Having taken the first three games of this series over the last two days, the Red Sox were in prime position to sweep the Orioles. Chris Sale was making his return to the rotation after being on the DL the last two weeks with mild shoulder inflammation and all eyes were on him and how he would pitch. There had been some concern over whether this was his usual wearing down toward the end of the regular season and what this would mean for his effectiveness in the postseason. What better way to ease back into the swing of things than an afternoon start against the woeful Orioles? The caliber of opponent aside, it turned out that the rest may have been exactly what Sale needed.
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The finale was a low scoring affair that was dominated (at least for the first five innings) by Chris Sale; he was absolutely filthy in his limited work. I understand that Alex Cora wanted to limit him in this one to ease him back in, but Sale made the most of his short stint in the game. In his five innings he only gave up one hit and struck out twelve batters without walking any...and he did it all with only sixty-eight pitches. That was more than good enough to lower his ERA to 1.97 and earn his twelfth win of the season. Offensively the Sox had a relatively quiet day, outhitting Baltimore 9-5 while being more effective with the hits they got. Steve Pearce, who's been pretty quiet since the Yankees series, led off the scoring in the first inning with a solo homer. JD Martinez drove in yet another run to add to his league leading RBI total with a double in the fourth that brought in Brock Holt. It stayed 2-0 for a while until Trey Mancini got Baltimore on the scoreboard with a sacrifice fly in the eighth to bring in Cedric Mullins. As they've done all season, though, this Red Sox team responded by scoring in the next inning. Jackie Bradley singled to drive in Eduardo Nunez and then scored when Mookie Betts' double pushed him across. Craig Kimbrel picked up his 35th save of the season by striking out three to secure the 4-2 win and the sweep. Bradley and JD each went 2-4 at the plate while everyone else besides Sandy Leon and Mitch Moreland chipped in with a hit each. It wasn't the greatest display of offensive fire power, but it was enough.
With the division lead remaining at 9.5 games, the Sox will get two days off this week which is a true rarity. After resting Monday, they'll begin a two game series against the Phillies in Philadelphia before getting Thursday off. From there, the schedule gets much more difficult with two series against Tampa Bay (one home, one away) and a series with the Cleveland Indians for the first time this season. After games against the Miami Marlins and Chicago White Sox, another rugged stretch unfolds as the bulk of September is taken up with series against tough teams like the Houston Astros, Yankees, and Indians. There are some series mixed in with cellar dwellers like the New York Mets, Orioles, and Blue Jays which will give them opportunities to pick up some easier wins in the midst of the stretch run. No matter what happens, this has been an incredible season so far and looks like it's going to be exciting all the way to the end.