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With the All-Star Game behind them, the Red Sox open the second half with a road trip to Toronto and then to Texas, two venues that always seem to prove troublesome no matter how good the teams are. The Blue Jays started the season very well, on the arms of their pitching staff, but have hit the skids recently, falling to fourth in the East and dropping below .500, primarily due to their mounting injuries. It has gotten so bad up north that Jays GM J.P. Riccardi has stated that perennial Cy Young contender Roy Halladay is on the block, an attempt to take his best asset and bring back major league ready talent and prospects.
The Red Sox have shown interest in Halladay and Clay Buchholz, who is tearing up the minors, would seem to be the centerpiece of any potential deal. He will conveniently make his season debut in the series opener, saving the Toronto scouts a trip to Pawtucket, against rookie Ricky Romero (7-3, 3.00 ERA, 1.26 WHIP), who has burst onto the scene and should be in the Rookie of the Year mix in the American League. Brad Penny faces Brian Tallett (5-6, 4.95, 1.44), who began the season in the bullpen, but converted to starter amidst the injury bug. Finally, Jon Lester faces the AL All-Star starter Halladay (10-3, 2.85, 1.10, 106 K, 3 CG, 1 SHO).
This certainly looks like another tough trip across the border. The first game will be the key and will be a testament to Buchholz’ makeup. He knows he is being showcased and knows he deserves a spot on the Red Sox roster based on his AAA performance so far this season, but has been the odd man out. So, will he be nervous or can he put it all out of his mind? The Buchholz-Romero showdown could be an early look at two pitchers who might be around a while.
The Toronto pitching staff is above average, even with the injuries, and bolstered by the starting staff, posting the third most shutouts and in the top 10 in the majors in many categories, including quality starts, and strikeouts. The bullpen is decidedly average, but has been boosted by Scott Downs’ takeover of the closer’s role from B. J. Ryan. Ryan signed a large contract in 2006 after one season as Baltimore’s closer. He had a very good first season with the Blue Jays, missed nearly the entire 2007 season with a shoulder injury, and returned to form last season. However, arm troubles resurfaced, his velocity disappeared, and his control is gone. He lost the stopper’s role with a stint on the disabled list and minor league rehab and was released last week, a big financial hit for Toronto. Downs has been fantastic finishing up games, and setting up Ryan before that, with a 90% success rate (9/10), 1.91 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 9.53 K/9.
Toronto has an above average offense, leads the majors in hits, and does not strike out much. However, while they do have a lot of extra base hits, they do not hit for a lot of power. Young stars in the making Aaron Hill and Adam Lind are the main power sources with 20 and 19 home runs, respectively. Alex Rios, with 10, is the only other player to crack double figures. Scott Rolen is enjoying a healthy season and has been productive with a .320 average, 35 RBI, 45 R, 26 doubles, and six home runs. Adam Lind rounds out his line with a .306 average, 59 batted in, 50 runs, and 27 doubles, while Hill is hitting .292 with 60 RBI, 52 R, and 16 two-baggers.
The Red Sox went 6-4 on their final homestand against three of the weaker offensive teams in the league and played a number of those games tight. While the Blue Jays may not be a contender anymore, they still are tough enough to be a pain to the Red Sox, and others, if they can get some of their arms healthy. The Red Sox will need to play better in this series than they did over the past couple weeks to win it. I think this road trip will be tough and they could drop two of three to open the half.