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The Red Sox got the long 10-game road trip started with a visit to the Tigers for four games. The series featured very good starting pitching for the Red Sox in three of the games, which was the key to the series. As the Sox starters were able to stifle the Detroit lineup, it allowed the bullpen to stay fresh and Terry Francona to use them in their customary roles to lock down victories. Daisuke Matsuzaka allowed 10 baserunners, but only one run in the Game 1 start. Craig Hansen looked a bit shaky, but Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon finished it.
The second game featured a two-hit gem from Tim Wakefield, wrapped up by Mike Timlin, for the combined shutout. The Tigers battered Clay Buchholz and Julian Tavarez in the third installment, but the Red Sox battled back to take a 9-8 eight inning lead, before yielding the victory on a Papelbon blown save. Josh Beckett demonstrated that he is the stopper and held the Tigers to a single run over seven innings, leading the Red Sox to a three to one series edge.
In the three wins, the starting pitchers had the following combined line: 20IP, 10H, 2ER, 15K, 8BB (all from Dice-K), 0.90 ERA, 0.90 WHIP. That is exactly the kind of outings the Red Sox need from their starters to beat high scoring teams, like the Tigers. The best performer of the series was Kevin Youkilis (6/17, 5 R, 7 RBI, 4 HR), homering in three of the four, including two in the loss, helping to keep the team in the game. He is off to another great start and is the team’s offensive leader thus far, just as he was last spring.
Jon Lester, coming off his great week, led off the Twins series hoping to register another quality start, but could not get out of the sixth inning. He allowed eight hits and a walk leading to five runs, a pair of which were unearned due to a Julio Lugo error, but the Red Sox stayed in the ballgame, losing in the ninth due to Jonathan Papelbon’s second blown save and loss of the road trip. Dice-K spread nine baserunners over his seven innings, allowing two runs and leading the Red Sox to a victory in the second game. In the third tilt, true to knuckleballer form (you never know what to expect), Tim Wakefield’s start in the third game was about as opposite of his previous start as you can get. He could not get out of the third inning, leaving the Red Sox in an early 7-1 hole. The Sox battled back to within two on Coco Crisp‘s seventh inning home run and cut the deficit to one in the ninth, before Joe Nathan got Manny Ramirez to ground out to shortstop to capture the save.
In the final game of the series, Clay Buchholz was hit hard again, allowing all seven runs in a 7-3 defeat. However, on the bright side, Javier Lopez, Hansen, and Timlin provided three and two-thirds innings of shutout relief, while allowing only three baserunners. Dropping three of four to the Twins leaves the Red Sox a disappointing 4-4 on the road trip and up only half a game up on the Rays heading into this week. While this is only the second long road swing of the season, the Sox appear to have road woes as they seem to get worse as the trips wear on.
Before returning home to Fenway to open interleague play with the Brewers, the Red Sox will wrap up the road trip with a quick two-game stop in Baltimore. After a hot start and carrying the divisional lead for a the beginning of the season, the Orioles are coming off a tough West Coast road trip, going 1-5 against the Angels and A’s, before taking three of four from Kansas City on their way home, leaving them at .500 on the season, good for third place in the division.
Looking at this team, I don’t even see how they are that good. Brian Roberts spent most of the winter and spring waiting for a call telling him he’s been traded after his name showed up on the Mitchell Report. Like the team, he has tailed off recently after a good start, though he has 11 stolen bases thus far. Much heralded prospect Adam Jones, who the Orioles liked enough to part with hard-throwing Erik Bedard, has not lived up to the hype, hitting only two home runs on a .223 batting average. Seemingly a throw-in to the Jones deal, George Sherrill won the closer’s job in the spring and has been virtually untouchable this season, converting 13 saves, or better than two-thirds of the team’s wins, in 15 opportunities.
Nick Markakis appears to be the Orioles franchise player, and is their leader in most offensive categories. The pitching matchups feature Josh Beckett-Jeremy Guthrie and Jon Lester-Daniel Cabrera, so the Red Sox should be able to score some runs. Cabrera is their No. 1 starter now and will get strikeouts, however, he is prone to bouts of wildness, and like most hard throwers, will give up home runs. The Red Sox have dominated this team in recent years and I expect this series to be no different.
The Red Sox will then get in on the early start to interleague play with a three-game visit from one-time division rival Milwaukee. The Brewers’ pitching was expected to be the strength for this team, but despite Ben Sheets’ return to ace-like form, the Brewers are nearer the bottom of the league than the top in many pitching categories. The offense is centered around a number of rising stars: Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and Corey Hart.
The current story for the team, however, is Eric Gagne‘s demotion as the team’s closer, so they are now using a committee approach. Gagne began the season looking like he did before the Red Sox acquired him last year, but recently, has looked more like the one that we saw blow saves and leads in a Sox uniform. For the Red Sox to win these games, it’s imperative to be patient and see a lot of pitches from the Brewer starters to get into their vulnerable bullpen.
In other Red Sox news: