Anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment in evening entertainment. But who isn't feeling all giddy after the last two series? Like Dave, I'm hopeful that good crowds will show up, and that the Jays will jump on an injury-ravaged opponent coming off a frustrating weekend in the Bronx. Optimism wins!
The Red Sox are coming off a disappointing four-game series split at Yankee Stadium. There's no shame in winning two games there. But when you're 6 games out of first place and have three favorable pitching matchups in the series, that's going to feel like a missed opportunity.
Boston won the finale yesterday 2-1 behind Jon Lester, who the Jays are lucky to dodge, but it wasn't easy. Terry Francona managed his bullpen in must-win-game mode, sending Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon out for 1.1 demanding innings each to nail down the victory. This helps the Jays, as Francona won't be able to push them so hard today. And with Hideki Okajima injured, the Boston bullpen doesn't look nearly as imposing as usual. On the bright side, Papelbon is still Papelbon, and Bard, with his ungodly 98-mph running fastball, 90-mph changeup and big 80-mph curveball, with good command, might be as untouchable as Mariano Rivera right now. (Then again, Mark Teixeira ran into a homer off Bard yesterday. Teixeira looked surprised.) But beyond Bard and Papelbon, there isn't much. Manny Delcarmen gets high-leverage situations in the middle innings, and Tim Wakefield is the long man. Righty Hanshin Tigers alum Scott Atchison has been serviceable in low-leverage situations. Tall lefty hoopster Dustin Richardson earned a callup by striking out 31.8% of AAA hitters (and walking 18.4%, but don't mention that.)
Bard keeps a diary for ESPN. Here's his take on New York and the rivalry.
The Red Sox have been done in by injuries. Kevin Youkilis is gone for the year with a jammed thumb. Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek have been sidelined by broken feet. The Hero in the Dark, Hideki Okajima, has been struck down by suckage and a hamstring strain. Mike Cameron is on the DL with abdominal pain. Junichi Tazawa sprained an elbow UCL, and his season is over. Jacoby Ellsbury has missed time with fractured ribs. And on and on and on. Yet they're still hanging around the race, thanks largely to a resurgent David Ortiz and a legitimate MVP candidate in Adrian Beltre, who's having a vintage Beltre season and positioning himself for a huge contract. There are reinforements on the way - they'll get Pedroia back next week. They still have Mike Lowell, who they've dragged out of the crypt to play first base and punish pitchers who don't treat him like an old guy.
Ellsbury has been ineffective this year, but he stole four bases yesterday, and you'd think that might get him started in the right direction. He may actually start over Darnell McDonald tonight to keep the momentum going, even against a lefty, despite what the chart tells you.
Starting pitchers! Tonight, it's one of the most talented dirtballers around: Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka has a reputation for pitching around everyone. This doesn't mean you can just go up there and wait for him to walk you - in fact, he doesn't actually throw noticeably fewer pitches in the strike zone than average, or even more first-pitch balls. He just never gives in to anyone when he gets behind, resulting in a low slugging percentage against and a crapload of walks. I'm curious to see how the Jays' lineup will react to him. My guess is well, provided they don't get jumpy when they get ahead in the count. As y'all know, Matsuzaka basically throws everything: four-seamer around 92, cutter, assortment of breaking balls, changeup. According to Fangraphs, he only throws changeups (or splitters) about 7% of the time, which came as a surprise to me, since the change was advertised as his deadly out pitch when he first came over in 2007. Nope - it's mostly fastballs, cutters and sliders. Even more strangely, in 2010, he has backwards splits for the first time in his career. Many current Jays have been terrible against Matsuzaka - worst offenders are Lind (1-20 against a huge flyball pitcher with a rising fastball? Say it ain't so) and Wells (5-26), though Escobar is 2-3 and Buck is 4-7.
Tomorrow, it's all-star righty Clay Buchholz. Looks like Baseball Prospectus 2008 was right and he is better than Joba after all. Fastball around 93, big 12-6 curveball, killer changeup around 81, plus a new secret weapon this year: a hard slider. Unsurprisingly, adding the hard slider has resulted in bigger platoon splits in 2010 for Buchholz. His peripheral stats and BABIP are in the same ballpark as Matsuzaka's, except he's a groundball pitcher. I haven't seen Buchholz pitch but that might speak to a similar strategy in hitters' counts. Against Buchholz, Lind is 6-18 with a couple homers. Snider is 1-9 with 5 strikeouts. Jose Molina is 3-5, and with a DGANG Thursday, he might start this game.
Thursday, it's John Lackey, in the first year of a five-year, $85-million contract. In contrast to the first two pitchers, Lackey has been hit this year, and hit hard. His 4.60 ERA is his highest since 2004. However, he actually has a positive WPA, and that's despite WPA not knowing that Fenway is a hitters' park. He has evidently been very clutch this year. His stats are just plain weird - his K/BB has taken a nosedive, his BABIP is very high, his HR/F is way down despite the move to Fenway. Lackey throws a heavy fastball around 91, big sweeping slider, big curveball and token changeup. His percentage of pitches out of the strike zone that get swung at (whoa, there's a mouthful - OSwing%, in other words) is always well above league average. His percentage of (pitches swung at outside the strike zone) that [get hit] (yikes - OContact%) has usually been average, but this year it's way up, which I guess explains the lower strikeout rate. But you'd think that works in the opposite direction of the BABIP. I'm confused. Fred Lewis is 5-10 with two walks against Lackey. Aaron Hill is 2-18 with two walks. Adam Lind is 6-12. Also, I'm sure Yunel Escobar is aware that Lackey is vulnerable to bunts - 38.2% of bunts have turned into base hits against him over his career.
The Credit Section: Most stats and leverage indices are from Fangraphs. Minor-league stats are from Minor League Splits and Baseball Reference. AL average stats are from Baseball Reference. K% and BB% are strikeouts and walks as a percentage of plate appearances - this is different from Fangraphs, which calculates K% as a percentage of at-bats. UZR is UZR for each player's listed position - e.g., Bill Hall's is his left field UZR, not his total UZR for the many positions he plays.
The stats in this chart don't include Monday's game. Ellsbury's stolen base total is actually 6, not 2. Beyond that, not much changed. However, the relief pitcher rest is up to date.