|Francona Wins Big in Return to Fenway||Connelly’s Top Ten: Rask Falls on Face||Bruins Lose 4-3 in OT as Rangers Fight to Stay Alive||For the Bulletin Board: Lundqvist’s “Lucky Bounces,” Savard’s “#ByeByeTorts”|
Amid rumors that David Ortiz is older than he claims, is he trying to turn back the clock and record his first 40-40 season? Maybe not. He hit his second home run of the season, a 300-footer off the Pesky pole (the shortest Major League home run possible) and attempted his second stolen base of the season in the Rangers series. Knowing his wheels are a little slow, he left a little too early and was thrown out at second by the pitcher. The Nation is still waiting for the power surge, and at this point, breaking the Mendoza line is a victory of sorts.
The Red Sox swept the series in Mo-Town, but returned home and lost the series to the Rangers, an occurrence unseen since 1997, dropping the Red Sox behind the Yankees heading into this week’s showdown. After the Red Sox complete this week’s series with the Phillies, it will be the fourth consecutive series against a division leader.
The Red Sox found their offense in Detroit and swept the Tigers to get the week off to a good start. Daisuke Matsuzaka got the Red Sox off on the right foot with his best outing of the season to earn his first win. He allowed only one run in five innings with a modest six hits and three walks to go along with six K’s. This was the Dice-K I think the Nation was expecting: very much in control, though 96 pitches only got him through five. He has to get after hitters and avoid the deep pitch counts and he can last deeper into games.
Jacoby Ellsbury went 3-3 with a walk and Jason Bay added another home run to get Terry Francona his 500th managerial win in the 5-1 decision.
Josh Beckett had another ace’s outing in the second game as he went 7.2 strong innings, just mowing the Tigers down, and not allowing a hit until the seventh. He finished with nine whiffs, two hits, two walks, and three runs, though none earned in the 10-5 victory.
The offense spread it around with every starter recording a hit and no one getting more than two. J. D. Drew had a home run and Ortiz had an RBI double as he continues to get a good rip on the occaisional pitch, but cannot shake the funk.
Tim Wakefield recovered from a three-run second to earn his seventh win as he went 6.2 innings in the 6-3 win. The Red Sox got all six runs in the third inning without an extra base hit. They took advantage of Dontrelle Willis’ control issues (five walks) and rapped out a bunch of hits of Tigers relievers. For the game the Sox plated six on only six hits, but did get the nine walks and one hit batsman.
It was a very good series for the Red Sox as they won with patience and very little power and really took Detroit’s bullpen apart. They got three good outings from the starters and the bullpen did their job as well.
The power outage the Red Sox were suffering from in Detroit cost the Red Sox against Texas as they could have used a few more runs. Brad Penny’s trade value took a hit as he was rocked for five runs in 5.2 innings, the big blow being a three-run Ian Kinsler home run. Kevin Millwood sprinkled seven Sox hits around as he allowed only one unearned runs in seven innings in the 5-1 loss. Papi had the only RBI with a single and Drew was the only Sox with more than one hit.
Jon Lester returned to last season’s form with a brilliant effort in the second game, going perfect for 6.1 innings in the complete game two hitter. He also struck out 11 in the 8-1 win. Ortiz was 2-3 with a walk and that 300-foot home run off Pesky’s pole.
In the finale, Dice-K failed to walk a batter, but gave up 10 hits and five runs in 5.2 innings to fall to 1-4 on the season. He was around the plate as evidence by his eight whiffs, but the Rangers got a lot of wood on the ball. The Red Sox trailed all day and Mark Kotsay returned to the starting lineup for the first time this season with a home run as they dropped the series with the 6-3 defeat.
The Red Sox continue to do as well as their starters do. Their offense appears to be missing that major power threat as they are struggling to come from behind as the pitching staff carries the team.
The Yankees offense has been reinvigorated with Alex Rodriguez’ return since these teams last played each other. Mark Teixeira has found the form that made him so coveted this offseason with the protection in the lineup. The Yankees score almost six per game, second in the majors, and their 88 home runs are also good for second. Their .357 on base percentage (.001 ahead of the Red Sox) is good for third with credit going to the lineup that strikes out less than six times per game, in the top third in the league, and a change from recent years.
So, where are the problems? Pitching. Their 4.89 ERA is fourth worst in the majors partly because the new stadium has become a home run derby park and the Yankees have allowed the fourth most overall.
The matchups feature Beckett and high priced free agent signee A.J. Burnett (4-2, 4.69 ERA, 1.39 WHIP) who is not yet hurt, Wakefield and the recently returned Chien-Ming Wang (0-3, 14.46, 2.57), and Penny facing the Yankees other prize CC Sabathia (5-3, 3.56, 1.13). Beckett lives for these games and Wang should go back to looking for answers which should give the Red Sox enough to win the series, but Wakefield makes it no lock as the Yankees do know him after seeing him so often.
Every Penny start from now until he is traded (it seems like a when, not if) is an audition and facing a potent offense against CC does not put him in the best position to impress.
The weather was not so friendly the last time the Red Sox visited the City of Brotherly Love in 2008. One day was postponed, forcing the Red Sox to give up a Labor Day weekend day off and play a one-game series in the city to make up the day.
This time around the Phillies are reigning World Champs and looking just as good, at least offensively this season. Brad Lidge is the big question mark of late, having blown the most saves in the majors after a perfect season last year.
Raul Ibanez has been the free agent pickup of the year with his .329-19 HR-54 RBI-46 R start to the season. All of those numbers are team highs, along with his 72 hits and 20 doubles. He is not even a one man team as Chase Utley is hitting .296 with 12 HR, 11 2B, 38 RBI, and 39 R. Shane Victorino is hitting .295 with 39 R and 9 swipes. Ryan Howard, not an average threat, has 17 bombs and 47 batted in while hitting .259.
As a team, the Phils are fifth in runs, third in home runs, and 10th in OBP among ML teams. Their team ERA is near the bottom, however, but their bullpen is the strong part of the staff, and that includes Lidge’s shakiness. Lester draws Joe Blanton (4-3, 5.46, 1.46), Dice-K faces Antonio Bastardo (2-0, 2.45, 1.18), and Beckett gets J. A. Happ (4-0, 2.48, 0.98).
Citizen’s Bank Park is a launching pad which tends to hurt Lester, more of a flyball pitcher, but Blanton struggles with the big hits as well. Bastardo and Happ have great lines, but not a lot behind them yet. Bastardo has made two career starts: in Los Angeles (NL) and San Diego, two pitcher’s parks and no offense like the Red Sox, since the Dodgers are without Manny Ramirez. If Dice-K gets wild in this game, 100 pitches will not get him through three innings. Happ has mostly been used in relief, very effectively at that, and his starts have been short (about five innings) and his best one also came away from home, also at LA.
I like the Sox in this litmus test to take two of three.