Ichiro! (Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)
Last time the Red Sox had a two-game series, it was a merciful gesture from the scheduling gods, as Boston had to take on the Texas Rangers. (Who, in their short time in Boston, destroyed the confidence of fans and pitchers alike.) This time around, though, it's sadly just two games of Mariners on the slate.
Seattle is 16-20, with one more win and loss than Boston, so don't take that as being forgetful of this team's current place. But we're talking about a club with a lineup that can shield the Red Sox from their own glaring weakness in the rotation, and with a pitching staff that isn't likely to slow down Boston's own bats, especially without Felix Hernandez making an appearance.
It's not just Safeco that makes Seattle's lineup limp. By the park- and league-adjusted True Average, they rank #24 in the majors, with a well below-average .248 mark. If that's not your preferred flavor of offensive measure, their team OPS+ is 90. While they have a few productive hitters in Dustin Ackley, Ichiro Suzuki, Jesus Montero, and (apparently) Kyle Seager, they also have gaping, Chone-Figgins-sized holes in the lineup.
Game 1: Jason Vargas (51-2/3 IP, 2.9 K/BB, 138 ERA+) vs. Jon Lester (42 IP, 1.6 K/BB, 99 ERA+)
It's not that Vargas is bad -- he's been a mostly-useful pitcher for the Mariners since 2009 -- but he's likely not whatever he's been showing in 2012 to this point, either. He has a below-average strikeout rate, doesn't induce that many grounders (although more in 2012 than in years previous), and gives up more homers than you'd expect given his home park. He's the kind of pitcher who can have their bad night against a lineup like Boston's, even in its depleted form.
He'll be facing Jon Lester, who has a 1.9 K/BB over his last 119 innings pitched, a stretch with 502 batters faced. Why bring up such an arbitrary time frame? It began when Lester came off of the disabled list last July, and 500 batters faced is the sample in which K/BB ratio starts to become believable. Here's hoping tonight is the start of a different 100-plus inning stretch for Lester.
Beavan's got command down this year, but, just like in 2011, the ball has just flown off of opponent's bats. He's given up five homers in 33 innings, something Red Sox fans have become accustomed to seeing from their own starters this year. The long ball has been an issue for Beavan since he got to the high minors, and his 120-ish innings in the majors have done nothing to make you think that problem is going away.
He'll take on Beckett, who in one very short outing went from Boston's most-productive starter to halfway between the rest of the pack and Clay Buchholz. If he can hit his spots this time around -- and not tip his pitches, as Bobby Valentine believes he did -- then things should go back to how they were, in the before time.