Boston Red Sox (6-11) @ LA Angels (12-6)
Angel Stadium of Anaheim
Welcome to sunny California…….
And welcome Red Sox to a four game set against the AL West leading LA Angels. Your task, try and beat one of the best teams in baseball. You’ve got four games against them, so let’s get started tonight.
It won’t be easy for a Red Sox team that has shown some promise of late, winning 4 of their last 5 games. The Angels are one of the best teams in baseball at this point of April with a record of 12-6, which includes a series win this week over division rivals, the Texas Rangers. One good note for the Red Sox is they won’t have to face Jered Weaver who has been lights out this year. Weaver picked up the win last night against Texas and improved to 5-0 on the year while lowering his ERA to 1.23. The Red Sox will have to face, co-ace of the Angels staff Dan Haren, who is also unbeaten this year at 4-0. A nice counter for the Sox will be sending Jon Lester to face Haren, more on the pitching matchups below.
The Red Sox appear to be turning things around lately, with their starting pitching turning solid outings in the past 6 games. The offense continues to be spotty and really denied John Lackey the win on Tuesday in Oakland as they were shut out and held to just 5 hits all game. Jed Lowrie continues to swing the hot bat and Kevin Youkilis is finding his groove. Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez are consistently delivering, but after that there are concerns. Carl Crawford hasn’t looked comfortable at the plate in one at bat this year, but he does have a modest 3 game hitting streak going. Jacoby Ellsbury leads the team in home runs with 4, but is batting below .200 and his OBP is a dismal .262. Far from the numbers we’ve come to expect from a guy who performs best when he’s on base. David Ortiz is homerless since the opening series against Texas, and then there is the catching dilemma. It’s obvious that Jason Varitek will catch for Josh Beckett, but after that it’s a coin flip on whether to start Varitek or go with Jared Saltalamacchia. Both have struggled at the plate and both have struggled to throw out base runners.
Much has been made of late of the lack of unity in the Red Sox clubhouse. It appears that this is a team still looking for its identity and needs a rallying point to bring the troops together. Perhaps having manager Terry Francona ejected from Tuesday night’s ballgame would have been that spark. Maybe the club needs something with a little more flair and drama to it; like a bench clearing brawl (ok that maybe a little risky and pushing limits), or a walk off home run for ol’ Mr. Clutch himself, David Ortiz. Regardless of what it is, this Sox team needs something to get them tight as a team and have them gel as one. They’ll need it soon or this series could be heavily tilted in the Angels favor. Thanks to Kalup from the Halo’s Hangout for doing a collaboration on this series below. Kalup provided insight to the Angels starting pitching, who’s hot and who’s not for LA, an injury update and answered 3 questions.
Tale of the Starter’s Tape:
Thursday, April 21 10:05 EDT
LA Angels – Tyler Chatwood (1-1) 3.75 ERA
Chatwood takes the mound tonight fresh off throwing seven strong innings against the White Sox on Saturday. Allowing 5 hits and 1 earned run while striking out 3 and walking 2 batters. Chatwood pounded the strike zone with his 4 seam fastball and sinker all night long which he used to setup his superb curve ball in the later innings. Tyler works quickly and displays mound presence well beyond his 21 year old pedigree.Tylers biggest hurdle moving forward will be improving his control (6 walks in 12 innings )and avoiding the ong ball ( 3HR allowed). As with any young pitcher Chatwood is on the quest for consistency. Can he consistently throw strikes and can he provide the Angels with consistent quality starts as he did last time out against the White Sox? Chatwood will look to answer both questions tonight against Boston. With a few more strong outings Chatwood will likely make Scott Kazmir‘s return to the rotation an impossibility.
Boston – Josh Beckett (2-1) 1.80 ERA
In his past 3 starts, Josh Beckett is starting to look like the pitcher that won the 2007 World Series MVP. He is controlling games from the mound and is controlling hitters with his off speed pitches. When he does get in a jam, he’s relying on the fastball to get him out along with his normal ground ball outs. Beckett is coming off another strong performance last weekend against Toronto, where he went 7 innings, giving up only 3 hits while surrendering just 1 earned run. It’s the first time since 2009 that Beckett has won two straight. In his last two starts, he’s struck out 19 batters in 15 innings while composing a 0.60 ERA. The Angels are a team that has given Beckett some trouble, going 3-4 with a 4.52 ERA lifetime. Look for Jason Varitek to catch Beckett as it’s been public knowledge that Beckett is most comfortable with the Sox captain behind the plate doing the signal calling. Based on Beckett’s last few starts with Varitek catching, it’s safe to say that’ll be the combination again on Thursday.
Friday, April 22 10:05 EDT
LA Angels – Dan Haren – (4-0) 1.16 ERA
Haren is coming off another strong start his last time out tossing 6 1/3 innings allowing 7 hits and 2 earned runs while striking out 6 batters. Haren will be looking to join Jered Weaver in the 5-0 club his next time out and comes into this start sporting a microscopic 1.16 ERA.
Boston – Jon Lester (1-1) 3.20 ERA
Although it took him 4 games into the season to win his first game, Lester has looked impressive over his past 3 outings, all quality starts. Most recently it came last Sunday against Toronto where the Red Sox ace gave up 6 hits over 6 innings while allowing 1 earned run and striking out 5. He has been the victim of lack of run support in his previous 3 starts and with the offense starting to get going, Lester should be in line for more wins if he can pitch the way he has of late. With an Angels lineup that can make a pitcher pay, Lester will have to get ahead of the batters and keep the walks to a minimal.
Saturday, April 23 9:05 EDT
LA Angels – Ervin Santana (0-2) 5.26 ERA
Santana is coming off his first subpar effort of the season, lasting only four innings while yielding 10 hits and six earned runs against the Rangers. His 91-94 mph fastball sets up his deadly slider and changeup and he’ll need to get back into pitcher friendly counts in order to be successful. Ervin will be seeking his first win of the season and looking to lower his suddenly bloated 5.26 ERA. next time out.
Boston- Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-2) 6.43 ERA
No one in Red Sox Nation is really sure what to expect of Dice-K. After two awful starts and pleads from fans to trade or release him, Dice-K bounced back against Toronto to throw an absolute gem. Just how good was it; how about 1 hit ball over 7 innings. But when it seems that Dice-K gets some confidence back from the fans he goes and throws it down the toilet in a hurry with another atrocious start. Which Dice-K will show up on Saturday against a potent Angels lineup? Good question. I’m thinking he’ll be rocked around all over the ball park and will once again be ridiculed by the Sox fans base.
Sunday, April 24 9:05 EDT
LA Angels – Matt Palmer (1-0) 4.22 ERA
Palmer was solid in his most recent start against the Rangers. Filling in again for the injured Joel Pineiro, Palmer threw six solid innings, shutting down the high-powered Rangers on one run and three hits. When his sinker is moving and he’s keeping the ball down, he can be tough to handle. If he elevates at all he can be shelled. It will be interesting to see how he fairs his next time out.
Boston- John Lackey (1-2) 9.82 ERA
Lackey looked impressively better in his last start in Oakland, going 6 strong innings, allowing 4 hits and only 1 earned run. It was the lack of offense that handed Lackey his 2nd loss of the season and really overshadowed how well Big John had pitched. He begs the question similar to Dice-K; which Lackey will show up for this start as his first few haven’t been real good. Perhaps his record against his former club will help put some doubters at ease. Since joining the Red Sox, Lackey has gone 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA against the team that he once started for.
Red HOT Sox:
Jed Lowrie – he has hands down been the hottest Red Sox player as of late. He recently had a 7 game hitting streak snapped against Oakland, only to rebound and go 2 for 4 with 1 HR and 2 RBI’s in the following game. In his last 10 games, Lowrie is batting .455, has 3 home runs and 11 RBI’s. Lowrie has managed to work himself into regular playing time by his clutch hitting and not to be outdone, his rock solid defense.
Cold as Ice:
Jason Varitek – the captain of this team has struggled mightily at the plate, managing only 1 hit in his first 20 trips to the plate (.050 AVG). But manager Terry Francona has a hard time keeping Tek’ out of the lineup when Beckett pitches.
Who’s HOT for LA:
Peter Bourjos: The Angels center fielder is 8 for his last 16 and has displayed an improved approach by driving the ball the other way. Bourjos recent hot streak combined with the power exploits of first basemen Mark Trumbo have sparked the Halos lower third of the order that has carried the offense for the past week.
Who’s Not for LA:
Torii Hunter – For as bad as Vernon Wells was to start the season Torii Hunter has matched him stride for stride lately. Hunter has refused to go the other way with pitches on the outer half and has seemingly produced a full season’s worth of weak ground balls to the left side already. When he’s not sending panic to left side infield dwelling insects, Hunter has swung wildly at pitches out of the zone.Torii has gone 3 for his last 36 at bats dropping his season totals to .208/.253/.325. Hunter is completely lost at the plate right now.
The Walking Wounded:
- Matt Albers – 15-day DL, strained right lat muscle – Late April return
- Junichi Tazawa – 60-day DL, torn ulnar collateral ligament – July return
- LHP Scott Downs (virus) did not pitch April 16-19. He is day-to-day.
- LHP Scott Kazmir (lower back stiffness) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 4. He pitched in extended spring training April 19, and he is make at least one more appearance there before starting a rehab assignment.
- 1B Kendrys Morales (fractured left ankle) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. Morales had been running on a treadmill in early April, and he began running on the field April 12.
- RHP Joel Pineiro (tight right shoulder) went on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to March 22. He was rehabbing in extended spring training camp in mid-April and should start a rehab assignment start with Class-A Inland Empire before the end of the month.
Derek’s Questions, Kalup’s Answers.
1. Q: Many in the baseball world picked the Texas Rangers to repeat as AL West champions, with the Oakland A’s to challenge them for the division. Not much was said about the LA Angels in this division and given their great start, what can be expected of this team come September?
A: Predictions were mixed overall but you’re right a lot of pundits wrote if the Angels. The current state of the baseball off season is typically to over hype the team that makes the most moves. As we saw last season when the Mariners were the darlings of the 2009 hot stove season and picked by many to win the West. The Angels relatively quiet off season and then widely mocked trade for Vernon Wells made them the poster child for “off season losers”. Despite the lack of Twitter worthy moves this off season for many it was long apparent that the Angels likely have the most balanced club out West. By moving Wells to left field they bolstered what was a porous outfield defense They have a starting rotation that rivals any in the AL and if the lineup ever gets fully healthy (Return of Kendrys Morales) they should return to one of the top run scoring teams in the AL.While September is a long ways away and a lot can happen from now to then I fully expect as I did this off season for the Angels to remain in the midst of what should be a three team race with Texas and Oakland.
2. Q: Although it’s early and a lot can happen, it is hard to ignore what Jared Weaver and Dan Haren have done so far this season. How much of the Angels early success have been from the two starters and how long can these two carry the starting rotation?
A: Weaver and Haren have been special so far this season. The Angels are a combined 9-1 in their 10 appearances ( 1 in relief for Haren)and their combined ERA of 2.39 would be the envy of most. Albeit not at this pace, these two will likely carry the rotation all season long. Its clear the Angels have two legit aces, but Ervin Santana, Joel Pineiro ( currently on the DL) and rookie Tyler Chatwood could form one of the best rotations in the AL.
3. Q: Vernon Wells was a big acquisition for the Angels this off season and with him comes the big contract and lofty expectations. Given his early season struggles at the plate, at what point does it get concerning for the Angels, if it hasn’t already?
A: Wells got off to a horrendous start and fans naturally were tough on him during the last home stand. He has been one of the hottest Angels over the past week hitting in 6 straight and socking his first home run in last nights game. In short the worst appears to be behind him.
Kalup’s Questions, Derek’s Answers.
Q: During his early season slump, Carl Crawford has been moved all over the batting order 1st, 2nd, 7th etc… What spot in the lineup do you feel suits him best?
A: A lot has been made of where Crawford has been batting. It’s even been public knowledge that Joe Maddon, manager for the Tampa Bay Rays publicly stated he feels Crawford is best suited for the number 2 spot in the lineup. Problem is, Dustin Pedroia is the number 2 guy in Boston and quite frankly, that’s the best for him. It’s clear that Crawford is not comfortable at lead off and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to bump Pedroia. Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis are your natural 3 and 4 hitters, so why not try Crawford in the 5 hole? It’s difficult to say where he’s best suited, because he’s struggled everywhere this year. He’s a player who is used to his comfort and consistency and so far he hasn’t gotten either. He may have to get used to the leadoff position as it appears that is where Terry Francona feels he’s best suited.
Q: Both Dice K and John Lackey have gotten off to slow starts. Which starter gives Red Sox fans the most cause for concern?
A: I have to say it’s Dice-K. He’s been struggling for the past 2 years and showing a lot of inconsistency. His start against Tampa Bay just over a week ago was atrocious as he left everything up and over the plate. His fastball was flat and didn’t appear to have control of anything. Then he goes out and 1 hits the Jays this past Monday and looks like the Dice-K of 2008 when he won 18 games. There just seems to be too many question marks with him to know what you’ll get on a consistent basis. Not to say Lackey hasn’t been inconsistent. Aside from his last start in Oakland, Lackey has struggled much like Dice-K. Last season he was decent and managed to win 14 games. Red Sox fans know what he’s capable of as we watched him dominate the Sox in the 2009 ALDS and that’s the type of performance everyone is waiting to see. His fastball isn’t hitting 95mph anymore, rather consistently topping out at 91mph. So he has to rely on his off speed stuff a little more and that hasn’t been the case. He does however show more promise than Dice-K and I think Red Sox fans feel he can be the more consistent starter for the year.
Q: Jed Lowrie has arguably been the Red Sox most valuable player. Did Sox fans see this breakout coming and can Lowrie sustain similar production all season long ?
A: For the past 2 years Lowrie has been touted as a shortstop with tremendous talent on defense and a lot of pop in his bat. A bad battle with mononucleosis last season really limited his playing time and when he did play it was evident he wasn’t 100%. I’d like to say his performance is a surprise, but in reality many knew he was capable of putting up these numbers. He just hasn’t been given the everyday playing time to prove it. His hot start in April has now allowed him to play every day. Now it’s very easy to say he won’t hit .400 for the year, but a .300 plus average is not out of the question. He’s earned his playing time lately and with Marco Scutaro on the last year of his 2 year contract, if Lowrie can continue to deliver offensively, then the Red Sox may be in a position to trade Scutaro come July.
Topics: Adrian Gonzalez, AL East, Boston Red Sox, Carl Crawford, Clay Buchholz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Daniel Bard, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Fenway Park, Hideki Okajima, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, Marco Scutaro, Mike Cameron, Tampa Bay Rays, Terry Francona, Texas Rangers, Tim Wakefield, Toronto Blue Jays