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View from the Monster 6-9

The week for the Red Sox began with a home series against division leading Tampa Bay with the team’s nine-game home win streak on the line.  Like the other two times these teams have played in 2008, the home team swept the series (now twice for Boston; once for Tampa).  The Red Sox offense was back on track against the Rays, scoring 19 runs in the three contests.  No Rays starter managed to complete six innings or throw 100 pitches in any of the three games, so the Red Sox saw plenty of time against the bullpen. 

Obviously, the story of the series was the Game 3 brawl, sparked by a James Shields pitch hitting Coco Crisp.  Crisp charged the mound and dodged a Shields’ punch and landed one himself before being tackled by catcher Dioner Navarro.  The benches emptied and players were ejected and subsequently suspended.  This all stemmed from a hard slide in the previous night’s game by Coco into second base, which I thought looked pretty clean. 

As far as suspensions go, Crisp got the harshest penalty of seven games.  Jon Lester got five and Sean Casey three for their roles.  Not to be outdone, the usually placid Red Sox had an intrasquad incident in the dugout when Manny Ramirez slapped Kevin Youkilis.  Apparently, Manny was expressing his displeasure with Youkilis’ temper tantrums after bad at-bats.  While the team has spoken to Youkilis before about this, it was pretty unexpected (and positive!) to see Manny taking a vocal role on the team.  The team’s strong chemistry does not appear to be in danger as they seem to have moved by this distraction.

The Mariners dropped by for a visit upon the conclusion of the Rays series in a return engagement of last week’s series in Seattle.  The Red Sox looked to be reeling from the brawl and Youkilis saga in the first game, losing 8-0 in Bartolo Colon‘s first loss of the season.  Colon worked five innings on 79 pitches, and despite allowing six runs, half were unearned.  I like the move by Terry Francona to keep him in the game, as he was not getting hit especially hard (no home runs allowed), which allowed him to keep building up his shoulder and keeping on a regular schedule and pitch count. 

Felix Hernandez pitched like the phenom he is hyped to be, striking out five in six innings, while allowing six hits and three walks and earning a bit of revenge in his second matchup against Colon. Colon registered Boston’s lone win in the previous series, and Hernandez returned the favor, earning the only win of this series for the Mariners.

The Red Sox bounced back from a Game 1 loss to earn a convincing 11-3 Game 2 win and a gritty 2-1 win in the finale. Tim Wakefield and Justin Masterson set the tone for each of their games while registering quality starts.  The bullpen combined for five solid innings, allowing only a single unearned run.  Hideki Okajima pitched a scorless inning in Game 3, and Craig Hansen and Jonathan Papelbon each pitched an inning in the final two games of the series, with Papelbon saving the rubber match. 

Manny Ramirez homered in the middle game, while J. D. Drew homered in each, including the difference in the final game.  Manny definitely seems to be back to his normal self, as he has now homered four times in the eight days since he hit No. 500.  The 5-1 week helped vault the Red Sox back into first, now 1.5 games up on the Rays.

This week the Red Sox will wrap up the current homestand against the Orioles, who they seem to be playing weekly at this point.  The Sox have been playing phenomenonally well at home, sporting a 26-6 record.  Josh Beckett draws Daniel Cabrera to open the series, just as they did the last time the teams met.  Lester will face off with youngster Garrett Olson and Colon will see Jeremy Cuthrie

Olson, who started seven games for the O’s in his debut season last year, is showing that he has some promise.  He owns a decent 3.86 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 44-1/3 innings to back up his 5-1 record. Despite taking two of three in Minnesota and Toronto, the Orioles are now in last in the East after enduring a miserable stretch capped by the Red Sox taking three of four in the last matchup.  The pitching matchups are in the Sox favor, as is the location, so the Sox should not have much trouble taking two of these.

The Sox then re-open their interleague schedule (next 15 games), with a visit to Cincinnati and the young Reds.  The Reds are four games under .500, but have a pretty exciting team. Ken Griffey, Jr. is probably the symbolic leader as the hometown player and a one-time top player in the game.  He is currently sitting on 599 home runs, looking to be the seventh member of the elite 600 club. 

The team has plenty of young talent including recent call-up Jay Bruce, hitting .429 in the couple weeks since the promotion.  Adam Dunn, Brandon Phillips, Edwin Encarnacion, and Joey Votto all have at least ten home runs, with the Great American Ballpark definitely helping these guys.  In a park that yields as many home runs as that does, the Red Sox should see their share as well. 

Tim Wakefield will face off with Aaron Harang, who at 2-8 is pitching better than his record.  He has a 4.31 ERA, but a good 1.33 WHIP and strikes out nearly one per inning (82 K in 94 IP).  The middle game is a battle of youth with the Red Sox Justin Masterson facing Reds prospect Edison Volquez.  Volquez was a trade-restricted player in the Texas system, but was swapped in the Josh Hamilton trade this offseason, a testament to his value since he was a must for the Reds.  So far this season, he has been dominant, going 8-2 with a 1.32 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and an astounding 91 strikeouts in 75 innings. 

Beckett will draw Homer Bailey in the finale, another young arm.  He has made one start this season after nine last year, and took a tough luck loss, giving up two earned (of five runs overall) over 6.1 IP.  The Red Sox should grab two of these games, with the most likely loss to be the middle game if Volquez remains impressive.  The Reds do not see many offenses like the Red Sox in the National League, so their ballpark could pose some problems for their pitching.

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