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Red Sox vs. Rangers series preview

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Looking ahead to the week’s three-game set against Texas

World Series - St Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox - Game Six

SB Nation Blog

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The opponent in one sentence

The Rangers have recovered from a slow start to get back into second place in their division thanks to a high-powered offense and a stabilized bullpen.

Record

24-21

Trend

Up. Way up. Texas is fresh off a ten-game win streak that included sweeps of Oakland and Philadelphia as well as series wins against San Diego and Detroit. Obviously, that’s not the toughest group of opponents, but as we’ve seen all year it’s never smart to underestimate anyone. Winning ten in a row is always difficult, regardless of who’s on your schedule. The Rangers also won their next game after the streak was snapped on Saturday and have won 11 of their last 12.

Pitching Matchups

5/23: Rick Porcello vs. Andrew Cashner, 7:10 PM ET

The Red Sox could really use a strong start from Porcello on Tuesday after what’s been a slightly disappointing year for the righty. To be fair to him, he’s been far from awful and has had some bad luck around the way — mostly in the form of poor defense behind him — but they could use another ace-like performance. Porcello’s command was uncharacteristically off in St. Louis last time out, and the hope (and expectation) is that this doesn’t become a trend.

Cashner has always had some potential (he was, after all, once dealt for Anthony Rizzo) but he’s never been able to consistently put it together. In his first year with Texas, he has posted a 2.45 ERA in his first seven starts, which is great! Nothing really backs that number up, though. He has more walks than strikeouts, a FIP of 5.00 and a DRA of 6.31. In May, he has a 2.16 ERA with an 11 percent strikeout rate and an eight percent walk rate. In short, he appears to be a pitcher on the verge of heavy regression, and the Red Sox hope to get that trend started.

5/24: Chris Sale vs. Martin Perez, 7:10 PM ET

Wednesday is Sale Day at Fenway. This, of course, is the best day of the week. Once again, the Red Sox need to give the lefty a little run support so his work does not go unrewarded. He is coming off a ten-strikeout, zero-walk performance in Oakland and has double digit strikeouts in eight consecutive outings.

Perez is a former long-time top-100 prospect who broke into the majors at the age of 21. Now 26, he has yet to really make good on his potential, but he has a solid track record nonetheless. The southpaw has been solid this year with a 3.71 ERA in his first nine starts. He won’t strike many batters out — his 16 percent rate this season is a career-high — and walks a few too many. However, he also regularly induces relatively weak contact and does a good job of keeping the ball in the yard. Perez will feature a mid-90’s fastball/sinker combo as well as a changeup and two different kinds of breaking balls.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

5/25: Drew Pomeranz vs. Nick Martinez

This is a big start for Pomeranz. Not because he’s at risk of losing his rotation spot. Maybe he is, but I’d be awfully surprised if he could pitch poorly enough to lose his spot. However, he does need to be more efficient this time out. The lefty has shown the ability to rack up strikeouts, but he’s throwing far too many pitches in the process. The bullpen should be well-rested after starts from Porcello and Sale, but that won’t make it any easier to swallow if the bullpen has to throw four or five innings on Thursday.

Martinez, a 26-year-old righty, has been almost exactly average by ERA when adjusted for park and league-wide offense. Like the other Rangers starters this week, Martinez doesn’t rack up strikeouts. In fact, this year he’s only striking out 13 percent of his opponents. He does, however, avoid free passes, walking under five percent of batters this season. Despite the strong control, the lack of strikeouts and the seven homers he’s allowed in six starts helps get him to a lackluster 5.22 FIP as well as a 6.22 DRA. He throws a low-to-mid-90’s fastball with a cutter and a curveball. This certainly appears to be a series in which the Red Sox offense can really get going, but we know that’s easier said than done.

Old Friends

The group of old friends in Texas is led by the man whose picture heads this article: Mike Napoli. The first baseman, of course, was part of the 2013 championship team and forever endeared himself to the fan base after celebrating shirtless in the streets of Boston. He played well again in 2014 before struggling to start 2015 and eventually be dealt for cash to the Rangers. He finished that season strongly and was adequate for Cleveland last year. The overall numbers aren’t great this year, but the power is still there and he’s turned it on in a big way this month.

The Rangers also have Adrian Beltre on their roster, although he’s on the disabled list right now. Beltre, of course, was on the 2010 Red Sox and probably had the last good season a Red Sox third baseman has put together. Not re-signing the (hopefully) future Hall of Famer is one of the great what-ifs in recent team history, but Beltre has thrived since leaving for the Rangers. He’s yet to play in a game this season.

Although we won’t see them in this series, or probably ever, the Rangers also have Will Middlebrooks and Allen Webster in their organization. They, of course, are two of the more disappointing prospects in recent Red Sox history.

Notable Hitters

Texas is led by a couple of young hitters. The most notable of which this season is Joey Gallo, who has long been one of the most interesting prospects in the game. He has arguably more power than anyone in the game as well as an almost unmatched ability to take a walk, which makes his low batting average wildly misleading. If the Red Sox can throw him strikes and keep him from making contact, he’ll stay quiet. It’s easier said than done, though.

Nomar Mazara is the other young bat. Just 22 years old, the outfielder has huge tools and is starting to put them together this season. There’s not one skillset that’s stood out this year, but he’s been solid across the board and is dangerous in the middle of this lineup.

Philadelphia Phillies v Texas Rangers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Shin-Soo Choo once looked like one of the worst free agent signings of the last decade, but quickly turned things around and has settled in as a solid, patient bat atop the Rangers lineup. There’s not a ton of power here, but he will get on base thanks to a good approach and the ability to turn balls in play into hits.

Elvis Andrus is most well-known for his glove, but he also has strong contact skills and can be a threat on the bases when he reaches.

Texas traded for Jonathan Lucroy last summer, and after a slow start this year he’s hitting again and is proving to be one of the best backstops in the league.

Rougned Odor is another young hitter with tons of potential and looked to break out last year. He has struggled mightily with the bat in 2017, though.

Bullpen Snapshot

Matt Bush is in the back of the Rangers’ bullpen after Sam Dyson struggled in the closer role to start the year. Bush finally burst onto the scene last year after serving time in prison for various incidents including assault and DUI and has thrived on the mound. He will strike out plenty of batters while limiting his walks.

Bush is backed up by Keone Kela, who is a name to watch for in terms of future major-league closers. The young righty has huge stuff and will generate a ton of whiffs, but also has periodic lapses in command.

Dyson and Jeremy Jeffress are both former closers who serve in set-up roles for Texas at the moment. Both rely on weak contact rather than strikeouts.

Dario Alvarez is the most intriguing southpaw in Texas’ bullpen, although he’s had major control issues this season. Still, he is liable to strike out anyone who is placed in front of him at the plate.

Injuries

Cole Hamels was expected to be this team’s number two starter behind Yu Darvish but strained his oblique at the beginning of the month. He’s slated to miss about two months.

Carlos Gomez has enjoyed a career renaissance since coming to Texas, but the outfielder strained his hamstring last week and will miss about a month to six weeks of action.

Chi Chi Gonzalez is an intriguing young rotation arm, but he’s yet to pitch this season and is hoping to avoid Tommy John surgery.

Tyson Ross was a buy-low signing by Texas this offseason, but he’s been hurt all year. He won’t be ready for this series, but he’s started his rehab and is working his way back to be ready next month.

Jake Diekman is one of the most underrated relievers in the game, but hasn’t pitched this year. He’s had surgery on his colon and is hoping to be back for the second half.

Hanser Alberto is an intriguing young infielder but hasn’t played this season due to a shoulder issue. His timetable still isn’t known.

Jose Leclerc was a key piece of the Rangers bullpen for much of this year, but he’s been shut down with a finger injury for the last few weeks.

Weather Forecast

I’ll keep this short because this one has gone pretty long. The first two games of this series should be fine, with partially clear skies with temperatures in the 50s or 60s. Thursday’s game might be more questionable. There is rain in the forecast, but the hope right now is that the precipitation ends earlier in the day.