In the wake of a shallow, underachieving seven-game road trip out west, Friday night would be one of the worst possible times for the Boston Red Sox's offense to suffocate, even at the hands of a respectable opposing pitcher. No amount of delay is desirable for them to return to the win column.
By the same token, facing Hiroki Kuroda in Friday night’s opener of a four-game set with the New York Yankees can be taken for the equivalent of the doughnut one wraps around his bat for warm-up swings.
In turn, emerging with an assertive victory could go a long way toward ensuring the Sox get the better part of the weekend wishbone and recompense some of the 7.5-game deficit on the AL East leaderbaord before hitting a four-day All-Star break.
At 3.17, Kuroda easily boasts the best ERA among the four slated New York starters in this series. He is coming off arguably his best outing to date, which saw him bench 11 Chicago White Sox on strikes and allow only three hits and one walk over seven innings of shutout baseball.
In four out of 16 ventures already this season, Kuroda has kept his opponents scoreless through at least seven full innings of work. On two other occasions, he has confined them to a single run and has allowed three or more only five times, including merely one of his last eight.
Conversely, Kuroda’s three scheduled colleagues for Saturday and Sunday have charged up a stat line that is about as impressive as any member of Boston’s iffy rotation. Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Ivan Nova currently hold ERAs of 4.29, 4.05 and 5.94, respectively.
After failing to muster any more than two runs in any of their last five outings, the Sox doubtlessly need a confidence booster for their bat rack. They also need to ensure that confidence stays on balance.
In that sense, Kuroda’s turn to challenge them is perfectly timed. He will pose one of the more formidable threats to Adrian Gonzalez’s 15-game hitting streak and dare the entire Sox lineup to support Josh Beckett just a little better than they did last time.
Recall that, last Saturday in Seattle, Beckett was promptly taken off the hook for a losing decision when Boston hastily deleted a 2-0 deficit in the top of the seventh. By night’s end, the Sox had outhit the Mariners, 11-9, in the reputedly pitcher-friendly Safeco Field.
Yet for lack of a finishing touch on multiple chances to drive in more runs, they brooked a 3-2 defeat in extra innings.
Both Beckett and the bat rack will need to bring out an extra degree of intensity to ensure swift redemption for one another on Friday.
Given the adversary at hand, it might not presage doom to the 2012 campaign if they fall short, especially if the valiance is still on display. But to successfully out-duel Kuroda on the eve of a doubleheader against two slightly shoddier New York pitchers should instantly set the Sox on a path to reconstruction.