I think the picture says it right and I am not afraid to jinx as it appears so far the Sox are playoff bound! Currently ranked 2nd in the MLB power rankings the Sox are coming off a 4-2 week where they have looked very strong and look like they are not going to let up until they erase the memory of the last two years from every critics mind. Dustin Pedroia (.333 BA, .878 OPS, 43 R) and David Ortiz (.322 BA, 1.031 OPS, 13 HR) have anchored the lineup, while Clay Buchholz (9-0, 1.71 ERA) has bounced back in a big way after an uninspired last two seasons. Boston will begin a series road trip to Tampa and Baltimore this week in hope to extend their division lead even further. Boston enters Monday with a 1 1/2-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East. The Red Sox, winners of six of eight, took two straight over the Angels to sweep the weekend series. The Rays on the other hand enter this series 4th in the AL East winning 6 of their last 10. On the injury front, third baseman Will Middlebrooks is nearing a return from the DL, although his replacement, Jose Iglesias, has picked up three consecutive multi-hit games. Outfielder Shane Victorino returned from the 15- day disabled list on Saturday but then was given Sunday off, as Farrell looks to ease Victorino back into the everyday lineup.
Game 1: John Lackey (3-5) vs. Alex Cobb (6-2)
Lackey has four straight quality starts and appears to have fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery that sidelined him for all of '12. He gave up one run in six innings Wednesday vs. Texas, and has allowed just four runs in his last 25 frames. After two seasons of poor performances and one missed season due to Tommy John surgery, Lackey has responded with a 2.79 ERA in 51 2/3 innings this season, striking out 50 while walking just 14. Tampa Bay hitters Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, James Loney, Matt Joyce and Yunel Escobar are all hitting above .300 against Lackey. To face Lackey will be one of Tampa's hot pitchers, Alex Cobb who has been very strong with his strike out pitch this season. Cobb is 6-2 with a 2.39 ERA, striking out 69 in 75 1/3 innings this season. His success has come with a new mental approach: Forget everything. Cobb pitched brilliantly Wednesday vs. Detroit when he allowed no runs on five hits in 7 2/3 innings en route to a no-decision. He's 2-2 with a 2.79 ERA in five career starts vs. Boston; he is 11-7 with a 3.17 ERA in 23 career starts at the Trop.
Prediction: Rays win 6-3
Game 2: Jon Lester (6-2) vs. Roberto Hernandez (3-6)
After a game that last over 5 hours including a bench clearing brawl the Sox will send Jon Lester to the mound for game 2 of this series. After having a great start to the season Jon Lester slowed down a bit but it might have only been a phase he was in. Lester showed signs of returning to his early-season dominance in his last start against the Rangers. He gave up three runs and seven hits over six innings and earned a no-decision. It was his first quality start in four outings. Boston enters with 40 wins through 65 games -- its quickest jaunt to that total since 2007 (61 games). Although Boston is hot overall -- winning eight of its last 11 -- the Red Sox have particularly taken care of the Rays, winning six of seven against Tampa Bay this season. That number just puts a smile on mine and every Red Sox fans face as many people thought the Rays could be a dominant team this year. Lester has held the Rays to just three runs over 14 innings in two meetings this season, picking up a victory and a no-decision. That gives him career numbers of 11-8 with a 4.07 ERA in 24 all-time meetings with Tampa Bay. To face him on the mound the Rays will send Roberto Hernandez The 32-year-old righty is 1-2 with a 6.30 ERA over his last four starts and 3-6 on the season with a 5.03 ERA in 11 games. Hernandez hasn't faced the Red Sox since May 2011, has surrendered nine home runs in his last seven starts. Both clubs need their starters to go deep following Monday's extra-inning affair. The Red Sox used their bullpen for 8 1/3 innings, while the Rays' bullpen tossed 10 frames.
Prediction: Red Sox win 5-3
Game 3: Alfredo Aceves (2-1) vs. Chris Archer (1-1)
Due to Clay Buchholz day to day injury of neck stiffness the Sox have opted Alfredo Aceves from Pawtucket to make the start in the series finale. Franklin Morales, who had been scheduled to start on Wednesday before being called out of the bullpen for two innings Monday, will be ready to pitch multiple innings in relief in order to save the bullpen. Aceves has been roughed up quite a bit this season including a 13-0 loss but has slowly begin to recover. The right-hander will return from Triple-A Pawtucket to make a spot start. In his last start for Boston on May 27, Aceves gave up seven hits and one run over six innings. He is 2-1 with a 6.05 ERA in four starts for the Red Sox this season. To face him will be the right hander from Tampa Bay, Chris Archer.Archer tied his career high with seven innings vs. Baltimore on Friday and he did so with just 84 pitches. He is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in three career starts at Tropicana Field as opposed to 0-4 with a 6.33 ERA in five career road appearances. "I faced some of the guys that are here now in Triple-A last year," said Archer, who was part of the 2011 trade that sent Matt Garza to the Cubs. "So a combination of those things is going to determine how I attack those guys." Entering Wednesday's series finale, both teams rank in the bottom 10 among June ERAs, with Boston at 4.30 and Tampa Bay at 4.50.
Prediction: Rays win 7-3