By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com Follow @maureenamullen
PITTSBURGH After losing two of three to the Pirates, the Red Sox head to Philadelphia to face the team with the best record in baseball for a three-game series that has some prognosticating a World Series match.
"It's a good challenge," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Like I said in spring training, I think the Red Sox are the best team in baseball. It's going to be two good teams playing against each other, and hopefully we're up for the challenge."
But over the weekend, manager Terry Francona was hesitant to look ahead.
I think its a little dangerous pointing to series because then you got a chance to stumble somewhere else, he said.
I havent really looked at the Phillies as much as you . . . We know the obvious. Their starting pitching, they got dangerous bats, they got some guys nicked up. Theres some guys that we dont know that well have to learn quickly. But theyre good. Theyre veteran."
The Sox are scheduled to face left-hander Cliff Lee on Tuesday. On May 31 Lee was 4-5 with a 3.94 ERA. In four starts since then, he is 4-0 with an 0.27 ERA.
"Were going to see their best on Tuesday," said Francona. "I think hes their best, isnt he? One of their best."
Lee has thrown a combined 33 innings in those games, giving up just one earned run, with complete-game shutouts against the Marlins and Cardinals in his last two. He has not given up a run in his last 23 straight innings.
While the Phillies offense has struggled at times, manager Charlie Manuel knows he will have to rely on his pitching against the team with the American Leagues most potent offense. The Sox, a half game behind the Yankees in the AL East, are batting .277 with 409 runs scored, both tops in the league.
I think we measure up good if our pitchers pitch like hell, Manuel said to the Philadelphia Daily News. If were seeing a better offense, thats where our pitching would have to shine.
As proof that the Sox arent looking past the Phillies, at least one player was surprised to learn who they would face in the series opener.
Cliff Lee? Didnt he just pitch Saturday? Kevin Youkilis said before Sundays game. Are we really going to talk about Philly now? I wasnt even ready to answer questions about today, let alone Philly. I guess go in, and Cliff Lee is a good pitcher but, weve faced him a bunch of times being in Cleveland and Texas. So we know what he has and hopefully we can jump on him early.
Youkilis isnt looking at the series against Phillies as a chance for the Sox to make a statement.
We just try to go out and win ballgames, he said. We dont care who its against. At the end of the season, if you finish in first place, youre winning games against a lot of different teams, youre losing games against a lot of different teams. So, it really doesnt matter. Its just about going out there and playing good ball and trying to win a series.
Im not really interested in the series other than just going out there and playing baseball. I dont look at it as foreshadowing. I dont look at it as something thats going to happen because both teams still have to play a lot more baseball to make it in the playoffs, let alone the World Series. If its in October and were both in the playoffs and were both playing well, then we can talk about it. Until then, its just a series where we got to go out and play some good baseball and hopefully try to take two out of three and hopefully win the series.
But that is something the Sox have not been able to do in their last two series, against the Pirates and Padres. Still, the Sox wont change their approach against the Phillies, Jason Varitek said.
You got to approach it like always, he said. Theyre a very good team and there are a lot of good teams right now. Still, no matter what we do, we just try to focus on ourselves and play good baseball.
We are who we are. So, I dont think it changes. We have to focus really on us and how we play.
But, could this series be a preview of things to come in October?
Well see. Time will tell on that one, Varitek said with a smile.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen