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Hernandez, Mariners Open Final Homestand Before All-Star Break

Felix Hernandez

The Red Sox continue to be hot and are holding off the surging Yankees in the division race.  The Red Sox have won seven series in a row, though the last five were against teams considered to not be contenders and have Seattle, Oakland, and Kansas City, and their combined .455 winning percentage, at home to end the first half.

The Mariners took two of three in the teams’ only meeting in Seattle with Josh Beckett getting the only win for the Sox and have lost the first two games of their series with the Yankees before arriving in Boston on Friday.

Tim Wakefield will break his tie with Roger Clemens for most starts in franchise history when he takes the mound in the opener against Seattle ace Felix Hernandez (8-3, 2.54 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 107 K).  Hernandez is having his best season yet, in his fourth full season in the bigs.  He was highly touted and has been good for a bad team, but is finally having a Cy Young-type season while buoying the Mariners above .500 so far, in another season when they were not supposed to compete.  He should turn out to be one of the league’s best pitchers for years to come, though the Red Sox will not see him that often, so watch him while you can.  He is 3-1 lifetime in six starts against the Red Sox, including a one-hit shutout in Fenway in 2007.

Brad Penny takes on Garrett Olson (3-2, 4.81, 1.23) and Jon Lester battles Brandon Morrow (0-3, 5.14, 1.83, 6 SV) in the following two games.  Yes, Morrow was the closer earlier this season, and was pretty good, converting his first five opportunities without allowing a run.  However, he allowed a run but recorded the save in his sixth opportunity, and then blew up on consecutive days in Texas, costing him the role, which he yielded to former Red Sox reliever David Aardsma.  In his four previous starts, he has yet to surpass five innings as he seems to be stretching into the role (his first start was a 64-pitch, three-inning outing).

Short starts are not necessarily a bad thing for the Mariners, who own the fourth best bullpen ERA, and third best staff ERA (and sixth by WHIP).  Unlike most teams, they have reliable options in relief and can weather non-quality starts; playing in a pitcher’s park at Safeco Field no doubt helps.  The pitching staff is a ‘sum is greater then the whole’ group as they are very average in walks and strikeouts, but keep their hits and home runs allowed down, which in turn keeps the runs down.  This is especially amazing considering they have the third most errors and third worst fielding percentage in the majors, but then again, errors lead to more unearned runs.

The Mariner offense is the second worst in the majors (behind only San Diego) and one of only three teams averaging fewer than four runs per game.  The same effect that helps their pitching staff, being the large field, hinders the offense as well, which has the second lowest number of extra base hits.  However, they put the ball in play a lot, walking the second fewest times in the majors and they do not strike out a lot either.

They lack any true power hitter with Russell Branyan (.298 BA, 19 HR, 40 RBI, 46 R) coming out of nowhere to be their biggest home run threat.  Jose Lopez (.258, 10, 46, 30) and Ken Griffey, Jr. (.219, 10, 26, 23) are the only others to crack double digits in gopher balls.  Ichiro Suzuki has been the face of the franchise since Griffey and Alex Rodriguez left town and is having another Ichiro season (with a .368 average) so far.  He also has 112 hits (well on pace for another 200+ season), three triples, six dingers, 38 runs, 18 RBI, and 16 swipes.

The Red Sox could see their streak of series wins end against the Mariners, who match up well against the Red Sox, but the Sox should come from behind to get the series.  Hernandez could dominate again at Fenway, but Olson and Morrow are the back of the rotation guys that the Red Sox could feast on.

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