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This was a short week for most of the team with the All-Star Break upon the baseball world. After an extra day-off Thursday, the Sox had a weekend series against the Angels…more on that in a bit. In the week ahead, the Sox travel to Seattle and return home to face the Yankees.
The Red Sox were well represented with Terry Francona managing and a number of players making the team either via the fan vote, player vote, or manager selection. J. D. Drew became the fourth Red Sox to win the All-Star Most Valuable Player (Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Carl Yastrzemski) by hitting a home run to get the American League on the board. Jonathan Papelbon made headlines by calling for the ninth over hometown representative and rival, Mariano Rivera, and then by voicing fear for he and his pregnant wife while in New York.
After the four day respite, the Red Sox headed out West for the final time this season, beginning with their only visit to Los Angeles (or is it Anaheim?) to play the Angels, who have the A.L.’s best record. Like the Red Sox, the Angels have very strong pitching, from starters though closer.
The Angels got their offense going in the first game, teeing off on Clay Buchholz for eight runs (only four earned) on eight hits in 4-2/3 innings. This was his second start since returning from injury and has not looked particularly sharp in either outing, which is potentially a concern going forward. John Lackey allowed three runs though seven as the Angels cruised to the series opening victory. Aside from the offense in this game, the other two contests were pitching battles.
Josh Beckett threw a complete game, allowing only four runs, but all in the seventh to blow a 2-0 lead and the game. Kevin Youkilis hit a second inning, two-run home run to provide all the offense for the Sox as Joe Saunders shut them down from there.
The Angels again came from behind in the final game to complete the sweep behind a good outing from Jon Garland. Tim Wakefield opened the eighth inning with a 3-2 lead, but could not record an out and combined with Manny Delcarmen to send the Sox to the 5-3 loss.
The story of the series was the Angels bullpen, who pitched 6-1/3 innings of scoreless relief. Middle relief like that is coveted around the league and was a big factor in the Red Sox 2007 Championship. If the Red Sox can do something to sure up that area of the team, they will be far better set for the stretch. Justin Masterson‘s recall should help the relief corps, though David Aardsma, one of the best out of the bullpen so far, hit the disabled list to facilitate the move.
Even though the Angels do have the best record, a sweep coming out of the break is a bad start to the second half. There is not really a silver lining to the sweep, but there is some good news as David Ortiz homered in three straight games on his rehab assignment in Pawtucket and presumably will be called up soon.
The road trip ends with a series in Seattle against the lowly Mariners, who are well behind Cleveland for the worst record in the A.L. Since the last time these teams have met, the Mariners have released Richie Sexson (since signed by the Yankees) and just recently put one of their best players, Erik Bedard, on the DL. They also re-activated J.J. Putz.
The Red Sox are 3-3 against the Mariners this season, including 1-2 in Seattle earlier this season. That series was the second half of a miserable Western swing as it followed a sweep in Oakland. The matchups are Jon Lester against Jarrod Washburn, Daisuke Matsuzaka facing R.A. Dickey, and Clay Buchholz meeting ace Felix Hernandez. King Felix has a 2.95 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 109 strikeouts in 119 innings, or nearly a K per inning. With Buchholz’ performances recently, that looks like the one game most likely to lose, but the Mariners anemic offense could be just what Buchholz needs to get back on track.
The loss of Sexson leaves the Mariners with just two hitters with double-digit home run totals: Adrian Beltre (16) and Raul Ibanez (13). Lester and especially Dice-K should be able to dominate the Mariners hitters. Dice-K will allow some baserunners, but with a power void, they may not be able to make him pay. Brendan Morrow, keeping Putz’ seat warm as closer, has been filthy this season, striking out 11.94 per nine innings and carrying an impressive 1.71 ERA and unreal 0.85 WHIP. The Sox almost need two of three here as they cannot afford to lose to really bad teams.
The Red Sox return home for what should be a huge series against the archrival Bronx Bombers. After a terrible start for them, the Yankees are making their run, closing to within three of the Red Sox before this week begins. Perhaps invigorated by the All-Star festivities at home and heading into the final games in Yankee Stadium, they swept the A’s to get their second half started well.
Josh Beckett gets the call in the opener against Joba Chamberlain, Tim Wakefield meets Andy Pettitte in the middle game, and they close the series out with Jon Lester and Sidney Ponson. The Red Sox hold the slight edge in the season series, 5-4 so far, and at home, 2-1. Unlike the Mariners, the Yankees bring a lot of lumber, but recent Red Sox games tend to be gritty, grind-out games down to the last inning. The Sox have the much better pitching depth, so I like them to grab two of the three, but the Yankees will not be out of the race yet.