The Red Sox rode into the All-Star break having won four out of five games, but they still sit 9.5 games back of the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the AL East with 67 games to play on the 2014 schedule.
They’ll start the unofficial second half of the season with three games against the Kansas City Royals, who have been a surprise this season and currently have a winning record and find themselves second in the AL Central.
Thanks to the four-day All-Star break, Clay Buchholz has the distinction of starting back-to-back games for the Red Sox while still getting his regular rest between starts. The righthander has been very good since returning from the DL on June 25, going 2-1 in four starts with a 2.73 ERA.
He pitched one of the best games of his career his last time out, throwing a complete game shutout against the Astros, holding Houston to just three hits and no walks while picking up 12 strikeouts. The outing lowered his season ERA from 6.11 to 5.42.
Buchholz has made five career starts against the Royals, going 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 32 2/3 innings. He made one start against them in 2013, going eight innings and allowing two runs on eight hits with a walk and six K’s. Only three current Royals have faced him more than 10 times: Billy Butler, who is 2-for-12 with two walks; Omar Infante, who is 4-for-13 with a walk; and Alex Gordon, who is 4-for-8 with two walks.
Kicking off the series for the Royals will be James Shields, who is 9-5 with a 3.65 ERA in 20 starts. He was impressive his last time out against the powerhouse Tigers, holding Detroit to two runs on seven hits in seven innings, issuing no walks and striking out eight.
The former Ray has a good deal of experience against the Red Sox, and is 7-9 with a 4.05 ERA against the Sox over the past five seasons. Sox lineup staples David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia have gone 19-for-63 and 17-for-60 against Shields, respectively. Mike Napoli also has faced Shields a couple dozen times in his career, going 6-for-25, while Daniel Nava also has seen him a dozen times, going 3-for-12.