Texas Rangers (7-9, 4th in AL West, 15th in IPR) AT Boston Red Sox (10-7, 1st in AL East, 4th in IPR)Fresh off a split with the rival New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox head home to Fenway Park and welcome in the Texas Rangers for a four-game set over the weekend.Toronto Blue Jays in a short two-game set, and are hoping to get their pitching on track for the first time in, well, just about ever. The Red Sox also hope their pitching holds on, as it was anything but reliable against the Yankees, but their offense is looking quite strong despite the worst slump of David Ortiz's career. Manny Ramirez has been absolutely on fire for the beginning of his contract year, and just passed two legends (The Iron Horse and The Crime Dog) on the all-time home run list. For the Rangers, Josh Hamilton has been their offensive star thus far, leading or tied for the team lead in HR, RBI, AVG, and SLG. Let's look at the two teams' top performers by WPA in the young season, and then look more closely at each of the four pitching match-ups.
Boston: Ramirez, +1.93*; Matsuzaka, +0.70; Papelbon, +0.85
Texas: Hamilton, +0.88; Millwood, +0.41; Wilson, +0.77
(* -- leads the majors)
Luis Mendoza was traded to the Rangers from the Red Sox in 2006 for reliever Brian Corey, and this is his first appearance against his former club. He had a strong showing in AA-ball last season (15-4, 3.93), and had a decent first start, taking the loss against Toronto's Roy Halladay. He allowed only 1 run in 5 innings, but struggled with his command (he hit two batters and walked three). He's scouted as a ground-ball pitcher, which is always a good sign for pitching both at Fenway Park and at the Launch Pad at Arlington. However, if he doesn't maintain his control, it's going to be a short outing against the uber-patient Red Sox, whom he has never faced.
Daisuke Matsuzaka has been hands-down the best Boston pitcher so far, landing at the 10th spot in the majors for total WPA so far this season, and is tied for second for strikeouts behind only Jake Peavy and notching them at over 1 per inning pitched. However, his walks are up (he's had more than 4 walks in three of his four starts this season), and to contrast with his opponent his GB/FB ratio is an unhealthy 0.71. Despite these negative indicators, he's worked around a good deal of trouble, allowing multiple runs to score in only two innings thus far (and one of those innings was the very first inning of the season). Matsuzaka appeared once against Texas last season, getting rocked a bit but taking the win in a 5-inning, 5-run outing. Frank Catalanotto did the most damage of any one player, hitting a 2-run home run in that game off of Dice-K.
Texas's Jason Jennings has had a rough start to the season, lasting no more than 5 innings and giving up no fewer than four runs in each of his first three starts -- losses to Seattle, Baltimore, and most recently Los Angeles. His problem thus far is easy to spot -- his horrific 0.70 K/BB ratio -- and facing the Red Sox is unlikely to improve that number. He hasn't had much experience against many of Boston's current hitters, but Sean Casey in particular gives him trouble; he's 7-17 with a HR and 6 RBI against Jennings in his career. J.D. Drew also has strong numbers against him, with a .364/.423/.591 line in 25 career plate appearances.
Young Jon Lester has been frustrating to watch for Red Sox fans so far this season. At times, he's shown flashes of the talent which made him such a highly regarded prospect that Theo Epstein balked at including him in a deal to acquire Johan Santana this offseason, but mostly he's been consistently mediocre. He shut out Oakland over 6 2/3 in his second start of the season, but has allowed 4 runs in each of his other 3 starts, lasting no more than 5 1/3 in each of those. Perhaps a start going up against Jennings will be the bump the big lefty needs to get on track for the season. He got a no-decision in his only career start against Texas.
Millwood's K/9 numbers have been in steady decline over the course of his career, which is a bit of a problem considering that he makes half of his starts in a home ballpark considered one of the best hitter's parks in the majors. Balls have a tendency to leave that park in a hurry, which is a problem for a pitcher who posted a 1.62 WHIP last year. Combined with the fact that since the start of last season, Millwood is 2-12 on the road with a 4.94 ERA, and you have a recipe for ineffectiveness. He's also catching David Ortiz at the wrong time -- he's just starting to break out of his early-season slump, and Big Papi is 6-12 with 3 home runs against Millwood in his career.
Wakefield has been fairly solid this season, although he has not been able to go deep into games, which has been one of the most important things he has been able to do for Boston over his career. That is even more important right now, when the front end of the bullpen has been so unreliable. Wakefield has a mixed track record against Texas (9-14, 5.66), but is much better at home against them -- the Sox have won 10 of his 14 games against the Rangers at Fenway Park. Like Dice-K, Frank Catalanotto is his worst enemy -- he's 15-54 with 3 home runs and 6 walks against Wakefield.
Game 4 -- Patriot's Day!
Kason Gabbard was traded by Boston to Texas at the trade deadline last season for some schmuck, and frankly the Rangers got the better end of the deal. Gabbard doesn't have a high ceiling as a pitcher (unlike his opponent in this game), but he's proven himself capable of handling the fifth starter's spot. His WHIP is nothing to be proud of at 1.45, and his K/9 and K/BB are both low, but he manages to get the job done by getting a ton of ground balls (he has a 3.00 GB/FB ratio in his three starts so far). He has not faced the Red Sox in his career.
It has been a rough beginning of the season for young Clay Buchholz. His K/BB ratio is solid at 2:1, but he's giving up more than a HR per game, which is not a good recipe for success, especially at Fenway Park. He's still very young (he turns 24 in August), and I'm sure the Red Sox would rather have not relied upon him this heavily at this point in his development, but he's handling the job fairly well. In his defense, his three starts have been against the Blue Jays and the Yankees twice, so we'll see how he does against a lineup that isn't quite as murderous.
Coming Up Next...
The Red Sox welcome in the Angels as the Rangers travel to Detroit to take on the Tigers.