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Terry Francona finally made the move I thought he should, moving David Ortiz down from the prized third spot to sixth. The move has not paid off yet as Papi is struggling even worse there without the protection (3-24; .125) to drop his average to .185 and more importantly, he is still sitting on one home run. He has two doubles since moving down, giving him 13 on the season, but he is still looking very off at the plate.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, managed a split in Minnesota this week and dug themselves a 2-0 hole in Toronto before salvaging the getaway game, with the offense having some trouble. The Sox will need more offense this week as they travel to AL Central leading Detroit and then host the AL West leading Rangers.
Brad Penny earned his fifth win of the season to open the Red Sox road trip despite allowing three runs in 5.1 innings as he lowered his ERA a bit to 5.96. He has not been the best pitcher on the staff, but somehow hangs around long enough in each game to get the win and it has made him possible trade bait at the deadline.
Trading Penny would make sense for the Red Sox as there is a lot of pitching behind him: John Smoltz’ rehab is nearing completion, Clay Buchholz is overmatching AAA hitters, including a near perfect game, and Michael Bowden’s name is surfacing again.
The Red Sox got 16 hits in the 6-5 win including four from Mike Lowell and three from Dustin Pedroia, most of the damage coming against Twins starter Francisco Liriano who is off to a terrible start (2-7, 6.60 ERA). In a 14 pitch-11 strike outing, Jonathan Papelbon managed to waste all of his insurance by allowing two hits, including a Joe Mauer home run.
Jon Lester suffered one bad inning in Game 2 and allowed five runs in the 5-2 loss. Despite nine hits, the offense could never string together enough hits to get a serious rally going on Nick Blackburn who allowed one earned in seven and Joe Nathan only needed ten pitches to set the Red Sox down in the ninth.
The Twins took advantage of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s control troubles and took control of the series with the 4-2 win. Dice-K threw 102 pitches, but only lasted five as he was wild. He threw four wild pitches, walked three, and allowed nine hits and three runs, but did strike out six in his outing. Relievers Manny Delcarmen and Justin Masterson were not immune either as they each uncorked a wild pitch and Masterson also hit a batter.
Kevin Slowey struck out five and only allowed two runs as the Red Sox offense continued to adjust to Papi’s new home in the sixth spot. Jason Bay did, however, hit a solo homer to account for one of the runs.
Jason Varitek powered the Red Sox to a 3-1 win in the finale with two solo home runs and was later ejected for arguing balls and strikes along with Terry Francona (Twins catcher Joe Mauer and manager Ron Gardenhire were previously ejected for arguing a call at the plate).
Josh Beckett held the Twins in check long enough to get the offense and seal the win. He went seven and allowed one run on three hits and four walks and had eight whiffs. He did exactly what an ace should do and that is stop a two game losing streak from becoming a four or five game losing streak with his dazzling outing. Papelbon had a much less eventful ninth inning for the save.
The series was a pitcher’s series with only 28 total runs scored in four games, but only 13 runs is a bit of a concern for the Red Sox. The new lineup has not juiced up the offense nor has it got Papi on track, so is it a failed experiment? Personally, the Twins do not have the best pitching staff, so I would have liked to see more offense and specifically some kind of turnaround from Ortiz, but I think we should let this play out a little bit before Francona rushes to undo it.
Lester only had the one bad inning, but Beckett had the only really good outing this week. Penny and Dice-K had their own troubles with putting guys on base and wasting pitches, something that Matsuzaka has been struggling with more consistently, which is something of a concern.
The Red Sox visited the reeling Jays, who had lost nine in a row, for a series opening on “Flashback Friday,” where the Blue Jays wear their old uniforms. (Perhaps it is because they wore them when they were good and the Red Sox main rival for the division title, but I love those old threads.) Tim Wakefield suffered the same bug the rest of the starters have been bit by as he failed to get out of the fifth. Toronto only scored in that inning, but their six runs were enough in the 6-3 series opening win.
The Red Sox even battered Casey Janssen for 11 hits, but only the three runs. Brandon League and Scott Downs each threw a 10-pitch perfect inning to record the hold and save respectively.
The Red Sox dropped their second straight game, 5-3, as they failed to score more than three for the fifth straight contest (1-4). Alex Rios managed as many hits as the entire Red Sox team with four of the Jays’ 14. Penny had a good outing, going six innings with five strikeouts, though he allowed 10 hits and three runs (two earned).
Ramon Ramirez had his only bad outing of the season thus far, but looked to be laboring (was he sick, perhaps?) through his 23-pitch, 2/3 inning performance, giving up two runs to earn the loss. League and Downs again combined for two innings and 20 pitches to shut down the Sox in the later innings.
The Red Sox snapped their second two game losing streak this week with an eight run outburst amid another lineup card shakeup. Pedroia took over the leadoff spot, followed by J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, and Mike Lowell. Every starter got at least one hit except for Jason Varitek, who walked three times.
Jon Lester picked himself up from his last outing, fanning 12 in six innings while he allowed only one run. Ramirez bounced back with a scoreless inning in the 8-2 victory.
Francona can afford to tinker with the lineup with the versatile collection of hitters he has. Pedrioa, Drew, Youkilis, Bay, and Lowell all have at least 20-HR power, can spray hits all over the field, and can draw walks. This is such a luxury for a manager like Tito as he can move guys up or down without having to worry too much about protecting a low average, big bopper type of hitter.
The Red Sox open June with Dice-K on the hill against rookie Rick Porcello (6-3, 3.48 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) in what should be a good matchup. Porcello is hitting the majors with big expectations is is living up to them so far with 32 K’s in 51.2 innings, but does have 16 walks so far.
Beckett duels with Armando Galarraga (3-5, 5.50, 1.56), who was hyped upon making the show, but has yet to hit that mark. Wakefield and Dontrelle Willis (1-2, 5.56, 1.59) go toe to toe in the third game. Willis is trying to harness the stuff that made him a breakthrough pitcher in Florida just a few years ago, but has had two good starts and two poor starts this season.
The Tigers have surged to a four-game Central lead with the largest run differential (+45) in the AL, second only to the Dodgers (+78) in baseball. Despite playing in a pitcher’s park, Detroit is #10 in the majors in runs and home runs, and as expected they do not run or sacrifice a lot. Miguel Cabrera is the player they expected as he is hitting .355 with 11 doubles, 10 home runs, and 37 driven in. Brandon Inge (12) and Curtis Granderson (13) also provide some pop for this team.
The Tigers sport the AL’s top ERA at 3.87, but the relief staff is where the problems lie, Francisco Rodney notwithstanding in the closer’s role. The Red Sox should be able to beat Gallaraga, especially with Beckett opposing him, and Willis, though Wakefield has been shaky lately and Willis pitches better at Comerica (2.08 ERA). Dice-K has to give the Red Sox good consistent innings as Porcello should be able to handle Boston’s lineup.
I hope the Red Sox can build their win streak, but I see the struggles continuing here, dropping two; I just cannot trust the starting pitching enough right now.
The Rangers sport the AL’s second best run differential with a +37 mark and have a great offensive club, thanks in part to the launching pad that is the Ballpark at Arlington. Veterans Penny and Kevin Millwood (4-4, 3.23, 1.23) meet in the opener. Millwood is enjoying a resurgence in the early part of this season, including tossing two complete games.
Lester locks up with rookie Derek Holland (1-2, 5.96, 1.56), a reliever making only his third start and his prior two did not go well. Dice-K will face Vicente Padilla (3-2, 4.71, 1.41). Frank Francisco is perfect as the closer, converting all 11 opportunities with 19 K’s in 18.2 innings.
The Rangers make their mark with their offense which includes Michael Young (.333 BA, 7 HR, 30 R), Nelson Cruz (.296 BA, 14 HR, 36 RBI), Ian Kinsler (.279 BA, 13 HR, 38 R, 39 RBI, 10 SB), and Hank Blalock (.258 BA, 12 HR, 28 RBI). Notably absent from this list is Josh Hamilton, who has been hurt and ineffective because of it so far, and youngster Chris Davis who does have 12 HR, but is only hitting .194.
The Rangers lead the majors in homers with 83 with only the Yankees even close at 80 (third is Philadelphia’s 69). They are fifth in runs scored and second in total bases. If there is a team that will test the Red Sox pitching, this will be it. If the Red Sox offensive struggles continue, this could be a long week, but the Red Sox face very vulnerable starters. The Red Sox will even out the week at 3-3 by taking two in their return home.