After an unsuccessful West Coast swing, the Phillies will head back home to the East Coast to take on the Boston Red Sox. Many of you are likely thinking: If the Phillies couldn’t beat the lowly Padres, what chance do they have against the mighty Red Sox?
If you’re feeling pessimistic, then I have to ask: Have you not been paying attention? All season, the Phillies have suffered bad losses, and each time, they’ve bounced back nicely. It was only two weeks ago when everyone thought the Phillies were in a tailspin, only to see them win five in a row.
Maybe we should also remember that back in February, there was another powerhouse team from the New England area that was heavily favored to beat a team from Philadelphia. Anyone remember how that turned out?
Most importantly, the Phillies already played the Red Sox twice this season, and they seemed evenly matched. Had it not been for a really bad showing by Odubel Herrera, they could have won both games.
Looking at the standings, I see the Red Sox have lost on 35 different occasions this season, and many of those losses came against teams inferior to the Phillies. In other words, victory is certainly not out of the question.
The Last Time They Met
It was just a couple of weeks ago when these teams split a two-game set at Fenway Park. The Phillies lost the aforementioned Herrera game despite exemplary pitching from Aaron Nola, but Jake Arrieta was masterful, leading the Phillies to victory in game two.
The Red Sox have been mildly hot since that loss to the Phillies, winning 10 of 11 games. They’ve essentially wrapped up the American League East, with a 9.5 game lead over the Yankees.
The Historical Series
Since the Phillies-Red Sox started their interleague rivalry in 1997, the series has not been kind to the Phillies, with the Red Sox holding a 40-25 advantage. Oddly, many of those Red Sox wins came in the period from 2004 to 2011 when the Phillies were a very good team.
The Red Sox also got the best of the Phillies in the 1915 World Series, but I can’t imagine that too many people reading this have vivid memories of that series. I assume it was a dark day in Philadelphia when even the great Grover Cleveland Alexander lost a game.
Phillies Pitching vs. Red Sox Hitting
Most pundits would rank the Red Sox offense as one of the best in baseball. They rank first in many offensive categories (although only third in home runs - a chink in the armor?) across baseball, and the lineup is littered with All-Stars.
Mookie Betts is the headliner, and looks like one of the favorites to be the American League MVP. You might remember that three years ago, when Cole Hamels trade talk was heating up, the Phillies asked for Betts in exchange for their ace. The Red Sox refused, and you have to wonder if their stubbornness cost them. Sure, they look like World Series favorites now, but Hamels might have helped them win a playoff series the past three years, something they have not been able to achieve.
In addition to Betts, there are a few other players in the Sox lineup who have proven somewhat adept at hitting a baseball. Designated hitter J.D. Martinez has hit 37 home runs, and Xander Bogaerts is one of the best offensive shortstops in baseball.
This lineup seems unstoppable until you remember that the Phillies did indeed stop them just a couple of weeks ago. Of course, last time out, the Phillies had All-Star pitchers Nola and Arrieta lined up to start. This time, they’ll have Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez, two guys who haven’t quite established themselves as stars yet.
Velasquez is coming off a bad start against the Diamondbacks, but starts like those have been sporadic this season. There were worries that he was showing signs of fatigue as his velocity was down, but it’s possible he was just going through a brief dead arm period.
As for Pivetta, his most recent start was his strongest of the second half. Perhaps the on-field results are starting to match what his FIP says they should be. If the Phillies want to stand a chance of victory, they’ll need Pivetta to be at his best.
In the bullpen, the good news is that Seranthony Dominguez has gotten two days of rest. Statistics show that a well-rested Seranthony is a dominant Seranthony, so if the game comes down to a tight save situation, the Phillies should be in good hands.
Red Sox Pitching vs. Phillies Hitting
Despite the recent additions of Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Bour, the Phillies’ offense has slumped over the past week. Part of the problem is that the two guys who are arguably their best hitters - Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera - are both mired in slumps. Based on his history, we know it’s only a matter of time until Hoskins snaps out of the slump and goes on a hot streak, but it would be nice if that happened soon. It would certainly be fun to see Hoskins match the Red Sox sluggers home run for home run.
Fortunately, the team won’t have to contend with the Red Sox’ best starters this series. The starter for the opener will be Rick Porcello, whose 14 wins are mostly a product of the Red Sox’ offense. He’s been inconsistent in the second half, and is coming off a poor start against Toronto.
The second game will be started by rookie swingman Brian Johnson. For the most part, Johnson’s numbers have been better as a starter (3-1, 3.28 ERA), but his last two starts have been poor (Nine earned runs in 12 innings). It’s possible that the workload or multiple role switches are starting to wear on him.
The Phillies didn’t have to face closer Craig Kimbrel last time, and that’s probably a good thing since he has a career 0.22 ERA against them. There’s also setup man Matt Barnes to contend with, although he’s given up runs in three of his last four appearances. So the game might not be over if the Phillies are trailing in the eighth inning.
Boo This Man
Although they don’t have to face him this series, I want to remind everyone that Red Sox ace Chris Sale might be slightly unhinged.
First, he threw a hissy fit because a 14-year-old boy wasn’t allowed in the White Sox clubhouse. Later, he showed his displeasure with the team’s throwback uniforms by cutting them all up.
Sale is obviously a great pitcher, but it seems there’s a reason why the White Sox were willing to part ways with him.
Philadelphia vs. Boston
In case you hadn’t noticed, this has been a big year for the rivalry between Philadelphia and Boston. First there was that big game in February that everyone got so excited about, and then the Sixers and Celtics clashed in the NBA Playoffs. Now, the Phillies are travelling to Boston the same week that the Eagles and Patriots face off in a preseason matchup. (Assuming you can bring yourself to care at all about a preseason game)
Some Eagles fans decided to taunt the Patriots and their fans by placing a celebratory billboard near the Pats’ stadium. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about taunting a vanquished opponent. Sometimes when I get bored, I track down salty Vikings or Cowboys fans on Twitter, and give them some jabs. But this...doesn’t look good:
Billboards aside, the Phillies really need to win both of these games so that we can decisively call 2018 in favor of Philadelphia.
The Red Sox will take game one, but the good Vince Velasquez will show up on Wednesday, and the Phillies will take game two. The Philadelphia-Boston rivalry will be declared a tie: