It should be no surprise to anyone that the Toronto Blue Jays (39-38) have won 15 of their last 19 games working their way back into the division race. Toronto's surge gives the AL East as the only division with all 5 teams over 500. Although Toronto is still in last place, its deficit behind first-place Boston (47-33) is down to 6 1/2 games. With most picking the Blue Jays to contend and win the AL East, their stretch run has taken quite sometime but comes right in the middle of an unpredictable season and with despite some key players nursing injuries.
Boston will try to stop the Jays' momentum and send Jon Lester (7-4 4.57) to the hill. Lester looked like he was on the road to a Cy Young contending season winning his first 6 decisions with an ERA of 2.72. However he's lost 4 of his last 5 decisions covering 7 outings with an ERA of 7.30. He did win his last start thanks to some timely run support over Detroit 10-6 but yielded 5 ER and 9 hits over 5 2/3 IP. He has also given up 17 ER over his last 15 IP (10.20). Most chalk up Lester's inconsistency to control problems and erratic velocity on his selection of pitches.
Tonight he faces a Toronto lineup who despite hitting just .250 is second in the majors in HR with 100 and is averaging nearly 4.6 runs per contest. Jose Reyes just returned to the lineup last night in a win over Tampa Bay and despite taking the collar is hitting .357 in 42 ABs. Adam Lind (.322 11 31) leads the club in hitting and is 4th in the AL overall. Last night he smacked his 5th round tripper over the last 11 games and has felt quite comfortable in the clean-up spot. Melky Cabrera (.279 3 29) leads the team in hits and has not missed a beat since his days with San Francisco and Kansas City despite being suspended for testosterone usage. Edwin Encarnarcion (.271 22 64) is second in the AL and third in RBI on his way to perhaps eclipsing his career highs of 42 and 110 in 2012. Jose Bautista (.247 16 43) recently battled a 2 for 19 slump and injuries at the start of the season but is quickly returning to mid-year form and is due for a huge traditional second half. Colby Rasmus (.242 14 37) and JP Arencibia (.229 15 36) round out the power for Toronto and need to cut down on their strikeouts while improving efficiency. The two have combined for 177 whiffs in just 512 at bats.
The Jays counter with recently acquired Chien-Ming Wang (1-0 2.18) who in a supposed Yankees return went 4-4 with a 2.33 ERA in the minors. Wang is coming off a win at then struggling Texas blanking the Rangers for 7 scoreless over his last winning start. The right-hander is known for a variety of pitches with the sinker being his signature pitch. Tonight will be no easy task against the heavy hitting Red Sox who are second in the AL in hitting (.274) and averaging a league high 5.1 runs per game. 37 year old David Ortiz (.319 16 58) continues to be automatic out of the DH spot and is 7th in the AL in batting leading the Bosox in all productive categories. Not to be outdone, Dustin Pedroia (.318 4 45) has provided a comfort zone at the top of the lineup for guys like Jacoby Ellsbury (.293 1 26) who leads the majors with 32 stolen bases. Also, Shane Victorino (.298 3 190 seems to be over his back problems after going 3 for 4 with 2 runs scored in last night's win over Colorado. Daniel Nava (.281 10 48) and Mike Napoli (.264 9 53) have also had productive and clutch first halves that make the Red Sox all the more balanced and dangerous throughout their lineup.
We get another of many reasonable prices this evening as has been the case so far during the season. The idea of playing at Fenway is like offense in a steel cage, where given Pesky's pole in right field and the coveted Green Monster in left center, anything can happen. While we may get intermittent delays due to expected inclement weather, it may skew the rhythm of both pitchers, one that has shown limited success and the other who is battling consistency issues over the last few weeks. With both teams sporting plenty of offense has we head toward the All Star Break, we like our chances for a slugfest this evening with the over hopefully coming in easier than you could say Sweet Caroline. Best of luck however you play!