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Red Sox Lose Win Streak, Will Travel to New Yankee Stadium

After the Red Sox ended their undefeated homestand, the Red Sox extended the win streak to 11 with a win in the opener in Cleveland, but the Indians snapped the streak in the second game.  Despite the loss of the streak, the Sox claimed the series, their first on the road this season.  The Red Sox traveled to Tampa Bay and continued to have trouble, and lots of it, with the Rays.  They dropped the season series 10-8 last season, costing them home field in the ALCS last season and this year went 1-2 in Boston in addition to the 1-3 showing this weekend in Tampa.

Nobody else in the American League East separated themselves either this week, leaving the Sox still in second behind the Blue Jays.  The hometown team has a strange week with a pair of two game series, in New York and at home against the Indians, and wrap with another visit from the Rays, all teams the Sox have seen recently.

Red Sox at Indians

The Cy Young Award-winning Cliff Lee returned in the opener, making one wonder where he has been to start the season, but luckily for the Red Sox, Tim Wakefield continued his masterful first month, matching Lee pitch for pitch in an old time pitcher’s duel.  Lee looked sharp, hurling eight scoreless innings with five punchouts and five hits allowed.  On the Red Sox side, Wakefield threw seven scoreless, also striking out five, and allowed only one hit, but did issue four bases on balls. Manny Delcarmen continued his season-opening surge, backing up Wakefield with a perfect eighth.

With the game still scoreless heading into the final frame, the Indians brought in closer Kerry Wood to face the heart of the Sox order, a smart move despite the non-save situation to try to hold the Red Sox in check and keep them in contention for the win.  However, the gamble did not pay as Dustin Pedroia took a free pass and David Ortiz singled.  After a Kevin Youkilis fly out, Jason Bay continued his late inning heroics and put a Wood pitch in the seats for a 3-0 lead.  Is it just me, or is Bay looking a little like Big Papi in 2004 with his clutch hitting?

Wood could not finish the inning and with the lead, Terry Francona handed the ball to Jonathan Papelbon who had a bit of an up (two strikeouts) and down (three hits and a run) inning, but converted the save to preserve the win streak, 3-1.

Brad Penny may have contended for a Cy Young in the past, but we all knew that was not happening in Boston this season.  He got a low-price deal with incentives in hopes that he could anchor the fifth spot, and just give the Red Sox five to six innings most every time out.  Well, after four starts, two of them are shaky, including this week’s against the Indians, so the talk of Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden returning or keeping Justin Masterson in the rotation is getting louder. Penny failed to get out of the third and put up an ugly line: 2.2IP, 7R, 4ER, 7H, 1K, 3BB, and even 1HR allowed, while throwing 89 pitches.

However, the Red Sox were pounding Anthony Reyes on the other side, leaving leaving the game tied 7-7 after three.  Each team used four relievers to get them through eight, leaving the game tied heading into the ninth again.  Hunter Jones (still no runs allowed this season), Hideki Okajima, Takashi Saito (one run allowed in .2IP), and Ramon Ramirez (like Jones, still 0.00 on the season), kept the Red Sox in the game.

Wood again took the ninth and despite two hits allowed, held the Red Sox scoreless.  Wood would pick up the win when Javier Lopez could not hold the fort and allowed the game-winning run with an error on a throw to first.  Pedroia (3-4, BB) and Bay (2-3, 2BB) reached base four times apiece for the Red Sox while just-activated Julio Lugo was 2-3 with a walk and Jason Varitek was 2-4 with a walk as each starter got at least one hit in the 9-8 loss.

In the rubber match, another game that went down to the final inning, the story was Jonathan Van Every, who had a great catch and hit his first major league home run to win the ballgame.  Another storyline is Jon Lester’s early struggles.  Of course, it is still a relatively small sample size, but a theory goes that young pitchers with a big workload increase struggle the following season and that profile fits Lester this season.  He has allowed at least five runs in three of his five outings in 2009, which is a concern given that Lester was very solid in his ratios last year.  He has the stuff to indicate that he can find a rhythm (he did have seven strikeouts against three walks in this five-inning stint), but the concern is legitimate.  In this game, he allowed seven through five on seven hits.

Fausto Carmona went six and two thirds for the Tribe and allowed only two runs, but the Red Sox victimized Rafael Betancourt with three runs in one third of an inning.  Van Every started the rally with an RBI single and the game went to extra innings tied at five.  Cleveland may have tried to get too much out of reliever Jensen Lewis as he gave up the 10th inning game winning round tripper to Van Every in his third inning of work.

Pap had a much better ninth, striking out two and walking one to shut the door on the 6-5 victory.  If the Red Sox can win two of three against the bottom half of AL teams consistently, they will be in the playoffs again, and that was the case here.  The Sox had to fight all three games to win the series, but they did it and that is the important part.

Red Sox at Rays

Another series with the Rays provided the Sox more fits from that pitching staff.  The Red Sox dropped three of the four games and looked very uninspired in doing so.  The tone of the series was set right at the top of the first game as Red Sox killer Matt Garza (can the Red Sox acquire him so he stops beating them?) dominated the Sox hitters while taking a perfect game into the seventh inning.

The Rays hammered Josh Beckett, who is now a mere 2-2 with a 7.22 ERA.  He gave up seven runs on 10 hits and three walks while failing to finish five.  Like Lester’s bad outing, Beckett had a silver lining: eight strikeouts, indicating everything is not all bad.  Garza improved to 2-2 with 7.2 scoreless innings and allowed only one hit and one walk to go with his 10 whiffs.

Grant Balfour completed the shutout in Garza’s stead as the Sox fell 13-0.  Jacoby Ellsbury had the only hit and Big Papi was the only other Red Sox to reach with the free pass as, unsurprisingly, a lot of the backups were getting some game action.  Every Rays starter recorded at least one hit in the rout, including Evan Longoria who went 3-5 with a three run double and a solo home run.

The Red Sox could not rebound in Game 2 as Longoria continued to hit the Sox staff well, taking Justin Masterson deep for a grand slam.  For Masterson, it was his first poor outing of the season, but it comes at a bad time, as he allowed six runs in six innings shooting his ERA up from 2.70 to 4.37.  Sixes were wild for him as he also allowed six hits and fanned six, while issuing three walks.  He certainly put a lot of guys on base and did allow two home runs, but he just could not get himself out of trouble, evidenced by Longoria’s home run.  He then allowed a Carlos Pena shot in the next at bat before striking out Pat Burrell to end the inning.

A little credit to Francona, who allowed Masterson to try to work through it and let him finish the inning.  It is a show of confidence and gives Masterson some experience in adverse situations, something he is going to be put in to when coming from the bullpen, whenever he is asked to return there.  I will not suggest the Red Sox were punting a game to a division rival, but, despite the loss, there is a positive takeaway there.

The Red Sox could only claw two runs across off Andy Sonnanstine before the bullpen shut them down to preserve the 6-2 win for the Rays.  Pedroia, Youkilis, and Drew reached three times apiece and Bay walked twice more as the Sox had their chances, but could not plate enough of them.

Wakefield got the call in Game 3 and improved to 3-1 despite his worst outing of the campaign (5.0IP, 5ER, 7H, 5K, 2BB).  Okajima threw two scoreless and Ramirez had another perfect outing before Saito allowed a meaningless ninth inning run to score.

The Red Sox jumped on Jeff Niemann and sealed the game against a hodge podge of Rays relievers.  Pedroia is on another MVP like tear, going 2-3 with three walks.  Nick Green was 3-5 and Mike Lowell was 2-5 with a home run as the Red Sox won 10-6 to prevent what could have been a sweep.

The Red Sox could not force a series split in the finale as they fell 5-3.  Penny took the mound again and continued his flip flopping decent outings with awful ones as he took the loss, though he had a respectable six inning outing with three allowed.  Notable were his eight strikeouts and only two walks and six hits as the Rays looked a lot less disciplined this series than they did last year, though that will happen when your big offseason acquisition is Pat Burrell.

James Shields held the Red Sox to only two runs as he worked into the eighth and was able to bridge the game right to the back of the bullpen.  When the Rays have that going, they are tough to beat since, like a lot of teams, the middle relief is where they are vulnerable.  J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler each got one out and Troy Percival closed the game out in the ninth.

Manny Delcarmen and Jones each allowed an insurance run for Tampa, but Ramon Ramirez got the final two outs and is still un-scored upon this season: 15 appearances, 13.0 innings, 0.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, eight strikeouts.  Drew continues to raise his average with a 3-4 day and Youkilis and Ellsbury had two hits apiece in the 5-3 decision.

Dropping five of seven to the Rays is a bit of a hole to dig, especially considering the Sox and Rays are expected to compete for a division title.  The Red Sox, for good or for worse, will have to face them again, but had an opportunity to kick them while they were down so far this season.  The Rays have the talent to compete for the East again and started slowly last season too, so they will be better as the summer is upon us, which is a scary thought for the Red Sox and the rest of the division.

The Week Ahead: Red Sox at Yankees

The Red Sox would like nothing more than to spoil the Yankees’ first series against their biggest rivals in the new stadium.  The building appears to be a launching pad, which might be just what the Red Sox need to get back on track given the Yankees’ poor pitching staff.  The Red Sox obviously carry a 3-0 edge in the season series, coming off the sweep last weekend.

Lester looks to rebound against Joba Chamberlain (1-0, 3.13 ERA, 1.52 WHIP) and Beckett would like to do the same against big-money signee A.J. Burnett (2-0, 5.40, 1,33).  The Yankees starters may be 3-0, but note the ratios, which are not good.  The bullpen is one of the worst in baseball (29th of 30 ML teams in ERA) and might be the worst if Mariano Rivera did not dominate every team not from Boston. In stark contrast, the Sox have the No. 2 ranked bullpen in the bigs.

New York’s offense is missing Alex Rodriguez for not too much longer, but Nick Swisher (.312, 7HR, 19RBI) has stepped up huge in his stead. Red Sox-Yankees games rarely lack for intrigue and with four struggling starters, it is possible the 22-run record the Indians already set for a team could be in danger.  If the starters are falling early, the bullpen edge clearly goes to the Red Sox.  Boston really needs to rebound and get at least a split of this series and put this bad road trip behind them before heading back home.

Red Sox vs. Indians

The Red Sox so far have been playing much better at home (10-2 vs. 5-8 road) and the Indians come to town off their great series last week.  Masterson gets old hand Carl Pavano (1-3, 7.46, 1.54) and Wakefield draws youngster Aaron Laffey (2-0, 4.09, 1.64).

If the Red Sox do not sweep this series, I think there is something wrong.  If the bats are still cold coming out of New York, they get batting practice in the first game.  Pavano has been downright awful…for years!  I am somewhat amazed he is still pitching in the majors, given his recent history and Wakefield can hopefully bounce back from his last lackluster outing.  Of course, with Wakefield, he could be just beginning a spate of bad outings as consistently happens with knuckleballers.  But, the Red Sox play so well at home, they really are like a different team.

Red Sox vs. Rays

The one team that has beaten the Red Sox in Fenway so far this season returns to town.  Brad Penny, due for a poor outing, draws James Shields (3-2, 3.51, 1.20) in the opener and the middle game features Lester and Scott Kazmir (3-2, 5.40, 1.61) in a rematch of a game won by Kazmir earlier this season 7-2.

The final game’s probables are unannounced, but would seem to indicate a Beckett-Garza (2-2, 3.82, 1.06) rematch.  The matchups are certainly not favorable, and that is not based just on this season.  Kazmir and Garza have pitched well against the Sox in past outings, 2008 notably so.  The Red Sox might be fortunate to get one of these games, but really need a statement win in this series and could really use a victory over one of those two.

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