Monthly Archives: April 2010

Minor League Roundup

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Though there are many baseball leagues yet to open the season at the minor league and independent level, there has been no shortage of news that has come out of the leagues that have been playing for a few weeks.

Reaching A Milestone

The Delmarva Shorebirds of the South Atlantic League has reason to celebrate the 2010 season already. The Single A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles won their 1,000th franchise victory on April 19th, defeating the Hagerstown Suns of the Washington Nationals organization 3-2.

The Shorebirds have a lot of major league experience that helped them reach their milestone in 2010 in former big leaguers Mike Devereaux and Troy Mattes. Devereaux begins his first season as a coach in the minor leagues. The Casper, Wyoming native played in 12 big league seasons for the Baltimore Orioles (1989-94, 96), Los Angeles Dodgers (1987-88, 98), Chicago White Sox (1995), Atlanta Braves (1995) and Texas Rangers (1997). He played in 1,086 career games. His finest big league season came in 1992 with the Orioles when he finished seventh in the MVP voted. He batted .276 with 24 homers and 107 RBIs. Devereaux was named the Orioles MVP that season. An interesting fact about Devereaux is that he hit the first homer by an Orioles player inside Camden Yards on April 8, 1992 against the Indians. Devereaux stared at Arizona State where he teamed with Oddibe McDowell and Barry Bonds to lead the Sun Devils to a runner-up finish in the 1984 College World Series.

New Shorebirds pitching coach Troy Mattes has seen his baseball career come full circle. As a 20-year old in 1996, Troy Mattes suited up for the Shorebirds during their inaugural season as an affiliate of the Montreal Expos. He finished 10-9 with a 2.87 ERA in 27 starts. He formed an outstanding 1-2 punch with future major leaguer Javier Vazquez. The 34-year played in one big league season for the Expos in 2001. In eight starts, he finished 3-3 with a 6.00 ERA. Mattes was the pitching coach for the Bluefield Orioles during each of the last three seasons.

As the Shorebirds head towards another 1,000 victories, there’s no doubt there is a major league presence behind their drive.

Going The Distance

So far in 2010, April 28th and 29th should be remembered as the days pitchers ruled the ballfield. The starting pitcher for the Triple A Norfolk Tides, Chris Tillman, kicked off the dominating performances on Wednesday, April 28th when he threw a no hitter against the Gwinnett Braves. The 22 year old right hander, originally acquired by Baltimore Orioles organization in the 2008 trade that sent Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners, allowed just one walk in his second solid start in a week. Tillman made 12 starts for the Orioles in 2009 and, despite the 2-5 record with a 5.40 ERA, showed an ability to match up against offensive powers such as the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It’s a safe bet that major league hitters have not seen the last of Chris Tillman, especially after such a dominating game against the Gwinnett Braves.

The New York Mets may not have to look very far if they suddenly seek quality pitching to shore up their starting rotation. The answer may be playing for their Triple A affiliate. Buffalo Bisons starter R.A. Dickey has come a long way from his days as a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic Baseball team that won a bronze medal at the Atlanta summer games. Drafted by the Texas Rangers in 1996, he reached the major leagues by 2001, and managed to stay at the top level of baseball by the 2003 season. Since 2006, he has changed uniforms several times and most recently joined the Mets organization with a minor league deal and a spring training invitation. After opening the season with a loss by allowing 6 runs in 4.2 innings of work, the veteran knuckleballer has dominated the International League to the tune of a 3-1 record with a 2.33 earned run average. Last night was a special night for Dickey and the Bisons. After allowing a lead off single, R.A. Dickey used just 90 pitches to retire 27 straight Durham Bulls in a 4-0 victory.

On the same day, 1,300 miles away, a pitcher with just 4 professional games under his belt was doing his best to make April 29th, 2010 a day to remember for minor league pitching. Kyle Gibson, of the Minnesota Twins’ Single A Fort Myers Miracle of the Florida State League, pulled off his own miracle when he threw a 1 hitter against the Jupiter Hammerheads. The 22 year old first round pick now has a 1.76 earned run average on the season, and has rebounded from a rough first professional start by allowing just 3 runs in 27 innings since then. As the season progresses, you may find more coverage of this young right hander on Baseball Digest.com before long.

Who Let The Dogs Out

A little something on the lighter side.

During the opening week of their season, the Northwest Arkansas Naturals held a pet adoption promotion which included having some animals brought onto the field. The Double A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals had an incident on the field that had absolutely nothing to do with the action of the game. Instead, the focus was on a loose pup who made a mad dash onto the field and for going number two!

After a one week hiatus, the Minor League Spotlight returns on its regular Monday schedule with the long overdue preview of the oldest and longest running minor league baseball club, the Rochester Red Wings of the International League.

Series Notes: Boston Red Sox vs. Baltimore Orioles

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

The Boston Red Sox head into Baltimore hoping to build upon their resurgence. Since being swept in a four game set by the Tampa Bay Rays, the Red Sox have won 7 of their last 9 games including a 3 game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Too Close For Comfort

Over the last 9 games, every Red Sox game has been decided by 3 runs or less. All 7 Red Sox victories were decided by 2 runs or less, including the 12 inning, 8-7 victory over the Texas Rangers last Wednesday. While all of the pre-season reports on the Red Sox emphasis on pitching and defense, it’s slightly alarming that the team has matched up so well with the Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles while struggling to contain the offensive juggernauts of the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays.

This concern may be unfounded, as it appears Jon Lester has rebounded from his annual April slump to start the season. Over his career in April his record is 3-6 with an ERA of 4.76 in April, easily the worst of the entire season. Coupled with Clay Buchholz’s strong season to date, and the feeling that John Lackey and Josh Beckett will rise to the occasion, the latest surge by the Red Sox might be an indication of what we should expect here on out.

Dice-K In, Wakefield To The ‘Pen

Daisuke Matsuzaka makes his 2010 debut on Saturday after making several rehab starts with the Pawtucket Red Sox. His spot in the rotation bumps Tim Wakefield to the bullpen, which he hasn’t worked out of since 2004 and not regularly since 2002. The guess here is Wakefield will stay on a similar schedule for pitching as Dice-K does for his rotation spot, in the event he struggles at all. Considering Wakefield’s previous back injuries, his age, and his general dislike of working out of the ‘pen, the Red Sox may use him in the long-man role. Since the new ownership took over in 2002, the Red Sox have not employed a long-man in a set up role. Basically, this is unchartered territory for the team since they don’t regularly have relief pitchers throw more than 2 innings on a regular basis.

The 5th spot in the rotation may be a revolving door, depending on unforeseen injuries, and right now Daisuke Matsuzaka is walking through that door.

Bottom Line

The Boston Red Sox may sweep the Baltimore Orioles this weekend, or at the very least take 2 of 3. A strong performance from the starters is key, but there is also the concern for the slumping bat of David Ortiz. Already limited to platooning against right handed pitching, if he contonies to struggle, the questions will get louder about whether or not Big Papi will regain the power that he discovered in June of last season.

Every series is important, but the Red Sox should also tune up this weekend in preparation for the next two series when they host the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the New York Yankees.

Series Notes: Baltimore Orioles vs. Boston Red Sox

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

The Boston Red Sox continue their home stand with the visiting Baltimore Orioles, and hope to finally put their offensive struggles behind them.

April 23rd, Jeremy Guthrie vs. Jon Lester

Guthrie vs. Red Sox hitters

Jeremy Guthrie was 0-3 against the Red Sox in 2009, but held the team to just 3 runs in 5.2 innings in his final start against them. David Ortiz is expected back in the lineup against Guthrie since he’s a right handed pitcher, and in the past Ortiz has hit him well with 2 home runs in July of last season. Considering Ortiz remains mired in an early season slump, this may be the opportunity he should take advantage of to finally break out in a big way. Ortiz is hitless in his last 8 at bats. Dustin Pedroia and J.D. Drew round out the hitters who have gotten good hacks against Guthrie. On the other hand, Mike Lowell and Adrian Beltre have combined to collect 5 hits in 41 at bats against Guthrie.

Jon Lester vs. Orioles hitters

Jon Lester was 4-0 against the Baltimore Orioles in 2009, allowing just 5 runs in 27 innings of work. In his career, he is 10-0 with a 2.75 ERA. Despite the dominance, there are several players in the Orioles lineup that have hit Lester well. In particular, Miguel Tejada has gotten a hit in every game he’s played against Lester. The Baltimore disabled list holds a few players who have hit Lester well, namely Felix Pie and Brian Roberts. Nick Markakis has 10 strikeouts in 35 at bats against Lester.

April 24th, Brian Matusz vs. John Lackey

Matusz vs. Red Sox hitters

Marco Scutaro is the only current Red Sox player who has faced 23 year old Brian Matusz. In just the second start of his career, Scutaro took Matusz deep in an eventual 7-3 Blue Jays victory over the Orioles. If history is any indication, the Red Sox offense may struggle against the young lefty. Like other young lefties before him, David Price and Scott Kazmir come to mind, Matusz may stay on top of the offense.

Lackey vs. Orioles hitters

John Lackey has a career 8-3 record against the Baltimore Orioles in 12 starts as an Angel, including 2-0 in 2009, allowing just 3 runs in 15 innings. Miguel Tejada hasn’t faced Lackey since 2007, but it’s worth mentioning that he homered off the righty in their last matchup. The majority of the Orioles lineup have faced Lackey just a few times. Luke Scott has hit Lackey well in very few at bats, with 2 home runs in just 4 at bats.

April 25th, David Hernandez vs. Tim Wakefield

Hernandez vs. Red Sox hittters

David Hernandez’s rookie year of 2009 saw a lot of ups and downs. While he finished the season with 4-10 record and an ERA skyrocketing near 6.00, he pitched well during parts of the season. This was especially true when he pitched against the Red Sox. In a late July start, Hernandez limited the Red Sox to 1 run over 7 innings, and a week later couldn’t finish the 5th inning against Boston. In a September game, the Red Sox knocked Hernandez around for 6 runs in less than 3 innings of work, and he rebounded a few weeks later by allowing just 3 runs in 6 innings. The Red Sox collectively hit Hernandez at nearly a .300 clip, but Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis are worth keeping an eye on in particular. The pair have 5 home runs off Hernandez between them.

Wakefield vs. Orioles hitters

The Red Sox have announced that Daisuke Matsuzaka will replace Tim Wakefield in the rotation, and his Sunday start against the Orioles will be his last regular turn in the rotation. It’s unclear what this means as Wakefield has previously stated that one of his goals is to become the all-time franchise leader in wins. He is currently 18 wins away from the all-time lead, trailing Roger Clemens and Cy Young with 192. Though Wakefield will head to the bullpen, the guess here is he will be inserted back into the rotation when an injury crops up or an opportunity arises where a starter can be skipped to give them some rest. The move makes a lot of sense, though it’s incredible to consider that this could be the final start for Wakefield as a member of the Boston Red Sox.

As far as the Orioles are concerned, Wakefield has had his own struggles over the course of his career. Though he hasn’t faced the Orioles since 2008, he alternated success against the Orioles on a year-to-year basis. For example, in 2008 he limited the O’s to just 3 runs over 14 innings of work. In 2007, he allowed 9 runs in 10.2 innings against the O’s. With the return of Miguel Tejada to Baltimore, Wakefield may want to tread lightly. Tejada has 5 home runs against the knuckleballer, while hitting .319 in 72 at bats. Other than Tejada and Cesar Izturis though, the Orioles lack the power numbers against Wakefield.

Fess Up: In the Series Notes before the series against the Texas Rangers, I predicted the Red Sox would take 2 of 3 from the Rangers behind strong starts by Tim Wakefield and Josh Beckett. While they did take 2 of 3, the best starter of the series was not the player I had guessed. Wakefield and Beckett gave up 6 and 7 runs in their starts, while Clay Buchholz struck out 10 and allowed just 3 runs in 6.2 innings.

Series Prediction: If the Red Sox hope to take this series, their offense will need to finally break out. The guess here is the Red Sox will take 2 of 3 from the Orioles, on the backs of strong pitching and a long overdue offensive outburst.

Thanks to M.K. for the photo of Fenway Park on Patriot’s Day!

Red Sox Hope To Rebound Against Texas

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

In the preview heading into the Red Sox/Rays 4 game series over the weekend, my Series Notes suggested that the Red Sox would split the set behind strong Jon Lester and John Lackey starts. Not only did Lester and Lackey struggle, they were smacked around to the tune of a combined 15 runs on 16 hits. Outscored 24-9 over 4 games, the Red Sox limp into their series against the Texas Rangers. Though the Rangers are coming off a sweep of their own at the hands of the New York Yankees, expecting an automatic series win is out of the question.

From the series with the Tampa Bay Rays:

The Good: Since Scott Atchison gave up a pair of runs in his 2 innings of work on Saturday night, the Red Sox bullpen collectively has thrown 10 and 2/3rd innings of scoreless baseball in relief over the final 20 innings of the series. Jason Varitek has shown early signs that he is thriving in his role as a backup. Playing in the Rays series was his first appearance since April 10th, and Tek responded with three hits including a homer on the series opener.

The Bad: The Rays stole early, often, and regularly against both Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez. The Rays racked up 10 stolen bases over the series to Boston’s total of zero! Coupling the stolen bases with 16 walks issued by Red Sox pitchers and 5 errors by the Red Sox defense, the Rays simply ran all over the Red Sox.

The Ugly: Red Sox outfielder Mike Cameron was signed during the off-season, in part, to provide some breathing room for the development of the outfield prospect Josh Reddick. For at least the next 2 weeks, it looks like Reddick will be giving Cameron breathing room to recover. After the Rays series concluded, the Red Sox announced that Mike Cameron was headed to the disabled list due to an abdominal tear and Josh Reddick will be taking his spot on the roster.

As the Red Sox prepare for the upcoming series against the Texas Rangers, they have to be expecting a reverse of fortune in the field, on the mound, and at the plate.

April 20, Colby Lewis vs. Tim Wakefield

Colby Lewis vs. Red Sox hitters

Colby Lewis has not seen a lot of the Red Sox hitters over his 6 year career. Though, Colby Lewis hails from the same school of baseball that Red Sox pitcher Scott Atchison comes from and recently returned to the major leagues for the first time since 2007. Like Atchison, Lewis spent the last two seasons playing in Japan. In a small sample size from his earlier season, the Red Sox collectively have 6 hits in 34 at bats with 9 strikeouts. David Ortiz has the best success, homering off Lewis in 2 of his 4 at bats, the last coming in July of 2003. Perhaps Ortiz finally finds his home run stroke with the help of Colby Lewis.

Tim Wakefield vs. Rangers hitters

Tim Wakefield, on the other hand, has quite a bit of history with a few players on the Texas Rangers. Vladimir Guerrero has 9 hits in 21 at bats against Wakefield, including 5 home runs. He has been intentionally walked 5 times, more than any other hitter who has faced the knuckleballer. Simply put, Guerrero owns Wakefield. Only Michael Young has more hits off Wakefield, though spread out over twice as many at bats as Guerrero. Young heads into the Red Sox series riding a 4 game hitting streak where 3 of those games were multi-hit games. Of the rest of the Rangers lineup, only Josh Hamilton has had much success against the Red Sox starter, with 2 hits in 6 at bats.

April 21st, Matt Harrison vs. Josh Beckett

Matt Harrison vs. Red Sox hitters

On Wednesday, Matt Harrison faces the Red Sox for the first time since 2008, when he earned the victory for Texas in a 15-8 September game by pitching 6 innings of 4 run ball. Other than Adrian Beltre, no Red Sox hitter has faced him extensively. Beltre has 4 hits in 10 at bats including a home run, and Mike Lowell had a pair of hits in 3 at bats against the Texas starter. This might be a good opportunity to squeeze a few at bats in for Lowell.

Josh Beckett vs. Rangers hitters

Josh Beckett has faced many of the Rangers hitters at least a few times, and a number of them have at least a hit in a few at bats. Vladimir Guerrero has whacked 8 hits off Beckett in 31 at bats, including 2 home runs, but Beckett has struck him out 7 times as well, limiting him to a .242 average against the right hander.Though the Red Sox struggled against the Rays, Beckett pitched well in his last game out, and if last season is any indication, Beckett has trended towards righting his ship after a few rough early starts.

April 22nd, C.J. Wilson vs. Clay Buchholz

C.J. Wilson vs. Red Sox hitters

C.J. Wilson has kept the Red Sox off-balanced over the years as a relief pitcher, and 2010 marks his return to the starting rotation for the first time since his rookie year in 2005. Adrian Beltre has had some success with a home run in the few at bats against Wilson, but by and large the Sox have been fairly quiet as a lineup.

Clay Buchholz vs. Rangers hitters

In an extreme small sample size, the Rangers collectively hit Buchholz to the tune of .364 with 12 hits in 33 at bats. Two years ago and a day, on April 21st 2008, Buchholz made his first start against the Texas Rangers and threw 6 scoreless innings in an 8-3 victory in Texas. Vladimir Guerrero has 4 hits in 9 at bats against Buchholz, and is always a threat for the long ball.

Fess Up: As noted above, and the results speak for themselves, I was wrong in the assessment that the Red Sox would split the series against the Rangers. Worse than that, both Lester and Lackey were lit up in their matchups against the Rays.

Series Prediction: The Rangers are coming off a three game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, and mainly because their starting pitching failed in spectacular fashion. Not unlike the Red Sox in the final two games of their series against the Rays. The Rangers offense has also been quiet, which means this series could turn into a series of high scoring slobberknockers if neither team’s pitching staff can right their ships. Based on Tim Wakefield’s previous years with early season success, and Josh Beckett’s relatively solid start to the season, it is likely the Boston Red Sox will take 2 of 3 from the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park.

Thanks to K.P. for the Fenway Park photo!

Minor League Spotlight: Pittsfield Colonials

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

Since Wahconah Park opened in 1919 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, it has been home to more than 15 teams representing 9 major league organizations in addition tobeing home to independent league and collegiate baseball teams. Dozens of former and future major leaguers have roamed the field of Wahconah Park, perhaps most notably Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk and future Hall of Famer, Greg Maddux. Most recently, the Pittsfield American Defenders of the New England Collegiate Baseball League called Wahconah Park home.

The American Defenders are one of the two oldest collegiate baseball teams, but during the winter of 2009 the team moved back to its original state of Connecticut. However, it wasn’t long before there was a return of professional baseball to the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

Another team with the same name as the previous club, the American Defenders of the Can-Am League, had recently vacated their home in Nashua, New Hampshire after 11 seasons that included a pair of league championship titles, changing leagues once and a franchise name change. An original member of the Atlantic League that was formed in 1998, the franchise joined the Can-Am League at the beginning of the 2006 season. The arrival of the Pittsfield Colonials is the first independent league ballclub to play at Wahconah Park since the Berkshire Black Bears in 2003.

The team from Nashua bring their own lineage of history to Pittsfield, with several former and current major league players that played with the club in their former location. Several notable players from the Boston Red Sox including Rich Garces, Paxton Crawford, Curtis Pride and Sam Horn donned the hometown uniform just north of Boston. Current Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Brendan Donnelly played with the franchise in 1999. Colonials skipper, Brian Daubach, comes full circle as he played minor league ball with the Pittsfield Mets during the 1992 season.

As the team prepares for their opening season at one of the oldest ballparks in the United States, the general manager of the Pittsfield Colonials took some time to answer a few questions about his team and their new home.

Baseball Digest: Wahconah Park has had a long history of affiliations with major league baseball, and has seen more than a few players who bacame or will eventually be future Hall of Famers play at the 91 year old ballpark. More recently, the independent Berkshire Black Bears and Dan Duquette’s Pittsfield Dukes have called the park home. Can you tell us a little bit about the transitioning of the team that moves from New Hampshire to western Massachusetts? Aside from the name change, what else can we expect with the new location?

Greg Martin: There will be a greater focus on Pittsfield baseball history and Wahconah Park history with an approach that blends the past and modern ball. Home and road uniforms will reflect early 1900’s, which will be a pro-ball first, outfitting a club in vintage uniforms since the early 1900’s. There will be a strong effort to create a ballpark experience that is more back to the basics, letting the game sell itself and not excessive in-game events or special effects.
BD: Wahconah Park has undergone a few upgrades over the years, most recently while Dan Duquette’s Pittsfield Dukes played there. Are there any plans for additional renovations?

GM: The city of Pittsfield just completed $750,000 of renovationas which included a new infield, irrigation system, public restrooms, ballpark painting and a repaved parking lot. An additional $750,000 renovation is planned, and may include a makeover for the front facade of the ballpark to better reflect the historic interior.

BD: After serving as the hitting coach of the Nashua Pride in 2008, Brian Daubach was named the manager of the American Defenders in 2009. Will Daubach be returning for the inaugural season with the Colonials? To piggyback that question, are the Colonials expected to have any major changes to their coaching staff?

GM: Brian Daubach will return as the skipper of the Pittsfield Colonials, though the rest of the coaching staff has not yet been named.

BD: The Can-Am League has always had a few former and future major leaguers throughout the league rosters, are there any signings by the Colonials on the horizon that fans might want to keep an eye out for?

GM: Daubach is currently assembling the roster through free agent signings and local, regional and national upcoming tryout camps. Typically, independent rosters contain a few namesakes and with Brian’s MLB connection, could include a couple of surprises.

The Pittsfield Colonials website is constantly being updated as their inaugural season at Wahconah Park nears, but you can find great information about the season there as well as on their Facebook Fan Page, which is loaded with tidbits about the players that make up their roster and promotions that the team will offer during the season.

The Colonials open Wahconah Park on May 23rd, 2010 with an exhibition game against Worcester, with all proceeds of the game(tickets at $1) going to benefit the Berkshire Medical Center. They open their season at home the following Monday, May 31st, against the New Jersey Jackals. The Minor League Spotlight will follow the Colonials during their first season in Pittsfield, and provide an update as their season gets underway.

A big thanks to Greg Martin for taking time to answer a few questions for Baseball Digest during the busy weeks leading up to opening day.

Previous Spotlights:

Bus Leagues Baseball

Birmingham Barons

Next Week: As a two-part series, the Minor League Spotlight will showcase one of the oldest minor league teams in history, the Rochester Red Wings. Later in the week, there will be a preview of a newly released book that chronicles the historic club that famously took part in the longest professional baseball game in history(at 33 innings!).

Series Notes: Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox

After a 3-3 road trip through Minnesota and Kansas City, the Boston Red Sox return to Fenway Park for the first time since dropping 2 of 3 against the New York Yankees in the Opening Week series. The four game series against the Tampa Bay Rays concludes on Monday, April 19th, with a special Patriot’s Day game time of 11:05AM to accommodate the 114th Boston Marathon.

April 16th – Wade Davis vs. Josh Beckett

Wade Davis vs. Red Sox hitters

The 24 year old right hander faced the Red Sox in his second career start last September. In just 2.2 innings, Davis was knocked around for 8 runs on 6 hits and 4 walks. He is coming off a 6 inning season debut against the New York Yankees where he gave up 4 runs on 7 hits and 4 walks. If Davis continues his early struggles with walks, the Red Sox may capitalize on those mistakes.

Josh Beckett vs. Rays hitters

Though the numbers Beckett has against the Rays hitters are of the small sample size variety, it’s worth noting that Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Jason Bartlett are all hitting .300 or better in their careers against him. Willy Aybar has an extreme small sample size of success against Beckett with 4 hits in 7 at bats. Beckett faced the Rays 5 times in 2009, and he fared much better at Fenway than Tropicana Field. Over the last two seasons, Beckett has pitched well against the Rays in Fenway Park.

April 17th – James Shields vs. Clay Buchholz

James Shields vs. Red Sox hitters

James Shields has a similar problem that Josh Beckett has with the Rays, in that he struggles against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, and pitches well enough to win at his home field. His career ERA is over 8.00 at Fenway Park, including a 6.75 ERA in 3 starts in 2009. As a team, the Red Sox have hit .280 against Shields with 7 home runs in 265 at bats.

Clay Buchholz vs. Rays hitters

Buchholz pitched well against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009 in two starts, including a 7 inning 1 run performance at Fenway Park. As a team the Rays have hit .222 against Buchholz in their careers, with Ben Zobrist and B.J. Upton having the most success. A notable number is Evan Longoria’s .182 average against Buchholz in just 11 at bats.

April 18th – Matt Garza vs. Jon Lester

Matt Garza vs. Red Sox hitters

For Red Sox fans, it’s too bad that Jacoby Ellsbury may very well miss this series and hit the disabled list. He has more success against Matt Garza than any other player on the roster. In 3 Fenway Park starts, Garza averaged about 7 innings per start and had an ERA of 2.95. Two players to keep an eye on are Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. Despite their poor overall numbers against Garza, both players have hit a pair of home runs off the right hander.

Jon Lester vs. Rays hitters

Jon Lester struggled mightily against the Rays early in 2009, to the tune of 13 runs off 18 hits in 9.1 innings over 2 starts last April at Fenway Park. Carlos Pena leads the Rays in home runs off Lester with 4, and 5 of the Rays regulars hit .286 or better against Lester. Despite these odds, it’s worth noting that Lester threw 8 innings of shutout ball against the Rays late in 2009.

April 19th – Jeff Niemann vs. John Lackey

Jeff Niemann vs. Red Sox hitters

The Red Sox knocked Jeff Niemann around for 6 runs over 3 innings in his only start against the Red Sox last May. After stumbling to start the season, Niemann rebounded and pitched well the rest of the way, winning 13 games with a sub 4.00 ERA on the season. Overall, only shortstop Marco Scutaro has faced Niemann more than 10 times, and he has just 1 hit in 11 at bats. Niemann’s strong 2010 start suggests that the Red Sox may have some work to do if they hope to duplicate their success of last season’s May start.

John Lackey vs. Rays hitters

John Lackey makes his second start at Fenway on Patriot’s Day, against the team that knocked him around in one start during the 2009 season. Looking at the numbers, Lackey must contain Carl Crawford and keep Ben Zobrist off-balanced. Crawford owns a .394 average against Lackey in 34 at bats, and Zobrist has 2 hits in 2 at bats. Meanwhile, B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro are combined 4 for 35 against the big right hander. Lackey should pitch carefully to Carlos Pena, who has 2 home runs against him.

Fess Up: In the last Series Notes, I predicted the Red Sox would take 2 of 3 from the Minnesota Twins. I was wrong, as the Twins won 2 of 3 from the Red Sox! The opening game of Target Field was low scoring, but it wasn’t the pitching duel I expected, and it turns out the Red Sox offense only overwhelmed the Minnesota pitching staff in one game.

Series Prediction: The Red Sox are trying to sort out their middle relief pitching in addition to playing through the anemic start from David Ortiz. Scott Atchison, Scott Schoeneweis, Ramon Ramirez and even Jonathan Papelbon have shown early cracks that could easily ruin a strong start by any member of the Red Sox rotation. J.D. Drew’s .143 batting average lays below even David Ortiz, and could put him in the spotlight of media and fan criticism if things do not change during the long set against the Tampa Bay Rays. With all these things considered, the Red Sox will split the 4 game set with the Rays, likely winning strong starts by Jon Lester and John Lackey.

Series Notes: Boston Red Sox vs. Minnesota Twins

This post first appeared on BaseballDigest.com

The Minnesota Twins host the Boston Red Sox to open their new ballpark at Target Field. After playing in the Metrodome where ground balls would roll forever, they’re playing in an open air stadium with real grass! It will be interesting to see how this changes the games played in Minnesota.

April 12th – Jon Lester vs. Carl Pavano

Carl Pavano vs. Red Sox hitters

In Carl Pavano’s one start against the Red Sox in 2009, he threw six innings and allowed 2 runs on 6 hits. The major additions to the Red Sox lineup may favor a Boston win tonight. Newcomers Marco Scutaro, Bill Hall, Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez are combined 16 for 48 with 7 extra base hits.

David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, and Jason Varitek are combined 14 fot 28 against Pavano, which could spell the end of David Ortiz’s early season struggles.

Jon Lester vs. Twins hitters

Lester’s one start against the Twins in 2009 was a turning point of sorts for the lefty starter. After giving up 5 runs to the Twins over 6 innings, Lester’s season earned run average peaked over 6.00. After the May 26th start, Lester didn’t allow 5 runs in a game until his second to last start of the season against the New York Yankees.

Part of Lester’s struggles involved Justin Morneau, who has 4 hits in 10 at bats, including a home run in that May 26th start. Brendan Harris has 8 hits in 18 at bats against Lester, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see him get an at bat against the lefty. In small-sample-size at bats, newcomer Jim Thome and Denard Span have hit Lester as well.

April 14th – John Lackey vs. Kevin Slowey

Kevin Slowey vs. Red Sox hitters

In his one start against the Red Sox in 2009, Slowey kept the Boston offense to 2 runs in 6 innings. No one currently on the Red Sox has a home run against him. However, Mike Lowell, Adrian Beltre and Victory Martinez are combined 12 for 20 against the righty with 3 doubles. Newcomers Marco Scutaro and Bill Hall are a combined 4 for 19 against Slowey.

John Lackey vs. Twins hitters

John Lackey cannot contain Joe Mauer. The reigning AL MVP hit home runs in each of the last two at bats against Lackey, and has 9 hits in 20 at bats. After Michael Cuddyer’s .313 vs. Lackey, the rest of the Twins lineup has some problems facing the big right hander. In his only start against the Twins in 2009, Lackey limited the damage to two solo shots by Mauer.

April 15th – Tim Wakefield vs. Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano vs. Red Sox hitters

Liriano faced the Red Sox twice in 2009, and gave up a total of 12 runs on 15 hits in 8 innings of work. Not surprisingly, the Red Sox lineup hits a collective .351 against the 26 year old lefty. Jason Varitek is the only hitter on the Red Sox without a hit against Liriano. Even Tug Hulett has a hit in his single at bat against Liriano.

Tim Wakefield vs. Twins hitters

Tim Wakefield’s last start in Minnesota came in 2008 and he gave up 7 runs in 2.2 innings of work. He had some success against the Twins in the Metrodome before then, so it will be interesting to see if the outdoor temperatures of Target Field have an impact on Wakefield’s knuckleball. Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are 11 for 28 against Wakefield, while the rest of the lineup has struggled against the specialty pitcher. Jim Thome leads the Twins in career home runs against Wakefield with three, but two of them came more than a decade ago.

Fess Up: In my last series prediction between the Red Sox and Royals, I said the Red Sox would take 2 of 3 and likely lose the matchup against Zach Greinke. I was wrong about which games they won, but I was right that Mike Lowell finally saw some playing time and had himself a hit.

Series Prediction: The new ballpark of Target Field leaves a lot of questions as far as how the ball will travel, but I think we will see a pitching duel to open the Twins’ new ballpark, and at least one game where the Twins pitching staff will be overwhelmed by Boston’s offense. The Boston Red Sox will take 2 of 3 from the Minnesota Twins.