After yesterday's loss, Daniel Bard was asked how the Sox could come back from that sort of a letdown.
Well put, Mr. Bard, but no easy task. After all, at 65-48 the Rangers have the better record, their run differential is better, and they will be at home.
At least they don't have Cliff Lee going, right?
Texas is a team that was built a few years ago on a ridiculous lineup, and hasn't quite been able to shake that reputation since. And certainly they aren't half bad at that aspect of the game. The seventh highest team wOBA, the fourth most runs scored, and one of the longer lineups in the league.
The ridiculous combination of Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz would perhaps be the best 3-4 in baseball were it not often separated by the revived Vladmir Guerrero. Andrus isn't exactly an offensive force, but does his job in the leadoff roll, and the combination of David Murphy and Michael Young fill out the heart of the order nicely. On any given day the bottom three aren't going to be horribly impressive, but everywhere else there's trouble.
Despite that reputation though, the real cause of this team's success is their run prevention. A solid defense backs up a team with one of the lowest ERAs in the league...but curiously one of the higher FIPs. And generally speaking, it's the luckiest--if also the best--of the staff (minus Lee) that the Sox will be taking on in this series.
Beckett vs. Hunter
|2010 - Josh Beckett||3-2||12||12||0||0||0||0||71.0||81||52||49||8||25||64||6.21||1.49|
|2010 - Tommy Hunter||9-1||11||12||1||0||0||0||71.2||67||26||24||9||18||38||3.01||1.19|
If there's one guy who is the poster boy for this staff and how it's gotten by, it's gotta be Tommy Hunter. Between a .257 BABIP, a slightly low HR/FB rate (especially given the park), and a strand rate of 82%, Hunter has an ERA a good point-and-a-half beneath his FIP. How much of that is his defense and how much of that is luck isn't clear, but what is clear is that he's not going to strike guys out, and he's not going to walk them either. If the Sox can get in good battles and foul pitches off, they can hopefully find the pitch they want and make good contact.
Beckett, on the other hand, is as ever the exact opposite. The Texan returns home with an ERA about two runs worse than what his peripherals speak to. He's coming off a disastrous start against the Yankees, but they always hit him. A good performance against one of the better offenses in the league would go a long way to restoring the faith we gained over the three games before the collapse in the Bronx.
Lester vs. Lewis
|2010 - Jon Lester||12-7||23||23||2||0||0||0||153.0||122||55||50||10||55||160||2.94||1.16|
|2010 - Colby Lewis||9-8||22||22||1||0||0||0||141.2||116||55||53||15||47||141||3.37||1.15|
Lewis, on the other hand, has just been a plain good pitcher this year. No question about it. He's been pretty consistent about it throughout the year too, so no catching him during a slump. The Sox have managed three runs off of him in five innings in each of his two starts against them this year, though, so there's some precedent for success. Still, unless the Sox are hoping for a sudden reversion to the Colby Lewis of yesteryear, they shouldn't expect an easy fight.
With a scoreless night against the Yankees, Lester snapped a short stretch of poor starts. His success in Texas will depend largely on how well he can survive a murderer's row in Cruz, Young, and Guerrero, all of whom have a tendency to kill lefties this year. Once he's past them, there's not too many threats to him.
Matsuzaka vs. Wilson
|2010 - Daisuke Matsuzaka||8-3||17||17||0||0||0||0||103.1||89||49||47||9||49||87||4.09||1.34|
|2010 - C.J. Wilson||10-5||23||23||2||0||0||0||141.2||111||58||52||8||69||108||3.30||1.27|
C.J. Wilson straddles the middle between the lucky Hunter and the legitimate Lewis. Whatever he is, though, so far it's worked for Wilson against Boston. In his first game, he allowed a lot of balls in play, but kept them on the ground and was backed up by the defense. In his second game, he couldn't find the zone with regularity, but got the Sox to swing and miss, recording ten strikeouts and five walks. If the former Wilson shows up, the Sox are just gonna have to get more lucky then him, and maybe jack a few out of the park (as much as Wilson is a good ground ball pitcher, he's also got an unusually low HR/FB rate). If it's the latter, it's going to be more a game of fundementals and moving the runners along. Put the ball in play and score at least a few, if not more.
Matsuzaka had a bit of a backwards start last time out, coming out of the gates on fire before falling apart a little in the middle innings. It's hard to really say anything about Daisuke other than he has to be more consistent over the course of the game. He's had a solid year so far, but has to keep the ball on the ground better (especially in Arlington) and avoid the meltdown.
This series is really very up-in-the-air in every respect. The best pitchers face eachother, the Red Sox' unluckiest faces the Ranger's luckiest, and then the two enigmas take eachother on in the final game. The Sox certainly faired well in the last 26 innings in an opponent's homer-happy park. If they can capitalize on that again, and if Lady Luck plays neutral, then they stand a good chance at a series win against a division leader.