Are the Boston Red Sox finally becoming playoff contenders, or is this just another tease like a couple of their spurts during the first half?
We might have a better idea of that come Wednesday evening when the Red Sox finish their 3-game series against the Detroit Tigers in front of a nationally televised audience on ESPN (7:00 p.m. ET). The Tigers opened as slight 115 favorites for the finale when Rick Porcello is slated to take his turn in their rotation. Boston counters with Aaron Cook and the early total on the Don Best Pro Odds screen was 10½.
Boston upped its current win streak to three games with a 7-3 win as small chalk in Monday's opener. Will Middlebrook's 2-run homer in the eighth pushed the final just above the 9½-run mark, and it's the longest string of dubyas for the BoSox since a 5-game stretch in mid-June.
The Red Sox have seemingly been ready to break out several times this season just as they crossed over the .500 mark, only to fall back into the doldrums as they did recently by losing six of seven from July 20-27. Monday's victory left Boston 52-51 (-10.6 units), and staying above level was going to require beating Justin Verlander in Tuesday's tilt vs. Detroit. The Tigers were priced at -130 in that contest which was still pending, and were facing Red Sox righty Josh Beckett.
Beating Verlander to stay above .500 is tall enough of an order; if Boston fails, the job to not drop below even becomes another tough task with Cook on the mound Wednesday. The Yankees slapped the veteran around last Friday in New York, scoring six times in his four innings. He has fashioned a nice 2:1 grounder-to-fly ratio his last two starts, but of the 14 total flies he has allowed, four were long enough to get over the fence.
Cook's lone career assignment vs. Detroit came a year ago while a member of the Rockies. He did well by Coors Field standards (6 IP, 4 ER), but the end result was a loss.
All of the work the Tigers did to get to the top of the AL Central following the all-star break has been undone by five losses in their last seven games heading into Tuesday's match. Detroit needed wins Tuesday and Wednesday to avoid a third consecutive series loss.
The Tigers had won five consecutive games started by Porcello before he took the defeat last weekend in Toronto (6 IP, 5 ER). The lanky right-hander missed facing the Red Sox the two previous series between the clubs this season, and Detroit has lost all three of his previous starts vs. the Beantown 9.
His lone appearance at Fenway Park was just under three years ago, and ended before he could get an out in the second inning when Porcello was ejected for beaning Kevin Youkilis. All told, he has worked 8-1/3 innings in three starts against Boston and allowed 10 runs, all earned.
One Red Sox hitter who should be licking his chops at the prospects of facing Porcello is Jacoby Ellsbury who is a perfect 5-for-5 with a homer in previous confrontations.
Angel Campos is slated to be south of the dish calling balls and strikes on Wednesday. He has worked the plate 10 times in 2012, splitting the totals 5-5.
The weatherman is calling for a muggy evening in Boston with a first-pitch reading on the thermometer in the mid-70s. A slight SSW breeze is also in the forecast (out to left/left-center).