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
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.
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 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.
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
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 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
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 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.