No disrespect intended for the other teams in the American and National Leagues, but many are looking at the upcoming three-game series between the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies as a likely World Series preview. Obviously, we won’t know about that until October but both teams appear to be on their way to making those predictions a reality.
If anyone were to be given this potential World Series matchup in the middle of April, no one would have agreed. Sure, the Phillies started off decently but, considering the depth of their starting rotation, it wasn’t enough. They weren’t as bad as the Red Sox, though, who went the first week of the season without a win. In fact, Bostonians were lucky that their Bruins were so prime to not only make the playoffs but contend for the Stanley Cup. That was a good enough distraction from their suddenly-abysmal baseball team.
Mid-April is now ancient history as both teams are dominating their respective leagues. At 49-30, the Phillies boast the best record in the Majors, while the Red Sox’ 45-32 record is good enough for third in the Majors, just behind the New York Yankees by a half-game in their division.
Although they have a more comfortable division lead than the Red Sox do, the Phillies cannot take the Atlanta Braves lightly as they sit just 4.5 games back. The Phillies should even be a little wary of the Washington Nationals who are just nine games behind. Being such a young, inexperienced team, though, it seems as if it will only be a matter of time before the Nats fall out of contention altogether. Then again, if history is any indication, stranger things have happened.
The Red Sox are locked in another competitive division race with the aforementioned Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays who sit just two games behind Boston and 2.5 out of the division lead. The Red Sox, though, have redeemed themselves as Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz have both come back to life but also newcomers like Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are playing up to, and even beyond, their expectations, with the latter struggling mightily during his first month in Boston.
Aside from a batting lineup that poses a threat from the leadoff spot all the way down to #9, the Red Sox and Phillies have arguably the most dominant rotations in baseball, despite each missing key pieces. The Phillies are without Roy Oswalt until mid-August while Boston will have to do without Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is lost for the year to undergo Tommy John surgery.
After being sidelined by injury, Boston ace Josh Beckett (6-2, 1.86 ERA) makes his much-anticipated return to the hill tonight as he faces off against Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee (8-5, 2.87) in what should be the most highly-touted pitcher’s duel of this still-young season.
Despite having a subpar month, Jon Lester (9-4, 3.66) is still going strong for the Red Sox as is Clay Buchholz (6-3, 3.48) who is out with a back injury but is scheduled to return next week.
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, John Lackey (5-6, 7.36) is having a season to forget. There’s still more than enough time to turn things around but up until now, it hasn’t been looking good. Luckily, Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller and Alfredo Aceves have all filled in quite admirably in the rotation when needed.
We can all call tonight’s game and the next two as a likely World Series preview all we want to but both teams still need to focus on the task at hand and that is keep playing competitive baseball and win their respective divisions. The Red Sox are in a slightly less comfortable spot as both the Yankees and the Rays are nipping at their heels with the Toronto Blue Jays not far behind.
The Phillies aren’t out of the woods either but at least they have a bit more leeway in their division. Say what you will about Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. The key for the Phillies, like for the Red Sox, is keeping their pitching rotation healthy. Philadelphia is already without Oswalt and can barely afford to lose Halladay, Hamels or the aforementioned Lee.
It all goes down tonight in the City of Brotherly Love between the Red Sox and Phillies. It should not disappoint.