the AL East. They were dead.

Except that they weren't. They salvaged their miserable homestand in thrilling fashion with a [air of walkoff wins against Chicago. Then they traveled to Houston and closed out the first half by taking two of three from the Astros, the last of which was their most convincing victory of the season--an 11-0 romp.. Following the All-Star Break, they returned home for a three-game set with Kansas City and took all three for their first sweep at Fenway in over a month. And just like that, well, maybe the Red Sox weren't dead after all.

With their sweep of the Royals, the Sox have now won seven of their last eight games. It hasn't been enough to climb out of the AL East basement, where Boston's still mired in last place, but at least it's closed the gap for first place to 7.5 games. That's still a sizable deficit, but significantly smaller and easier to overcome than a double digit one.

More importantly, with five straight wins at Fenway the Sox now have a .500 record at home, something they haven't been able to say for much of the year. There were those two walk-offs against the White Sox, of course, followed by the three-game sweep of Kansas City. Boston beat KC 5-4 in Friday's series opener, overcoming a 4-1 deficit with a four-run rally in the sixth inning, a comeback keyed by two-run homers from Xander Bogaerts and Jonny Gomes. With Clay Buchholz gone, four Red Sox relievers made the lead stand up.

Saturday's game was a classic pitcher's duel between Danny Duffy and Rubby De La Rosa, both of whom have pitched surprisingly well this year and with almost identical levels of success (Duffy's ERA after the game was 2.66, just a smidge worse than De La Rosa's 2.64). Once again it was the Royals who took the early lead, only to watch the Red Sox fight back and win with a six-inning deathblow. This time it was Mike Napoli snapping a 1-1 tie with a majestic home run--his 11th of the season--over the Green Monster. Andrew Miller and Koji Uehara kept Kansas City at bay to preserve the lead and De La Rosa's third win of the season.

Sunday's series finale was all-Boston. The Sox scored early and often, hanging six runs on young Yordano Ventura through four. He was gone after one out in the bottom of the fifth, leaving a bases loaded mess for Francisley Bueno to clean up (which he did). That was more than enough for Jon Lester, who dominated the Royals with eight shutout innings. The All-Star lefty was in top form, permitting just four hits (three singles) and two walks while striking out eight. Junichi Tazawa and Edward Mujica retired the Royals 1-2-3 in the ninth to finish off the shutout and the sweep.

The Red Sox will be back on the road this week, first in Toronto against the scuffling Blue Jays and then in Tampa to take on the red-hot Rays. By playing well against both Boston could improve its position in the standings and potentially gain some ground on the first place Orioles. John Lackey will look to put his recent woes behind him in first start of the second half tomorrow night.

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