Matt Joyce (Photo: Samara Pearlstein)

Having won both games of a two-game set against the lowly Seattle Mariners, the Boston Red Sox (17-19) travel to St. Petersburg, Florida to play another two-game series, this time against the tied-for-first place Tampa Bay Rays (23-14). The Red Sox, while still in last place in the American League East and 5.5 games behind the Rays and the Baltimore Orioles, are improving, having won five in a row. The Rays are 4-6 in their last 10 games but have won their last three in a row.

STARTING PITCHERSJeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore

Jeremy Hellickson (against Clay Buchholz in the opener) is finding the path from prospect to major leaguer to be a winding one. His stellar K/BB rates in the minors, regularly in the high 4s, dropped to 1.63 in 2011 and 1.81 so far in 2012. While his ERA is 2.95 (both in 2011 and so far in 2012), his advanced statistics show a very luck pitcher. In 2012, Hellickson’s BABIP is .228 (.226 avg. against), his FIP is 5.17, his xFIP is 4.57, his SIERA is 4.52, and he has stranded 88.5% of runners. Not being an extreme ground ball pitcher (41.2% GB rate), these numbers don’t bode well for the one-time prospect.

Matt Moore (facing Felix Doubront in the finale) is also finding the majors to be a challenge. Moore, the darling of the prospect ratings, has a 5.31 ERA, 4.99 FIP, 5.00 xFIP, 4.70 SIERA, 1.55 K/BB, .279 avg. against, and a 1.67 WHIP. Moore is walking too many batters (an ugly 5.08 per 9 innings) and not striking out enough hitters (7.85 per 9, still good) to offset the walks. Moore’s .325 BABIP shows a bit of bad luck, but that doesn’t explain the walks. If Moore stops giving free passes, he can turn things around.

EXPECTED LINEUP

1. Ben Zobrist, RF
2. B.J. Upton, CF
3. Matt Joyce, LF
4. Carlos Pena, 1B
5. Luke Scott, DH
6. Sean Rodriguez, 3B
7. Will Rhymes, 2B
8. Jose Molina, C
9. Elliot Johnson, SS

WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT

In the last two weeks, Ben Zobrist (.244/.404/.585, .412 wOBA, 169 wRC+), Elliot Johnson (.333/.389/.545, .420 wOBA, 175 wRC+) and Sean Rodriguez (.310/.341/.452, .347 wOBA, 125 wRC+) are carrying the Rays, while Carlos Pena (.111/.286/.222, .250 wOBA, 58 wRC+), Luke Scott ( .196/.255/.370, .273 wOBA, 73 wRC+) and B.J. Upton (.167/.294/.286, .288 wOBA, 84 wRC+) are an anchor on the team. With Evan Longoria hurt, these three batters (especially) must pick up the slack to keep Tampa Bay in the race.

In the Rays’ bullpen, Fernando Rodney (0.51 ERA, 1.71 FIP, 2.48 xFIP) is getting the job done in the closer role, while Jake McGee (2.31 ERA, 1.33 FIP, 2.49 xFIP), Wade Davis (2.04ERA, 2.90 FIP, 3.86 xFIP) and J.P. Howell (2.08 ERA, 3.34 FIP, 3.70 xFIP) are also pitching very well. However, Burke Badenhop (4.50 ERA, 4.96 FIP, 3.05 xFIP) and Joel Peralta (5.74 ERA, 5.00 FIP, 3.33 xFIP) are pitching badly.

INJURIES

C Robinson Chirinos (concussion), RHP Kyle Farnsworth (right elbow) and OF Sam Fuld (right wrist injury) are on the 60-day DL. 1B Brandon Allen (right quad strain), LF Desmond Jennings (left knee sprain), C Jose Lobaton (sore right shoulder), 3B Evan Longoria (partially torn left hamstring) and RHP Jeff Niemann (fractured right fibula) are on the 15-day DL.

AND WHAT ABOUT THE RED SOX?

The Red Sox are finally putting it all together. In their Last two starts, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett both went away from their two-seam fastballs and relied more on their four-seamers, and each pitched their best game of the season. One pitcher relying on four-seamers over the two-seamer may have been an anomaly but two is a trend. Whatever works is what I say. Daniel Nava continues with his torrid start, hitting .533/.708/1.000, while his 2nd professional homerun surely must have again caught the attention of Erin Andrews. Dustin Pedroia (.340/.438/.585), Adrian Gonzalez (.327/.403/.491) and Will Middlebrooks (.300/.340/.640) also remain hot, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, seemingly energized by his appearance on NESN’s Small Talk, has raised his triple slash line to .294/.324/.529. Mike Aviles (.218/.241/.309) and Cody Ross (.196/.296/.370), however, still remain cold at the plate. Oh well, you can’t have everything.

SUMMARY

With Evan Longoria on the sidelines, players like Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and B.J. Upton must step up to replace some of Longoria’s production if they don’t want to start falling in the American League East. However, the Rays just might be able to get by on pitching.

Categories: Adrian Gonzalez B.J. Upton Baltimore Orioles Ben Zobrist Boston Red Sox Brandon Allen Burke Badenhop Carlos Pena Cody Ross Daniel Nava Desmond Jennings Dustin Pedroia Elliot Johnson Evan Longoria Fernando Rodney J.P. Howell Jake McGee Jarrod Saltalamacchia Jeff Niemann Jeremy Hellickson Joel Peralta Jon Lester Jose Lobaton Jose Molina Josh Beckett Kyle Farnsworth Luke Scott Matt Joyce Matt Moore Mike Aviles Robinson Chirinos Sam Fuld Sean Rodriguez Seattle Mariners Tampa Bay Rays Wade Davis Will Middlebrooks Will Rhymes

Scott Candage is a long-time Red Sox fan. He recently came in third in the 127th annual Upperclass Twit of the Year competition. His best friend is a tree and he is a stockbroker in his spare time.

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