Manager: John Farrell (5th season)
Last 10 games: 7-3
Who to watch: RF Mookie Betts (90 RBIs, 43 doubles, 24 steals), LF Andrew Benintendi (85 RBIs, 19 steals), C Christian Vázquez (.298), 3B Rafael Devers (.826 OPS), RHP Craig Kimbrel (33 saves)
Season series vs. Orioles: 6-10
Inside the Red Sox:
The Red Sox have not relinquished the top spot in the American League East since the beginning of August. Heading into the season’s final fortnight, however, neither have they been able to put the division title out of reach of the hot-again Yankees.
These aren’t your father’s Red Sox, who for a long time depended on David Ortiz and other sluggers to pummel the opposition into submission. The 2017 BoSox are built for speed, ranking third in the American League in stolen bases. Outfielder Rajai Davis (.229/.290/.341) has the most of any player on the team with 28, but most of those came before the Athletics traded him Aug. 23. Notorious Oriole-killer Mookie Betts (.263/.342/.449) banged up the Rays’ pitching staff this weekend in St. Petersburg, going 5-for-14 with a double and homer. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts (.269/.333/.392) seems to have taken over from Betts this year as chief Orioles nemesis, hitting .305 with six RBIs in 16 games against the Birds. Bogaerts’ slugging percentage has been slipping this month, however. Just behind Betts in the theft department, rookie sensation Andrew Benintendi (.277/.355/.435) comes to Baltimore 14-for-38 with six doubles and 10 RBIs over his last eight games. Fellow rookie Rafael Devers (.286/.346/.480) has had a good September so far, going 15-for-54 with four doubles. Before taking an O-fer in yesterday’s loss at Tampa Bay, Christian Vázquez was 10-for-21 with five RBIs over the previous seven games.
Doug Fister (5-8, 4.40 ERA), who gets tonight’s opener and will be the only right-handed starter the Sox will throw at the O’s this weekend, might still be finding his footing. The former Astro did not catch on in the offseason as a free agent. He eventually signed a minor league deal with the Angels and did a short stint in Triple-A before the Red Sox picked him up on waivers in June. Fister had posted four straight quality starts - including a complete-game one-hitter at Cleveland - before the A’s rocked him for six runs over four innings Sept. 13. Drew Pomeranz (16-5, 3.28 ERA) starts tomorrow’s game. He’s won four of his last five starts, and his one loss in that stretch - Sept. 2 at the Yankees - was his first since mid-June. He’ll try to get Orioles hitters out with a knuckle curve. Red Sox ace Chris Sale has had his share of stumbles over his last half dozen starts, losing three and pitching to a 4.64 ERA. Sale keeps hitters off-balance by mixing a 95 mph fastball with a sinker, circle change and an 80 mph slider.
The Red Sox enjoy a number of serviceable options for mid-to-late-inning relief, including Joe Kelly (3-1, 2.72 ERA), Matt Barnes (6-3, 3.94 ERA) and lefty Fernando Abad (2-0, 2.81 ERA). Barnes leads the Sox bullpen in appearances and innings pitched, despite having sat out four games serving a suspension for throwing at Manny Machado’s head back in April. Fireballing closer Craig Kimbrel (5-0, 1.43 ERA) holds third place on the American League saves list. Kimbrel’s last blown save came Aug. 1 against the Indians. He’s since converted eight chances. Reactivated Thursday after an extended stay on the disabled list, David Price (5-3, 3.82 ERA) has been relegated to bullpen duty. In his only relief appearance so far this season, Price yesterday pitched scoreless seventh and eighth innings against the Rays, striking out two batters.