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Detroit Tigers (0-6, 5th in AL Central) @ Boston Red Sox (3-4, 5th in AL East)
It is a day of triumphant returns. I make my triumphant return to the Dead Soxy beat here on the 'Chair, and the (exhausted) World Champion Boston Red Sox return to Fenway Park to play a game since Game 2 of the 2007 World Series -- to meet a sleeping giant in Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers. These are two fearsome teams who are struggling to begin the 2008 season. The Tigers offense, expected to challenge 1,000 runs on the season, has not woken up from its winter hibernation as of yet. The Red Sox just seem tired all around at this point, having traveled almost 16,000 miles since March 17th, from Fort Myers, to Japan, to Los Angeles, to Oakland, to Toronto, and finally back to Boston. No excuses for Boston, their play has been sub-par up to this point, but they have got to be happy to come home and get their rings. Let's take a look at some offensive leaders for these two clubs, and then a closer examination of the three pitching match-ups for this intriguing series between two AL powerhouse franchises.
- J.D. Drew -- .375/.375/.813, 2 HR
- Kevin Youkilis -- .318/.423/.545, 2 3B
- Jason Varitek -- .261/.320/.575, 2 HR
- Carlos Guillen -- .400/.520/.700, 4 R
- Brandon Inge -- .316/.435/.737, 2 HR
- Clete Thomas -- .467/.467/.533, 7 H
The Gambler returns for his 18th major league season, hoping to bring the Tigers to a World Series victory. Rogers took the loss in six innings in his first start of the year against the Kansas City Royals, although he really pitched fairly well, allowing only two earned runs. He was the victim of poor run support, as most of the Tigers pitchers have been so far this season. Rogers can't overpower hitters, so he will only be successful if he doesn't walk anyone and maintains the 4:1 K/BB ratio he had in his first start. If he can do that, as well as keep the ball down in the zone and induce a lot of ground balls, he'll help his club.
Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched brilliantly in his last start against Oakland, striking out 9 A's while walking none. Dice-K really got into trouble last season when he would allow way too many baserunners (1.32 WHIP) and then give up the long ball (1.10 HR/9). The smart money this season is on Matsuzaka improving big time over last year, and so far he has borne that out. He struggled early on in his emotional homecoming to the Tokyo Dome, but eventually settled down and had an okay outing. When Dice has all of his pitches working, he's tough to beat. When he relies on his fastball too much (as he did in the opening game in Japan), he has a tendency to get rocked.
Jeremy Bonderman has struggled with consistency and injuries over the whole last season, and the beginning of this season did not get off to an auspicious start, taking the loss against Kansas City in his first outing. He allowed two home runs, walked two, struck out only one, and gave up 8 hits over 6 1/3 innings. He could be in for a rough outing against southpaw-heavy Boston if he allows a .462 average to left-handers in this start like he did against the Royals. Bonderman could be the Detroit starter who suffers the most from the inconsistency and lack of health in the Tigers bullpen.
Jon Lester is in an unfamiliar position. With the injuries to starters Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling, Lester has been the number 2 guy for Terry Francona's club thus far in the season, when he's probably better suited for a lower spot in the rotation. All in all, if his first two starts of the season are any indication, Lester really likes pitching in North America -- he pitched much better in his second start in Oakland than he did in the second game of the season in Tokyo, with an increase in WPA of .605 between the two starts. After he was not included in a trade for now-Mets ace Johan Santana, Boston fans want to see Lester take his place next to Clay Buchholz in the Red Sox rotation for years to come; Lester has conquered the significant hurdle of cancer, now he needs to pitch consistently over the course of a whole season. Like Bonderman, however, he is not going to go late into games, so ineffectiveness from middle relievers Bryan Corey, David Aardsma, and Manny Delcarmen will hurt him.
Robertson, like many of his brethren, can only be effective if he keeps the ball on the ground. Last year he had a 1.19 GB/FB ratio, the lowest of his career, and his numbers reflected it, as he finished the year with a 9-13 record and a 4.76 ERA in 30 starts. Robertson is going to give you about 6 innings and give up 2-4 runs per start -- anything more and the Tigers should consider themselves lucky. Still, he's quite durable: the 177 2/3 innings he pitched last year was the lowest total of his career as a starter by almost 20. Like his opponent, he's a guy that his manager can just plug in every fifth day and hope. His control is sketchy (1.33 career K/BB ratio), so he might be in for a long day against the patient Red Sox lineup, especially facing Youkilis, who has a career .385/.467/.923 line against him with 2 HR in 15 plate appearances.
Ah, the wonders of the knuckleball. Tim Wakefield is entering his 16th pro season, and is coming off of what might be considered one of his best years, tying a career high with 17 wins in 31 starts. However, it remains to be seen how he will cope with out personal backstop-cum-security blanket Doug Mirabelli, who was released by the Red Sox this spring. Kevin Cash takes over the responsibility of dealing with the knuckleball. Wakefield must beware of Magglio Ordonez, who owns a gaudy .455/.500/.788 career line against him in 35 plate appearances, making him by far the most successful active Tiger while facing Wake. This game has all the makings of a slugfest.
Since I'm obsessed with WPA, here are some of the top performers in that regard for the young season.
- Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs: 0.95
- Xavier Nady, Pittsburgh Pirates: 0.81
- Mark Reynolds, Arizona Diamondbacks: 0.77
- Edwin Encarnacion, Cincinnati Reds: 0.75
- Derrek Lee, Cubs: 0.65
- Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners: 0.92
- Jake Peavy, San Diego Padres: 0.71
- Kyle Lohse, St. Louis Cardinals: 0.70
- Ben Sheets, Milwaukee Brewers: 0.67
- Joe Saunders, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: 0.63
- Francisco Rodriguez, Angels: 0.60
- Joba Chamberlain, New York Yankees: 0.58
- Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins: 0.42
- Mariano Rivera, Yankees: 0.42
- Carlos Marmol, Cubs: 0.42