The Red Sox have been putting us through so much misery over the past month or so. At this point, with just one game left in the 2011 season, a postseason spot should have long been wrapped up. Of course, this hasn't happened, with everyone not named Jacoby Ellsbury has struggled and the wild card race is tied with one to play. All Red Sox fans wish it had gone differently. However, just realize, this is as exciting as a regular season game can be. Even though this month has gone awry at just about every turn, enjoy tonight's game, because excitement like this does not happen every year.
Tonight, Jon Lester takes the mound, coming off a rough past month or so. In September, the Red Sox Opening Day starter has thrown 25.2 innings, allowing 17 runs (5.96 ERA) with a .298 opponents batting average. Surprisingly, he has been able to strike people out during this stretch, with 27 strikeouts in the 25 innings, although 17 of them came in the first two of his five September starts. The good news coming into this game is his history against the Orioles. He is a career 14-0 with a 2.33 ERA in 108.1 innings of work in 17 starts. The innings tonight will be the key. This month he has had starts of 5, 7, 4, 7 and 2 innings. The Sox need a start of at least six tonight, so a repeat of more than half of this month's starts won't cut it.
As for the Red Sox lineup, their MVP has to come through tonight. Jacoby Ellsbury has been the only positive during this month, and he needs to keep it up tonight. He could put a huge exclamation point on one of the most surprising MVP-caliber seasons in baseball by getting on base multiple times, and using his speed to get extra bases and score runs. His glove is also a big part of tonight's game, as he can cover a tremendous amount of ground in center. Another guy to look for is Ryan Lavarnway. He should be behind the plate tonight, for sure. Last night he had a monster night, helping the Red Sox to earn the victory with his first two big league home runs. His questions have been about his defense, but he did nothing but prove that wrong in last night's game. Of course, his defense could still be costly, but that has to be a chance you're willing to take given his bat. Offensively, Lavarnway shined in the minors this year with 32 homers and a .939 OPS. Last night, he proved he can do it in the big leagues. Combine all that with Saltalamacchia and Varitek combining for .138 BA, .182 OBP and just 4 homers and 14 RBI this month, and Lavarnway is the only answer to catch.
Another hot topic for tonight's game has been Clay Buchholz. The Red Sox preseason number two pitcher hasn't pitched since June due to injury, and may now be thrust into a major moment in tonight's game. I am a big Buchholz guy, and was praying for his return all year. However, in the biggest game of the year should the team really trust a guy who hasn't pitched since before the All Star game. Now, if Alfredo Aceves isn't available after throwing in each of the last three games for a combined 6.1, he may have to be. If Lester can't complete seven innings, I'm not sure who else I would call upon before Bard and Papelbon. Therefore, as long as Buchholz doesn't get in the way of Bard or Papelbon, both of whom have earned a spot at the end of tonight's game despite recent struggles, he could find his way in this game tonight without any objection from me.
It is sure to be a wild night; a full culmination of this month for both the Rays and the Red Sox. The Rays have David Price going up against the Yankees tonight. Enjoy tonight's action, and, of course, go Sox!