A rare break from playing an American League East Division opponent is on tap for the Boston Red Sox this week.
After clinching a three-game series against the rival New York Yankees with Sunday's 3-0 shutout win at Fenway Park, the Red Sox will hit the road to start a set with the Pittsburgh Pirates beginning Tuesday night.
Boston's weekend series started a season-ending stretch during which 34 of its final 49 games are against divisional opponents. Following Pittsburgh, the Red Sox will face Baltimore for three games, including Sunday's Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa.
"We're starting to click," said recently acquired outfielder Tommy Pham, who has helped the Red Sox win three of their past four following a four-game losing streak. Sunday marked Pham's ninth three-hit game of the season.
"We're getting some guys back, so we're getting a little bit more confident," Pham added.
One of those recent returnees is Michael Wacha, whose seven shutout innings on Sunday came in his first outing since June 28 (right shoulder inflammation). Boston starters have pitched at least five innings and allowed three or fewer runs in five consecutive games.
Nick Pivetta (8-9, 4.51 ERA) will look to continue Boston's strong run when he starts against Pittsburgh for just the third time in his career. He allowed just three earned runs across nine innings in a pair of 2018 outings.
Most recently, Pivetta worked six innings of three-run ball last Wednesday against Atlanta in his 23rd start of the season. He leads the Red Sox in innings pitched (129 2/3) and strikeouts (124).
Good starting pitching will make all the difference as Boston looks to shrink its 4 1/2-game deficit in the wild-card standings. Anything is possible in manager Alex Cora's mind.
"I think math-wise, obviously it looks challenging," Cora said. "But I still believe that we're going to have one of those big runs. We're going to pitch; we're going to play good defense."
Also, Enrique Hernandez could return to center field this week after dealing with a right hip flexor strain since early June.
The Pirates have lost four straight games and eight of 10 after being swept in San Francisco over the weekend.
In Sunday's 8-7 loss, they came back from a five-run deficit only to fall on Thairo Estrada's two-run, walk-off homer. Bryan Reynolds doubled and homered during a 3-for-4, five-RBI effort.
"We took the lead twice and we just didn't finish it," manager Derek Shelton said. "... We just have to get home and play better when we get home. We had some opportunities throughout this whole trip that we did not execute on, and we have to execute better."
No MLB team has played in more games decided by two runs or fewer than Pittsburgh. Sunday was the 70th in 115 games.
Mitch Keller (4-8, 4.25) is set for his first career start against the Red Sox. He was a winner last Wednesday after limiting Arizona to three runs on five hits in 5 1/3 innings.
Despite allowing no more than three runs in any of his past six starts, Keller hadn't won since July 11 prior to last week.
"I think his mindset is in a situation where every time he goes out, he expects really good things to happen," Shelton said recently. "If it does go off track a little bit, he has worked to get to the point where mentally he is able to get himself back on track."
--Field Level Media