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The Red Sox dropped two of three to the Blue Jays to see their division lead trimmed to a single game and will wrap up with road trip at the home of the Texas Rangers. The Rangers have found some pitching to pair with their prodigious offense to keep them in second place in the West, despite their current four-game losing streak.
John Smoltz faces Ranger ace Kevin Millwood (8-7, 3.46 ERA, 1.29 WHIP), enjoying his best season since 2004, in the opener. Josh Beckett faces Tommy Hunter (1-1, 2.35, 1.30), who makes only his eighth Major League start. The rookie has been up and down a few times this season to make a spot start when needed and has improved with each outing. Tim Wakefield takes on Vicente Padilla (7-5, 4.67, 1.52) in the finale.
The whole of the Rangers pitching staff is still near the bottom of many statistics, partly due to the Ballpark at Arlington, quite possibly the best offensive park in the American League, if not all of baseball. Like Millwood and Hunter, they do have some solid pitching, but also a lot of questionable hurlers. Closer Frank Francisco (2.28 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 10.41 K/9, 15/17 SVs) and former closer turned set-up man, C. J. Wilson (3.03, 1.37, 7.45, 7/9), are among the brighter spots and make for a nearly unstoppable eighth and ninth inning combo.
The Rangers offense is above average, including tied for the Major League lead in home runs and the numbers are up in most categories when measured at home. Josh Hamilton is the first Ranger that comes to most people’s minds because of his story, including the multiple comebacks and his performance at last season’s Home Run Derby, but he has been slowed by injuries this season and has a muted line: .250 BA, 7HR, 27 RBI, 24 R. Of course, the Rangers sport the Home Run Derby runner up for the second consecutive season, with Nelson Cruz taking the honors this season. He is the team leader in home runs with 23 and is hit .266 with 54 RBI and 50 runs. Michael Young leads the team in batting at .307 with 27 doubles, 11 home runs, 37 RBI, and 48 runs. Ian Kinsler has a great all around line, except his average has dropped precipitously this season, to .249. He also leads the team with 19 swipes and has 20 home runs, 19 doubles, 55 driven in, and 63 scored.
With the Rangers ability to score, especially in their home park, this should be a test for the Red Sox, but there is one fatal flaw to their offense, and that is that they do not seem to get enough guys on base. They can go yard, but without putting a lot of guys on base, the damage is limited. That speaks to a lack of patience and hitting from behind in the count, two things the Red Sox will exploit, which should give them the edge in the series and they can likely salvage a .500 road trip.