OK, so the series in Baltimore didn't go exactly as planned. Three winnable games, only one of which we won, setting us back to 11-13 on the year. The upshot of this is that, to reach (and stay at) .500 in this upcoming series, the Red Sox are going to need to sweep the Mariners.
That might not be the simplest of propositions, especially given the starters. The Sox have their worst group of pitchers going against the Mariners, but Lackey, Daisuke, and yes, even Clay have shown some good stuff of late. The Sox will need them to keep that up.
"No problem," you say. "The Mariners are one of the worst offensive teams in the league." This is true. But what's also true is that they've quietly built up one of the best young rotations in the league around ace Felix Hernandez. What's also true is that they just finished up a 24-6 beatdown of the Tigers in a three-game sweep. No, this may not be the best time to be facing the Mariners.
So what's the key to making the Mariners look like they usually do instead of how they did in Detroit? Let's find out.
1) Choose your battles
If there's one thing you notice about the Mariners' lineup, it's how fast it falls off.
See that Justin Smoak guy? He's a pretty good hitter. Ichiro is Ichiro, if not so much as he used to be. Between them are the earthly remains of Chone Figgins, and two guys who can occasionally hit a homer. Once you get past them, it slips quickly into the depths.
So you let Ichiro be Ichiro. There's nothing to be done about that. Make Figgins put the ball into play, base your strategy to Milton Bradley around whether or not there are men on base--just never, ever throw him a changeup--and let Miguel Olivo's free-swinging ways do him in. If by the time Smoak is up the inning isn't over and the bases aren't loaded, then just don't let him kill you.
2) Throw strikes to pretty much everyone.
Luis Rodriguez has a .306 wOBA. Jack Cust sits at .253, Brendan Ryan at .252, and Milton Bradley at .316. Of those four players, Ryan's 9.8% walk rate is the lowest of the bunch.
As mentioned above, Justin Smoak is a good hitter. He's probably the only man on the team who really deserves a walk. None of the above guys do, even considering Cust's past success in Fenway. This is not to say that the Red Sox should be throwing them meatballs, but just consider who's at the plate before they try to throw perfect pitches.
3) Defense, defense, defense
The Tigers aren't the greatest defensive team in the league. They committed four errors in one game against Seattle, and that's despite the fact that they don't have the range to get to a ton of balls in the first place.
As it stands, the Mariners do rank pretty high amongst the teams with the most strikeouts this year, but they also don't swing through too many pitches. If we've decided it's better to throw the Mariners strikes, then the Sox also have to be ready in the field--particularly the infield, since the team as a whole really tends to keep the ball on the ground.
4) Get aggressive vs. Vargas, let Fister hang himself
Jason Vargas likes strikes, and loves first pitch strikes. And when you let him get ahead in the count, he's pretty good at making outs. Generally speaking, it's not a good idea to be swinging at the first pitch, but when it's so often one that the strong hitters on the Sox can hit, waiting around could spell disaster. Even if they do raise the pitch count, after all, the Mariners have a pretty good pen.
Doug Fister, on the other hand, is only fond of strikes, and really would just as soon throw it out of the zone. He's so comfortable with this because a lot of opposing hitters have been swinging at balls this year. The Sox, hopefully, will not let themselves join this club.