BOSTON (CBS) – The Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies had high expectations entering the season, but as interleague play kicks off on Friday, both find themselves at the bottom of their respective divisions.
Both teams have shown signs of turning things around, winning six of their last 10 games, and the Red Sox have had seven straight quality starts out of their starting rotation.
They’ll need those quality starts to continue, with Philadelphia is all but assured two of them over the weekend.
Even though the Red Sox miss Phillies ace Roy Halladay during the three-game set, they’ll still have both Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee to worry about. That starts Friday night when Hamels takes the mound for fifth time in his career against Boston.
Read: Red Sox-Phillies Preview
The left-hander hasn’t lost an outing since his first of the season, and has allowed just two runs over his last 15 innings of work. Hamels is 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA for May so far, and is 3-0 lifetime against Boston with a 1.44 ERA in four career starts.
Boston will have Joe Blanton and his 2.96 ERA to deal with on Saturday, but the biggest test will be Sunday afternoon against Lee. He may not have a win on the season, but that is more of a reflection on how poor the Phillies offense has been than Lee’s performance on the hill. In three of his five starts, Lee has given up one run or less, including a 10-inning outing in April against the San Francisco Giants. Lee hit the DL after that start with an oblique strain, but has allowed just three runs off 10 hits over his last 14 innings. In those two starts, Lee has struck out 16 batters while walking just two.
Oh yeah, then there is that guy who is 11 for 11 in save opportunities for Philadelphia.
Jonathan Papelbon may get a chance to face off against the only other team he’s played for this weekend. Papelbon left Boston for a four-year, $50 million deal in the offseason, and has since called out Boston fans and the Red Sox training staff. So far, the Phillies have gotten their money’s worth with Papelbon, who has yet to allow a run in a save situation. His only loss on the season came May 7 against the Mets, when he entered a 2-2 game in the ninth and surrendered a three-run homer to pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin with two outs.
But Boston does have a few things going in their favor. For one, they will not be undermanned on the mound, with Daniel Bard (3-4, 4.30 ERA), Jon Lester (2-3, 3.71) and Josh Beckett (3-4, 4.97) going in the three-game set. Each are coming off strong outings, all three Boston wins. The Boston bullpen has also rounded into shape, allowing just one earned run (coming in Thursday night’s 5-3 win over Tampa) over the last 14+ innings pitched.
The biggest question heading into the series for the Red Sox lies in the lineup, and in the field. With no designated hitter, Manager Bobby Valentine said David Ortiz will play first at least once over the weekend, with Adrian Gonzalez moving to right field.
Both players will be looking to improve off last year’s interleague games, as each struggled at the plate in National League parks. Ortiz went 0-for-11 in Interleague games away from Fenway in 2011, with Gonzalez more respectable at 10-for-36. But the slugger had just one extra-base hit in those games, and half of his hits came against the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his two games in right field last season, Gonzalez was just 2-for-7 at the plate and looked a bit lost in the field. At Citizens Bank Park, Gonzalez went just 1-for-11 with Ortiz 0-for-5 in two games in Philly.
Winners of six of their last seven, the Red Sox have a tough weekend ahead of them in Philadelphia. Not only do they face off against two of the Phillies’ three star pitchers, they have their own offensive jumble to deal with. If the Red Sox bats cannot get things going, especially early on against Hamels or Lee, they’ll be in for a long weekend in the City of Brotherly Love.
And it might be Jonathan Papelbon who gets the final outs, and laughs, against his former team.