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Red Sox Lose Ground on Rays with Uneven Week

The Red Sox opened the week with a tough loss to an inferior Royals team before taking the series.  They traveled to Chicago for a gritty series with the White Sox and earned a tough split. 

However, the Rays continued to play well and have already set a single-season franchise win record with almost two months remaining on the schedule.  They have, however, been hit by two key injuries requiring DL stints this weekend: Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria

The Angels helped the Red Sox cause by sweeping the Yankees, just as they did to the Sox a couple weeks back, helping to open some distance on the New Yorkers.

Red Sox at Royals

The Red Sox took another loss in a Clay Buchholz start to open the series in Kansas City, though he had one of his better outings of late, going six innings while allowing all four KC runs on seven hits and three walks and striking out four.  Gil Meche fanned nine Red Sox as part of his very good outing.  The Red Sox halved the gap in the ninth on Jason Bay‘s bases loaded infield single off Joakim Soria, who was uncharacteristically hittable. 

Josh Beckett reprised his role as stopper in the second game, dominating the Royals and getting the Sox back on track.  He struck out seven through 6-2/3 and allowed only two runs as the offense got back on track, paced by Bay’s 4-5 effort in the 8-2 win. 

In the finale, neither Tim Wakefield nor Luke Hochevar blinked for four innings before the Red Sox struck for three in the fifth.  The Royals struck back for two in the bottom half of the frame, but Wakefield had all he would need.  Wakefield would leave after six allowing just those two runs (only one earned) and recorded six K’s en route to the 8-2 victory. 

Jacoby Ellsbury hit a three-run homer in the seventh to salt away the game.  This was a good series, but it was unfortunate that they could not get the victory in the opener as this is one of the teams that the Red Sox should sweep.  Coming back strong in the final two games gave them some momentum going into Chicago.

Red Sox at White Sox

For the fourth time in the last five series, the Red Sox opened with a loss, and lost each of those series against better teams (Angels and Yankees), but salvaged a sweep here.  Jon Lester opened the series against Mark Buehrle and the game lived up to its expectations of a pitching duel.  Lester spread out four earned runs across seven innings, but left with a 4-0 deficit as Buehrle was really on.  He went seven striking out eight and allowed a single run, scored on a Dustin Pedroia three run home run off Octavio Dotel.

Pedroia’s HR accounted for all the Red Sox runs as they fell 5-3, giving the Red Sox another comeback attempt that came up short.  With Dotel failing to get the job done, Matt Thornton and D. J. Carrasco combined to finish the eighth and set up Bobby Jenks for a perfect ninth inning save. 

Daisuke Matsuzaka helped the Red Sox bounce back with a 6-2 victory by throwing eight strong innings, allowing only one run and running his record to 13-2.  The Red Sox took advantage of Jose Contreras‘ early exit with a foot injury and wore down the Chicago bullpen.  David Ortiz and Ellsbury each had three hits, one of them another Ellsbury home run. 

In the third game, the Sox got three runs in the first on a Mike Lowell home run, but Buchholz recorded another subpar outing, allowing five runs in three innings, including three gopher balls.  The Red Sox added two sixth inning runs to trim the deficit to one, but the White Sox bullpen allowed only three walks (no hits) in the final 3-2/3 to preserve the Chicago win. 

With respect to what to do with Buchholz, Bartolo Colon threw three scoreless innings in a rehab assignment in Pawtucket.  His return is not imminent, but he is on schedule as the Red Sox are taking their time with the big man. 

In the finale, Beckett again prevented a loss the night before from becoming a losing streak as he went eight strong innings and allowed only one run.  He trailed in the game for three innings, but kept the Red Sox in the game.  J. D. Drew hit a seventh inning two run double to give the Sox their first lead and all the runs they would need, though Drew and Jed Lowrie helped contribute to three more insurance runs.  Jonathan Papelbon worked a scoreless ninth to lock up the victory. 

It was all about the White Sox for most of the night as starter John Danks spun a no-hitter through six innings.  He ended up going seven and striking out nine (bettering Beckett’s total by one) while allowing only two runs, but took the hard luck loss.

Red Sox vs. Rangers

The Sox return home for the week, opening with a young, improving, and primarily offensive Texas club.  The Rangers are led by Ian Kinsler and Milton Bradley, each in the M.L. top 10 in batting average, and Josh Hamilton, seventh in the majors in home runs and first among all players in runs batted in.  He also had a record setting home run derby round (though he lost the competition in the finals) and is resurrecting his career after a trade from Cincinnati for equally impressive Edison Volquez. Hamilton battled alcohol and drug addiction, in addition to injury problems, after being selected #1 overall by the Rays. 

As a team, the Rangers are tops in the majors in a number of offensvie categories: runs (by far), hits, doubles, total bases, batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS, while placing third in on-base percentage and fifth in home runs.  However, as good as this club is offensively, they are down double digits in their division for one big reason: pitching. 

Texas pitchers have the majors’ worst earned run average, the fewest quality starts, and the most hits allowed. They also have the second worst rank in walks, strikeouts, batting average against, and WHIP.  When a team sees as many relief innings as this one does (they have also started 13 different guys), it should not surprise anyone to see them rank near the bottom of many categories. 

The Sox pitching staff will have a tough series, but the offense should fire on all cylinders.  With Wakefield’s shoulder forcing a stint on the disabled list, fellow knucklebatter Charlie Zink will make his major league debut against Scott Feldman.  Jon Lester draws another Ranger greenhorn, Luis Mendoza, and Dice-K ties up with “ace” Vicente Padilla in the final game.  Each Texas hurler has an ERA of at least 4.82 and WHIP over 1.40, so the Red Sox should be able to at least outslug the Rangers to win this series.  Lester and Dice-K should be able to go deep enough to set up victories but Zink is definitely a wildcard (a knuckleballer is hard enough to handicap, but a debuting knuckler is another thing altogether).  If you love offense, this could be a fun series to watch!

Red Sox vs. Blue Jays

The Sox open a crucial 12-game streak against divisional opponents with this series against the Jays marking the only set of home games in that stretch.  These division rivals have not met since April and have nine other games on the schedule after these three. The Jays hold the season series by a 4-2 edge, but the Red Sox took two of the three in Fenway. 

The Blue Jays are a little light on power, with only Matt Stairs the only player with more than 10 HRs.  Alex Rios is a stolen base threat with 28, but also leads the team in RBI and batting average (among regulars).  Adam Lind, a midseason callup, has been a regular in the lineup and has the look of a rising star, hitting .296 with five home runs, and is rising in the batting order. 

Throwback Roy Halladay, who the Red Sox avoid this time, leads the pitching staff with a 2.72 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with seven complete games (two shutouts among them) and looks to be a Cy Young candidate.  B.J. Ryan, returning this season from injury, is 22-25 in save chances with a 3.15 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. 

The Toronto team figured to compete for the division title this season and were a popular pick for the wild card berth, but injuries, drama (the Frank Thomas early-season saga), and lackluster individual performances have not translated into a lot of success.  Clay Buchholz gets the opener against Scott Richmond, Beckett gets Shaun Marcum, and and Zink will make his second start against the most talked about untraded player at the deadline, A.J. Burnett.  Buchholz has a favorable matchup and Beckett should be able to outpitch his opposite number.  Zink will be the wild card again, hopefully helping the Red Sox to another series win.

With the Rays hurting and the Yankees scuffling, the time is now for the Red Sox to make a move on the division leader and put some distance on New York.  It is also important to set up this streak of divisional games with some quality wins to help build some momentum.

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