A brief look at an opponent we play this week. Author's note: some statistics will be slightly off. I wrote this Saturday night, as I would not have a chance to do so any closer to the start of the series. All apologies if this confuses anyone.
Dates we play them: 5/30-6/1 @ Boston, 7/29-7/31 at home
Offense: Jacoby Ellsbury-CF, Dustin Pedroia-2B, Adrian Gonzalez-1B, Kevin Youkilis-3B, David Ortiz-DH, J.D. Drew-RF, Jed Lowrie-SS, Carl Crawford-LF, Jarrod Saltalamacchia-C. Bench: Jason Varitek-C, Josh Reddick-OF, Drew Sutton-IF.
Remember when the Red Sox sucked back in April? That 2-10 start quickly became a meaningless thing of the past, as Boston is currently in position to make the playoffs yet again. Jacoby Ellsbury is doing quite the job of quelling any fears that may have arisen from his injury-shortened 2010 season. The young Navajo is off to a hot start (.375 wOBA), especially in regards to his power numbers. Ellsbury is on pace to reach a double digit homerun total for the first time in his career having already belted 6 homeruns and 15 doubles. Combine this with his 18 stolen bases at a 75% efficiency rate and you have a very dangerous table setter. Expect him to run just about every time he's on first with second open this series. He is just about average in center field for his career. I don't know exactly what it is, but I've never been able to like Dustin Pedroia. It could stem from my inherent dislike of the Red Sox. It might have something to do with the fact that his balding and love of cribbage make me see him as some sort of terrifying Benjamin Button-like monstrosity. Maybe I just can't stand the hard-on the media gets for white grindy baseball players. The truth eludes me. But I do respect him as a player. The Laser Show was yet another Red Sox hitter to lose last season to the DL, though he hasn't bounced back as nicely as Ellsbury. Dustin's OBP and stolen base totals are right about where they should be, but his strikeout rate is noticeably higher than usual and his power seems to be missing as well. The power outage makes sense when you see that he's hitting 4.3% less line drives than normal and 7.8% more groundballs. The strikeout totals lose their mystery when you realize he's swinging at a great deal more pitches outside of the zone than he ever has before. He might be pressing a bit much, but it's hard to say definitively what's causing these anomalies. His defense has been just as stellar as ever though. There was a great deal of hype and hullabaloo regarding the giant step forward Adrian Gonzalez would be able to take as a power hitter moving away from Petco Park and into Fenway this winter. The hype was right. Gonzo (modern nicknames suck) has been strokin' it to the tune of a .404 wOBA. His BB% is way down and his BABIP is way up, but the effects of the two normalizing will all but even each other out and he'll still have a sweet left-handed swing that will deposit many balls into the seats by Pesky's Pole. Once Adrian becomes fully acclimated to the American League, things will be even more painful for pitchers in the East.Kevin Youkilis and his ridiculous batting stance moved back to the hot corner this year to accommodate his new teammate. While he's not exactly graceful at his new/old home in the infield, his bat hasn't suffered from the 127.28 ft shift. Youk never had an elite power bat, but getting 20-30 homeruns along with a .400ish OBP every year from one of your corner infielders is something most fans and General Managers would love to have. He doesn't swing at garbage and makes the pitcher throw him what he wants. It's a strategy that's worked pretty well for him so far (26.4 career fWAR). David Ortiz and his .399 wOBA are batting fifth in this lineup. Fifth. This is a very stacked nonet. Big Papi is having a career average year in his age 35 season. His days of hitting more than 40 homeruns in a season are long gone, but he should be able to keep going as a very successful DH for the next few seasons at least. His bat hasn't slowed down nearly enough for fastballs to trouble him. J.D. Drew continues to perpetuate the belief that he should take the field securely covered in bubble wrap. He's already taken one weekend off due to injuries and will probably wind up needing another few before the season is dead and gone. The much maligned outfielder is entering the last season of his contract with Boston and may have a hard time finding work (or at least a nice contract) this upcoming winter. Barring a hot streak, Drew won't hit more than 20 big flies. His bat is becoming little more than average much like his defense. He's had a great career but the end is fast approaching.
Jed Lowrie is a decent option at short stop, but doesn't look to have the makings of an All-Star career. He's below average defensively and possesses a bat only slightly above average. There isn't much to discuss meaning he'll probably go all Maicer Izturis on us. Carl Crawford has had a straight-up awful start to the season, though as of late he has been turning it around. Crawford hasn't been walking at all and has only stolen a mere 7 bases. 7 bases! This is a guy with 416 steals for his career!. The greatest all-around hitter in Rays franchise history signed his massive contract with Boston and has struggled more than Adam Dunn to live up to the wolf ticket his paychecks have signed. He still brings great defense to the equation and should turn things around before the season ends, though this will definitely go down as one of the (if not the) worst seasons of his career. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the only player I've ever wanted to quit because I hate typing his damn name. The fact that Boston seems comfortable enough handing over the starting catcher's role to a man who struggled throwing the ball back to the mound a year ago says something. I'm not sure what though. Probably "Shit we forgot that we needed to sign a catcher before February". Salty has good power, but sucks at getting on base and is straight up awful at throwing out baserunners. There should be an obscene amount of stolen bases from both teams during this series.
Pitching: Jon Lester-LHP Clay Buchholz-RHP, Josh Beckett-RHP, Alfredo Aceves-RHP, Tim Wakefield-RHP, Jonathan Papelbon-CL.
Jon Lester is one of the indisputable true aces in the game. A dominant lefty that can get 200+ strikeouts a year with a sub-3.50 ERA and 200+ innings pitched a year is one hell of a commodity. Throw in the the cancer-survivor story angle and the narrative you get from having him on your team practically writes itself. If Lester continues to reduce the amount of free passes he issues each year the sky is literally the limit. He's also been increasing the amount of grounders he gets. He's a hard pitcher to work around. Lester throws a low to mid-90's fastball a high-80's/low-90's cutter, a curveball, and a changeup. Unsurprisingly they're all plus pitches. Last season, Clay Buchholz proved that sometimes regression doesn't happen. Clay outperformed his peripherals by a shockingly large amount beating his xFIP by 1.74. This isn't to say that Mr. Buchholz isn't a good pitcher. He most certainly is, but he's not as good as his 2010 season made him seem. Despite his career GB% of 50.4%, he has a HR/9 of at least 1.20 three out of his last four seasons. When he misses his spots, he gets hit hard. His strikeout numbers stayed in the minors, as he hasn't crossed the 7 K/9 threshold since 2008 while not recording a BB/9 below 3.4 ever in the majors. Buchholz has a mid-90's four seamer, a low-90's two seamer, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup. The cutter is a new development, as he seems to have abandoned his successful slider. In half the innings, Josh Beckett has already been worth more than he was a year ago. The injury-prone righty needs to impress this season, or the Boston faithful may tear him apart for not earning his $15.75MM through 2014. When he's on and healthy, he's a great pitcher. He has good command and still gets the nice strikeout totals he used to as a young man with the Florida Marlins. He does so with a low to mid-90's four-seamer, a low-90's two-seamer, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup. They've all been plus pitches for him. Rather unsurprisingly, he's struggled with the long ball since joining the Junior Circuit.
Alredo Aceves is keeping holding down the fort until John Lackey can pitch again. Neat little fact: he wears number 91 to honor Dennis Rodman. Aceves is more of a reliever and spot starter than true starter, and as such his time in the rotation is most likely limited. He's simply not good enough to make it through 100+ innings a season. He gets by with a four-seam fastball in the low-90's, a two-seam fastball in the low-90's, a cutter, a curveball, and a changeup. Tim Wakefield (which I keep typing as Time) is a welcome breath of fresh air when it comes to writing a scouting report. The man throws knuckleballs. Everyone knows what's coming when he's on the mound it's just a matter of being able to do something with it. He's been the oldest player in the American League the past three years and running. He should be the guy who helps Juan Pierre get his baserunning mojo back. Jonathan Papelbon is most likely entering the last season of his Red Sox career. The All-Time franchise leader in saves will become more expensive than he's worth this November and it won't be shocking if Theo doesn't tender him an offer. Papelbon's BB/9 has been creeping upwards the past few seasons while his K/9 stagnates, which is the opposite of a recipe for success. He's still a good closer, but he isn't close to the top tier monster he once was. Jonathan has a mid-90's fastball, a splitter, and a slider. The fastball is his bread and butter, with the slider merely existing to keep hitters honest.
Outlook: We caught the BoSox at the wrong time of the season. 2-4 season record.