Boston looks to salvage a split in Kansas City while the home team tries to bounce back with a win on Sunday afternoon. Two dependable arms go for each side in game four with John Lackey opposing James Shields. Each pitcher opens as a pick with a total at 8.5.
Statistically-speaking, Ervin Santana has been Kansas City’s best pitcher all season. Bruce Chen, whom I wrote about in my last play, has also burst onto the scene to compete for the title. All that said, the Royals roster and organization still looks at James Shields as their bona fide ace. Shields gets the ball Sunday with incentive to bounce back after one of his worst starts in a long time, five days ago vs. Minnesota.
Shields has plenty of experience against Boston from his time in Tampa Bay where Shields often found himself in the middle of the most playoff-like games between the Rays and Red Sox. While Ortiz and Pedroia hit Shields pretty well (or at about their normal production level), many others don’t. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a career 0 for 14 against Shields and Napoli, Ellsbury and Nava have all struggled to produce against Shields in at least double-digit or so at-bats. At home, in a big game you shouldn’t expect anything less than a quality start from Shields in this spot.
A good outing from Shields should be a given. Not because of his pitching ability. But because the Red Sox simply don’t score runs for John Lackey. Big John goes Sunday after losing yet another game in which he pitched very well. Just a 7-9 record doesn’t do justice for what Lackey has done for Boston on the mound this season. An ERA of 3.21 and a WHIP just over 1.20 has Lackey right there among the top group of starters in the American League this year. He’s done it with consistency and level-headedness – something Lackey lacked at the beginning of his Sox career. It doesn’t appear that his ankle injury suffered in his last start should hamper him Sunday so expect Lackey to duel with Shields for the majority of the afternoon.
In a spot where there are two ultra-competitive starters going at it down the stretch I have to look at the under. The line seems soft to me in a situation where I fully expect both starters to pitch into the sixth or seventh inning and limit the offense. Each team should score runs but I don’t see either really busting out for anything big. Expect a playoff-like atmosphere at Kauffman Stadium – or at least between first and third. I also fully expect the total to lose the hook and close at 8. Take advantage.
Free Pick: Boston/Kansas City under 8.5 (-115)