With the Chambers of Horror now squarely in their rearview mirror, the Jays return to friendly pastures to take on Boston.
Josh Beckett: Was slapped around in his first tour of the AL East last year. He had a 5.01 ERA and gave up a whopping 36 homers. That's what happens when you take an NL pitcher out of his natural habitat. Guffaw. This year? All he's done is win his first six starts behind a 2.72 ERA. What's going on?! For one thing, his 15% homers-per-fly rate from 2006 is starting to even out, as he's only given up one longball all year. For another, he's throwing more two-seamers than last year and relying more heavily on his curve and change late in the count. He's also using the offspeed stuff for strikeouts more than usual, rather than always reaching for the high heater. That unpredictability is getting him very Halladay-like numbers: a career high in the groundball department and a good strikeout rate. If Vernon Wells plays tonight, he'll bring a 7-15 career line with 4 homers off Beckett with him. Frank Thomas is 2-11 with 4 K's and 0 walks.
Daisuke Matsuzaka: After his brilliant debut outing in KC, his Game Scores have been in a steady decline - 70, 52, 65, 43, 49, 25. His ERA has ballooned to 5.45. He's been hurt by walk spasms: in a fit of lost command reminiscent of his fourth-inning mini-meltdown in Toronto last month, he handed out four free passes to the first five batters he saw in his rematch with Seattle Thursday and gave up a 5-spot in the first inning. He left that start in a 7-7 tie after 5 innings. It's still his hard stuff that gets hit the hardest; when he falls behind in the count, bad things happen. Thus far, he has played as a flyball pitcher, which doesn't promise him huge success unless he can avoid the longball or be at the very top of the strikeout leaderboard all year. Mysteriously, he's allowed a very low slugging percentage despite those flyball tendencies and pitching in Fenway. I'm skeptical about his ability to sustain that. Jason Varitek thinks Daisuke's recent struggles are mental: "He's been off probably his last three outings, for him, in my eyes. He's battling himself right now and his feel and his release. He gets that and he's going to be just fine." Be more aggressive, Daisuke! Two of those outings happened to be against the Yankees. Perhaps a lineup starring Jason Phillips, Royce Clayton and Adam (0-3, 3 K last time) Lind is the cure he needs.
Tim Wakefield: Is only 40.
Hideki Okajima: Looks like a great find by the Red Sox so far. His darting fork/change has been murder upon lefties and righties alike. With Mike Timlin injured, Okajima has worked his way to the top of the Leverage Ladder and is now Jon Papelbon's full-time setup man.
Devern Hansack: His story is amazing. The power righty from Pearl Lagoon was called up in Timlin's absence; he hasn't pitched yet. He's a hard thrower with a nasty slider who has torn up AAA as a starter this year. Given how many of Boston's low-leverage relievers have struggled, it wouldn't surprise me to see Hansack ascend the ladder too, giving Boston the totally improbable front end of Papelbon, Okajima and Hansack.
Alex Cora: Hustling Infield Fan Favorite with a stellar BABIP. The populace apparently wants him to replace second baseman Dustin Pedroia and his low batting average. I haven't heard anything about whether they want him to replace his OBP too. The Sox do want to keep Cora's hot bat in the lineup once in a while, so they gave him a start at short Sunday over...
Julio Lugo: ..., who is in a 11-for-71 funk. He's getting himself in trouble by being too much of a free swinger, according to hitting coach Dave Magadan. "I think he's going through what a lot of players new to a team go through. He's trying to show his new team and the fans that he's more than capable of getting the job done -- which he is -- but a lot of times you try to do it in one at-bat rather than over the course of a series, a week, a month, or a season. I think right now a lot of it is pitch selection, chasing pitches outside of the zone. I have all the confidence in the world he'll get the job done in the leadoff role. He's just going through a period now, he's hit some balls hard that guys have run down." Says Terry Francona, Master of Patience and Understanding: "I'm not going to move him in the order. Give him today off to get his legs back and he'll be fine. I'm not going to say I don't notice it, but overreacting to these things doesn't help."
Manny Ramirez: Sat Sunday and didn't really seem to mind. He's still mired in his traditional early-season relative slump - one trip to Toronto apparently wasn't enough to free him, and his power numbers are still conspicuous by their absence.
Jonathan Papelbon: Has cooled off a bit since his ridiculous start to the year, but he's still only allowed 5 hits in 12.1 innings and blown only one save. He let a 0-2 fastball slip to Travis Buck, resulting in a two-run game-tying homer. What happened? "It was just fastball command. When I don't have fastball command, I have to have a secondary pitch and I didn't have that, either. So you're trying to force things you don't have." How does a great young closer respond to an unwelcome deviation from his usual dominance? Definitely not by beating himself up: "I'll go home and relax, have a couple of beers. You have a certain confidence level that you expect to have every time you go out there." When Papelbon is spotting his fastball, he's nasty. He has allowed a grand total of 0 runs and 2 hits in his other appearances.
The Credit Section: Batted-ball and Leverage Index are available at Fangraphs. K% and BB% are strikeouts and walks as a percentage of plate appearances. Everything else, most notably the AL average statistics, is available at The Hardball Times.