Red Sox-Rockies series preview

September 24, 2013 - 6:55 am

The American League East has been decided, and for the first time since 2007 the Red Sox have wrapped up the division title, completing their worst-to-first turnaround. All that's left for the Red Sox to do is secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Sox own a 95-62 record, just one game better than the A's (94-63). The Red Sox continue to play good baseball in September, going 6-3 on the just-completed homestand, the last of the regular season. Although their streak of consecutive series wins was broken by the Orioles, who took two of three last week, they've still won five of their six series this month and have gone 14-6 since the start of September. While the Sox might be looking to rest some players before the postseason, it doesn't mean the lineup for the upcoming two games in Colorado will look like one for an intrasquad game in Fort Myers. "We want to win out -- we want to win 100 games," Will Middlebrooks said. "And we want to have home-field advantage, too. It's a close record for the best record. Oakland is right behind us. That's important to us. A lot of starters are still playing. I'm sure they have the option to have the off time. But guys don't want it. Guys want to play, and that's pretty cool to see." The Sox dominated the Rockies in the two games against the interleague opponent at Fenway back in June, scoring a total of 16 runs off of Rockies pitching. The Rockies are 4-14 in interleague games this season. It's the pitching that's been the biggest issue for the last-place Rockies. The Colorado staff has the worst ERA in the National League at 4.39. Both the relievers and the starters sit in the bottom third of just about every pitching category. And at 71-86, the Rockies occupy the cellar of the NL West, 19½ games off the pace set by the Dodgers. The Rockies are coming off a game in which the staff allowed a season-high 13 runs, causing them to slip to a season-low 15 games under .500. It's been a rough September for the Rockies, who have won just seven of their 20 games. However, with a decent offense, the Rockies could be a threat to any team visiting Coors Field. They own a 44-35 record at home as opposed to a dismal 27-51 mark on the road. Here are the pitching matchups for the two-game set. Tuesday: John Lackey (10-12, 3.44) vs. Tyler Chatwood (7-5, 3.36) Wednesday: Jake Peavy (11-5, 4.02) vs. Roy Oswalt (0-6, 7.71) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ The streak is broken and it's been proven that Koji Uehara is in fact human, and not some strike-throwing pitching machine. But Uehara has shown very impressive resiliency. After a triple broke his club-record streak of consecutive batters retired at 37 and a sacrifice fly brought ended his streak of scoreless innings at 30 1/3, Uehara settled down and got the next two outs without a hitch. Since taking the loss in that game, Uehara has thrown 3 2/3 innings, giving up a couple of hits and earning two saves. The 38-year-old still is being used on a consistent basis and has yet to show any signs of fatigue. He's racked up a total of 21 saves this season. '€¢ Jackie Bradley Jr. is looking more and more comfortable at the plate with the more at-bats he gets in the majors. Although he got off to a tough start since being recalled and taking over the duties in center field, Bradley has looked much more solid offensively in his last three games. In those three games, he went 5-for-10 with two extra-base hits, including a long home run to right field off Toronto's R.A. Dickey. His back-to-back two-hit games represented the first time in his major league career that he's put together consecutive multi-hit contests. '€¢ Ryan Dempster's last couple of starts had been good ones (three earned runs allowed in his last 11 innings, 12 strikeouts), but it wasn't enough to keep him from moving to the bullpen. But Dempster's first relief appearance of 2013 was one that inspired confidence in the veteran righty, as he pitched a scoreless eighth inning on Saturday. Dempster did allow a hit and a walk, but there was bound to be some rust since it was his first appearance out of the 'pen since 2007, when he was a full-time closer. Dempster seems eager to contribute in any way he can, and he may be used in some big spots in the near future. WHO'S HOT: ROCKIES '€¢ The last time the Red Sox saw the Rockies, Michael Cuddyer was in the midst of what would end up being a 27-game hit streak. The streak is over, but Cuddyer still is swinging a very hot bat. In 16 games this month, Cuddyer has hit .419/.448/.629 with four doubles, three home runs and 14 RBIs. He's hit safely in all but three games since the beginning of September. '€¢ Outfielder Charlie Blackmon has been hitting at a torrid pace for the Rockies lately. The 27-year-old is 20-for-40 in his last eight games, clubbing six doubles and a home run. Since Aug. 30, Blackmon has put up a .383/.396/.532 line, driving in eight runs. In a career-high 77 games this season Blackmon has put together a fine campaign, batting .311/.335/.471 with 17 doubles, two triples and five home runs. '€¢ Another player who may not be a household name but is sparking the Rockies offense is Charlie Culberson, who has been getting regular playing time since being called up at the end of July. The outfielder is working on a 10-game hitting streak, batting .483/.516/.655 with a home run and two doubles over that span. In 43 games and close to 100 plate appearances, Culberson is batting .303/.323/.427 on the season. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ Middlebrooks had a tough series against the Blue Jays, starting all three games (including one at first base) but going 1-for-11 with five strikeouts. Middlebrooks has cooled considerably since his surge upon rejoining the major league team, batting .114 with a .139 OBP over his last 10 games. Middlebrooks is without an extra-base hit since his game-tying round-tripper off Mariano Rivera in New York on Sept. 8. '€¢ As the regular season draws to a close, this is the time when the playoff roster begins to take shape. The spots that are most readily up for grabs are probably the remaining couple of slots in the bullpen. Matt Thornton is not making a strong case for inclusion. Working on five days' rest, Thornton entered a one-run game on Saturday and proceeded to give up a run on one hit and two walks in two-thirds of an inning. '€¢ Since crushing a game-winning grand slam on Sept. 11 against the Rays, Mike Carp's bat has been quiet. Carp is just 3-for-20 in his last eight games, though he has driven in five runs. Actually, Carp has been slumping for the past couple of months, batting .231/.311/.323 since July 28, and while his grand slam in St. Petersburg was a huge hit, it was his only home run since June 16. WHO'S NOT: ROCKIES '€¢ Rex Brothers has been one of the few impressive members of the Rockies pitching staff this season, but even he has dealt with some bad outings recently. The lefty has given up seven runs in his last 7 1/3 innings, but only four of them were earned. However, opposing batters are hitting .394/.474/.485 off of Brothers since the beginning of September. Prior to the rough patch, Brothers had been lights-out for the Rockies, posting a 1.43 ERA in 56 2/3 innings, shifting between the closer and set-up roles. '€¢ Todd Helton, the longtime Rockies first baseman, is entering the last week of his major league career. Helton plans to retire after 17 years in a Colorado uniform. He's had a lackluster month at the plate, batting .217 in his last 18 games, although 11 of his 15 hits went for extra bases. Through 119 games, Helton is hitting .248/.315/.420 with 57 runs driven in and 14 home runs to his credit. '€¢ Reliever Matt Belisle has been unreliable for the Rockies lately, giving up a total of 10 runs and 19 hits in his last 8 1/3 innings, good for an 8.64 ERA, while blowing two saves and going 0-2. Belisle has been one of the more reliable and regularly used relievers for Colorado, appearing in 70 games this season after a league-leading 80 appearances in 2012. But the veteran right-hander has been somewhat mediocre all season, posting a 4.44 ERA in 71 innings, though he has compiled a solid 4.14 strikeout-to-walk ratio.