Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Red Sox Series Preview

Tuesday: John Lannan vs. Brad Penny

Wednesday: Craig Stammen vs. John Lester

Thursday: Jordan Zimmermann vs. John Smoltz

ESPN would like you to believe that the Red Sox are an unstoppable juggernaut that cannot be contained. They have seven dominating starters and an impenetrable bullpen and their 1 – 9 hitters are better than all yours. ESPN would put the Red Sox -130 against the NL All-Stars in a seven game series. Of course, most people at ESPN have no clue what they are talking about.

In truth, the Red Sox currently face a few of the same issues the Nationals have faced this year. First, both teams play awful defense. They rank 29th and 30th in UZR/150. About the only positive move that the Red Sox have been able to make to address this is to install Nick Green as the full time shortstop, and he is a career backup who has picked up most of his major league at bats due to injury (Marcus Giles, now Jed Lowrie). Despite his speed, Jacoby Ellsbury’s metrics have been poor, and Jason Bay is their version of Josh Willingham. Mike Lowell has been awful at third and has to have management considering moving Youkilis back over, although even Youk has been banged up. The horrible defense has made starters Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Jon Lester, and Dice-K look much worse than they have actually pitched, all posting an ERA-FIP of +0.50 or better. Detwiler, Stammen, and Zimmermann post similar numbers.

The second similarity is how each team has hit an offensive slump in June. Check out their numbers this month:
Pedroia: .178/.250/.455
Youkilis: .210/.372/.775
Bay: .246/.333/.783
Varitek: .190/.320/.653
Kotsay: .259/.286/.656
Lowell: .220/.299/.637
That is some ugliness right there. The only reason the Red Sox haven’t completely folded has been their pitching and David Ortiz’ Vitamin B-12 shipment finally clearing customs. The Nats have endured similar droughts, punctuated by Zimmerman’s recent .217/.313./631 slide (and 0-15 Toronto series) and Austin Kearns incomprehensible .063/.231/.293. Adam Dunn looks like he is not seeing the ball as well, and has resorted to slapping the ball on occasion.

The third is that they both have pitchers that they trying to exorcise. Dice-K is back on the DL with a minor shoulder strain, and Scott Olsen is floundering in AAA with diagnosed shoulder tendinitis. Management is struggling to figure out what to do with each once they are off the DL. The Nats at least have a reason to play Olsen, in an effort to keep their rookie innings down. The Red Sox have a front line starter rotting in AAA, and another rotting as a mop-up man.

The Red Sox do have more talented players; they paid out their backside for this roster. The Nats avoid the Red Sox two toughest tasks, Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield. The other guys are beatable. The chess match between the managers will be interesting. Manny will likely be tempted to go with the hideous Willingham/Dukes/Dunn outfield, but the team would be best served to give Harris two games in center and Dunn Wednesday off against Lester. I think Lannan gives the Red Sox a couple meatballs, but not enough to put the game out of reach. (Side note: uh, what is the deal with Brad Penny? The Red Sox have him listed at 230, way down from the 270 he was playing at with the Dodgers.) Two of three will be there for the taking again, as long as the bullpen continues to control damage.

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