Red Sox first baseman Steve Pearce is key to facing Yankees starter J.A. Happ
By Sean Penney
Steve Pearce will be in tonight’s Boston Red Sox lineup against Yankees starter J.A. Happ, a pitcher he has a long history of success against.
After the weather washed away last night’s game, the Boston Red Sox finally open a pivotal series on the road against the New York Yankees on Friday. They’ll do so without their regular first baseman, Mitch Moreland, who has missed the last four games and was placed on the 10-day injured list with a lower back strain. Not to worry though, as Steve Pearce is ready to fill in.
The concept would have been laughable a couple of weeks ago when Pearce was struggling to keep his batting average above .100 but the veteran has shown signs of life lately. Pearce is 9-for-25 (.360) with a home run and two doubles in his last eight games to send his average skyrocketing to .182, putting the Mendoza Line within his sights for the first time since early April.
The resurgence of Pearce’s bat comes at an opportune time as the Yankees send J.A. Happ to the mound. Pearce has always had a reputation as a lefty masher and Happ has historically been one of his most notable victims.
Pearce enters the day hitting .314/.419/.886 with six home runs and 16 RBI in 35 career at-bats against Happ. The only other active Red Sox hitter with multiple homers and 4+ RBI against Happ is Mookie Betts, who is hitting a paltry .189 against the lefty but blasted a memorable grand slam against him last season.
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The Red Sox have struggled a bit against southpaws this season, ranking outside the top-five in the American League with 93 wRC+ versus lefties. Part of the problem has been the slow start by Pearce, who they need to do what he does best by smashing left-handed pitching.
Happ has a solid track record against Boston, going 8-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 22 appearances. He’s struggled to the tune of a 5.09 ERA this season as his average fastball velocity has dipped to 91.8 mph, his lowest since 2012. The Red Sox tagged Happ for three runs over 6 1/3 innings when these teams met back in April but he didn’t factor into the decision.
With Boston’s pitching woes sinking their series at Fenway against the Cleveland Indians, it may be up to the bats to carry them to victory. Sure, having Chris Sale on the mound tonight certainly helps but how deep does the ace need to go for us to feel confident that the bullpen can hold a lead for him? Ideally, the offense will give him enough run support to negate those concerns.
Pearce should be at the center of any offensive explosion given his history against Happ so it’s only fitting that he’s in the middle of the order, batting sixth.
Rafael Devers has seen more time hitting higher in the order of late but he slides back to the No. 5 spot against a lefty.
The Red Sox have toyed with batting Michael Chavis lead-off against lefties but the Ice Horse will begin this game on the bench. Odd to see one of the team’s hottest hitters out of the lineup for “rest” purposes the day after a rainout. Apparently, the team wants to delay his exposure to the hostile environment of Yankee Stadium a bit longer. Betts will bat at the top of the order while Andrew Benintendi will hit second, despite his struggles against lefties.
Boston enters the day 7.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and can’t afford to be buried any further in the standings. This is the type of series that could make or break their season. A series win gets them back in the hunt but if they get swept this weekend, stick a fork in their chances to repeat as division champions.