This should be an exciting series.
To start, there's the obvious: Manny is back, and will face the club that has defined his major league career for the first time since his controversial departure in '08. Do we cheer? Do we boo? Does anyone care? Will Manny "make us pay," or will we leave with no more regrets than we came in with? It's sure to give whoever ends up broadcasting the second and third games endless material to blather on about. I'll spare you any more.
Then there's the situation in the division. The last time the Sox were down just two games in the AL East was April 14. It's been a long time since then, but with the Rays entering a bit of a tailspin and the Yankees finally faltering against the Phillies, the Sox have finally put themselves within shooting distance of both targets. Both teams face their in-state rivals over the next few days, as the Rays head to Miami to take on a weak Marlins team and the Yankees face the surprising Mets in New Yankee Stadium. We'll see whether or not the Sox even get a chance to close the gap over the next few days.
If they do, though, it will be no easy task. In spite of all the off-field drama surrounding the ownership, the Dodgers are once again putting together a solid record to lead a very tight NL West. Let's get down to the nitty gritty and see if the Dodgers are all they're cracked up to be.
The first thing that jumps out upon any scrutiny is LA's run differential. Despite sitting a whole ten games over .500, the Dodgers have only scored twelve more runs than they've allowed. A lot of that might come from their 15-7 record in one run games, but generally these are the sort of results that suggest a team that's playing over their heads.
The problem for the Dodgers hasn't been scoring runs (at least for an NL team), but keeping them off the board. With one of the worst ERAs in the National League, the Dodgers woes are more the result of bad gloves than bad arms. Ranked poorly by both UZR and DRS, the Dodgers pitchers have been killed by big holes at nearly every position. In fact, the only starter who ranks in at above average this year is the typically mediocre Rafael Furcal at short. The biggest holes can be found in center and right field, where Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier have already cost their team a combined twenty five runs by both UZR and DRS. That's not where you want your weakness to be in Fenway. If the Dodgers DH Manny and let Reed Johnson play left field, it would be of some help, but really just a drop in an ocean of incompetence.
The pitching matchups is where things will get really interesting. The first game features a rookie matchup, as Felix Doubront will make his Major League debut for the Red Sox against Dodgers youngster Carlos Monasterios. Monasterios will be making his fifth straight start after relieving for most of the series. While Doubront is an unknown quantity against top-quality hitters, what's been shown by Monasterios has been entirely unimpressive. Generally speaking, having a K/9 just one higher than your BB/9 is a bad thing, as is the case for Monasterios. While he's been able to avoid trouble some in his outings from the pen, it's been tougher going as a starter, and hopefully the Sox will be able to solve him quickly and get into the pen early.
The second night will have the never-predictable Tim Wakefield against Vincente Padilla, making his first start in nearly two months after a trip to the DL. Padilla struggled in his last outing in Triple-A, allowing two homers and six runs (four earned) without finishing the sixth inning. Again, a pitcher the Sox should have a good chance to put up some big numbers against given the situation.
Sunday will see the teams throw their best starters of the series against eachother as the Sox pit Clay Buchholz against Hiroki Kuroda. Kuroda has been very effective so far this year, and will not be giving up many free passes. Whether the Sox can work with what he gives them will determine their success.
The Sox will want to get past the starters early if they want to get to the bullpen and actually do some damage. While at no point is the Dodgers' pen particularly weak, when it gets to the back end, it can be untouchable. With a combination of Hong-Chih Kuo and perhaps the best closer in the game in Jonathan Broxton, if the Dodgers get to the late innings with a lead, it could be lights out.
Offensively, the Dodgers have a reputation of being a big time offensive team, but so far this year they rank in as fairly middling by wOBA, both overall and in the NL. Ethier and Manny are both very dangerous, of course, and Furcal, Loney, and Blake are all above average bats (if not positionally speaking when it comes to Loney), but they're not getting what you might have expected a few years back from Matt Kemp or especially the still missing Russell Martin. They're certainly no pushovers, and the addition of a DH should help a good bit, but they likely won't live up to the threat the Diamondbacks posed.
With two division races very much in play, the return of Manny, rookie debuts, DL returns, and a fair bit of animosity city-wise, the stage is set for drama. Let's hope the Sox continue their winning ways.