Jeremy Hellickson (Photo: Samara Pearlstein)

After losing two of three against the Orioles, the Boston Red Sox (5-4, tied for first in the AL East) finish their homestand with a four- three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays (4-5, one game back in the AL East). The Rays usually get by with pitching and defense, but the winner of the AL East this season may need a bit more hitting than the Rays usually provide. (During the writing of this column, the Red Sox postponed Friday night’s game, and the pitching matchups are updated).

STARTING PITCHERS: David Price, Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson

David Price (versus Jon Lester), the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, keeps getting better. In 2012, Price produced some impressive stats: 2.56 ERA/3.05 FIP/3.12 xFIP with matching minus stats of 66 ERA-/75 FIP-/76 xFIP-. Price’s K/BB of 205/59 (3.47 ratio) was not far off from his 2011 mark of 211/63 (3.46). However, the statistic that could have won Price the Cy Young was his improvement in ground balls induced. Price ground ball percentage in 2011 was 44.3% but in 2012 he raised that percentage to 53.1%. This may have also helped Price raise his strand rate from 73.3% in 2011 to 81.1% in 2012.

Alex Cobb (against Clay Buchholz) looks to improve upon a promising first full season in 2012, when he posted a 4.03 ERA/3.67 FIP/3.54 BABIP. Cobb’s K/BB was a positive at 2.65 (7.00 K/9, 2.64 BB/9). Most notably for Cobb, his 2012 SIERA was 3.51, a mark considered between “above average” and “great” (according to FanGraphs). Cobb had an excellent 58.8% ground ball rate in 2012 but his homer to fly ball rate of 12.8% was a touch higher than the league average of 10.5%.

Jeremy Hellickson (facing Ryan Dempster on Patriot’s Day) has been a statistical nightmare for the past few seasons. In 2011 Hellickson’s BABIP was an incredibly low .226 (actual batting average against – .209) and his ground ball rate was a pretty bad 35.1%, but his homer-to-fly ratio was a fairly low 8.1%. Hellickson also had a poor K/BB ratio of 1.63 (5.57 K/9, 3.43 BB/9). This resulted in a 2.95 ERA but a 4.44 FIP and a 4.72 xFIP. In 2012, Hellickson’s BABIP rose to a still-on-the lucky side .261 (actual BAA – .240), he improved his groundball rate to a less anemic 41.8%, improved his K.BB ratio to 2.10 (6.31 K/9, 3.00 BB/9), but his HR/FB ratio rose to 12.4%. Still, Hellickson’s ERA looked good at 3.10, but his 4.60 FIP and 4.44 xFIP marks indicated that Hellickson was again riding his luck. Sure, you need a little luck to be good but this is getting ridiculous.

EXPECTED LINEUP

1. Desmond Jennings, CF
2. Sam Fuld, LF
3. Evan Longoria, 3B
4. Ben Zobrist, 2B
5. Matt Joyce, RF
6. James Loney, 1B
7. Yunel Escobar, SS
8. Jose Molina, C
9. Kelly Johnson, DH

WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT

Unsurprisingly, Ben Zobrist (.364/.405/.545, .405 wOBA, 155 wRC+) and Evan Longoria (.345/.444/.345, .363 wOBA, 128 wRC+) are off to solid starts this season for the Rays, while Matt Joyce (.174/.240/.304, .244 wOBA, 49 wRC+) Yunel Escobar (.100/.206/.167, .182 wOBA, 8 wRC+) and Sam Fuld (.111/.111/.111, .099 wOBA, -47 wRC+, yikes!) are stinking on ice.

In the Rays’ bullpen, Joel Peralta (2.45 ERA/1.50 FIP/3.93 xFIP, .364 BABIP) is pitching well, Brandon Gomes (2.25 ERA/4.38 FIP/3.36 xFIP, .111 BABIP) and Jamey Wright (0.00 ERA/3.13 FIP/4.85 xFIP, .231 BABIP) are flattering to deceive, and Cesar Ramos (8.31 ERA/5.44 FIP/3.47 xFIP, .357 BABIP), Kyle Farnsworth (6.75 ERA/9.13 FIP/7.04 xFIP, .333 BABIP), Fernando Rodney (10.13 ERA/7.63 FIP/3.87 xFIP, .400 BABIP) and Jake McGee (15.00 ERA/8.13 FIP/5.78 xFIP, .333 BABIP) are looking to hit the reset button on the XBox.

INJURIES

RHP Jeff Niemann (right shoulder surgery, placed on 15-day DL on April 10), RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo – formerly Leo Nunez (recovery from September 2012 Tommy John surgery, placed on 60-day DL on March 31) and DH Luke Scott (right calf strain, placed on 15-day DL on April 10).

AND WHAT ABOUT THE RED SOX?

Daniel Nava (.421/.520/.947, .577 wOBA, 259 wRC+) continues to prove the doubters wrong (as Jack Keller’s excellent piece showed), and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.250/.357/.500, .370 wOBA, 123 wRC+) is in one of his patented hot stretches. Honorable mention has to go to the recently-demoted-to-Pawtucket Jose Iglesias (.450/.476/.550, .450 wOBA, 175 WRC). On the other side of the ledger, spring darling Jackie Bradley Jr. (.120/.313/.160, .248 wOBA, 43 wRC+), Jonny Gomes (.200/.333/.267, .260 wOBA, 50 wRC+) and Mike Napoli (.211/.231/.421, .278 wOBA, 62 wRC+) aren’t performing to their potential, but they do play well with others.

In the Red Sox bullpen, newcomer Alex Wilson (0.00 ERA/4.13 FIP/4.13 xFIP, .000 BABIP) joins Andrew Bailey (0.00 ERA/1.33 FIP/3.12 xFIP, .200 BABIP) and Koji Uehara (0.00 ERA/2.23 FIP/4.91 xFIP, .125 BABIP) as recipients of the Blutarsky ERA Award. Junichi Tazawa (1.80 ERA/4.13 FIP/3.02 xFIP, .308 BABIP) is also pitching very well, but Andrew Miller (6.75 ERA/7.63 FIP/7.63 xFIP, .000 BABIP), Alfredo Aceves (10.38 ERA/8.21 FIP/3.92 xFIP, .273 BABIP) and new whipping boy du jour closer Joel Hanrahan (11.57 ERA/11.71 FIP/6.53 xFIP, .231 BABIP) have seen better stretches.

SUMMARY

This series ends the stretch of skeins for the Red Sox against American League East foes. The schedule may or may not get easier for the Red Sox but a positive outcome in this series against the Rays will continue the positivity (yes) surrounding the club. As for the Rays, a bad series will keep them looking up at first place.

Categories: Alex Cobb Alex Wilson Alfredo Aceves Andrew Bailey Andrew Miller Baltimore Orioles Ben Zobrist Boston Red Sox Brandon Gomes Cesar Ramos Clay Buchholz Daniel Nava David Price Desmond Jennings Felix Doubront Fernando Rodney Jackie Bradley Jr. Jake McGee James Loney Jamey Wright Jarrod Saltalamacchia Jeremy Hellickson Joel Hanrahan Joel Peralta Jon Lester Jonny Gomes Jose Iglesias Jose Molina Juan Carlos Oviedo Junichi Tazawa Kelly Johnson Koji Uehara Kyle Farnsworth Leo Nunez Luke Scott Matt Joyce Mike Napoli Sam Fuld Tampa Bay Rays Yunel Escobar

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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