Sox Face Tough Test in Texas


After the 9th inning meltdown from Jonathan Papelbon on Thursday afternoon, the road only gets more intense as the Sox travel down to Texas for a 3-game set with the Rangers. The type of loss the Sox suffered on Thursday can linger and effect the team’s attitude going into Friday night’s contest, so it will be important to closely monitor how the team bounces back. Although the loss was bad because they lost a game in the division and half a game in the Wild Card, it was also tough because it stopped the momentum the team had worked so hard to build. A win Friday night would go a long way to repairing the wounds inflicted on Thursday.

Getting a few wins in Arlington, TX is much easier said than done. I was a non-believer in this Texas ball club at the beginning of the year, because I was waiting for their young pitching staff to come back down to earth. So far, their pitching staff has only improved or maintained their dominance, with their 6 pitchers who have stared 12 or more games having a combined record of 48-32 with a cumulative era of 3.72. An even more impressive subset of their starting pitchers are the 3 the Sox will be facing this weekend who are 28-14 with a cumulative era of 3.22 and that doesn’t even include their most recent addition and by far their best starter, Cliff Lee, who in his time with both the Seattle Mariners and now Rangers is 10-5 with a 2.57 era in 20 starts. Their bullpen has also been strong, with surprised closer Neftali Feliz saving 29 of 32 chances with an era of 3.70.

As good as their pitching is, their offense is as good, if not better. The heart of the Rangers lineup features power hitters Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Nelson Cruz and Michael Young, who all have 15+ home runs this season and also near or above .300 (Hamilton .357, Guerrero .296, Cruz .313 and Young .292). When you throw in the solid-hitting Elvis Andrus (.272 average) who also has speed on the base paths (27 steals), the team becomes as potent as even the best AL East lineups. Thanks to the powerful offense and stingy pitching staff, the Rangers are the only team with a sizable lead in their division in either league, as they sit 7.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels in the AL West. The next largest lead is 2.5 games in the NL West as the San Diego Padres are holding off the San Francisco Giants.

When these 2 teams meet this weekend, you can basically throw the stats out the window, because the Red Sox need to be playing with more intensity and focus in the extreme 100+ degree heat. The Sox need to win these games, while the Rangers are almost assured a division title and a spot in the playoffs already, as long as they play solid baseball down the stretch. The Sox need to set the tone early on Friday and carry that throughout the series, so the pressure is on native Texan Josh Beckett to pitch like he did 2 starts ago, in which he dominated the Cleveland Indians lineup for 8 innings. Unfortunately for Beckett, this ain’t no Indians lineup, it’s just a little bit better.