After a split with the Rays, the Boston Red Sox (18-20) start interleague play with a three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies (20-19) at Citizens Bank Park. The Red Sox have won six of their last seven and the Phillies have won five in a row. These are two strong teams who are in last place, overcoming slow starts and dealing with injuries to key players. It’s like looking in a mirror.
Cole Hamels (facing Daniel Bard on Friday night) is having a great season so far by any measure. Hamels has a 2.28 ERA, 2.42 FIP, 2.89 xFIP and 2.82 SIERA. He’s throwing his changeup a little more this season (30.6% versus 24.7% in 2011), which may explain his career high of 5.44 K/BB. His BABIP is .296, so it can’t be attributed to luck. About the only thing you could call a weakness in Hamels’s arsenal this year is that he has a 41.3% GB rate as opposed to his 2011 rate of 52.3%, a career high. Hamels is a free agent next year, so he is going to get P-A-I-D paid. Good luck, Sox.
Joe Blanton (against Jon Lester on Saturday night) is also having an excellent season, and the numbers bear it out: 2.96 ERA, 2.62 FIP, 3.43 FIP and 3.51 SIERA. His strikeout rate of 6.47 per nine innings is lower than in his most recent seasons with the Phillies but he is matching it with a career-low of 1.29 walks per nine. Interestingly, Blanton is throwing his sinker with more velocity than his fastball this year (90.1 MPH vs. 89.6). With an arsenal of six pitches (fastball, cutter, sinker, slider, curve and changeup), it should be hard to predict what is coming.
Cliff Lee (versus Josh Beckett on Sunday afternoon) is also having an excellent season, numbers-wise (1.95 ERA, 2.51 FIP, 2.19 xFIP, 2.09 SIERA). Lee’s 2012 BABIP is .236, which could indicate luck, but when your ground ball rate is 61.1%, it can also indicate a darned good pitcher. I apologize for sounding so repetitive, but this is the first time all season where the advanced statistics for the opposing starters are telling the same story as the traditional stats.
WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT
If you don’t know about Carlos Ruiz, you better ask somebody. In the last two weeks, Ruiz is hitting .425/.478/.700, .499 wOBA and 220 wRC, and has 3 dingers and 10 ribbies (do the kids still say dingers and ribbies?). Also hitting well in the last two weeks is Juan Pierre (.378/.425/.432), Freddy Galvis (.317/.364/.512) and Placido Polcanco (.311/.326/.467). On the cold side the last two weeks are Jimmy Rollins (.218/.306/.327), Shane Victorino (.241/.328/.370) and Hunter Pence (.236/.300/.636), but Pence has six homers in the last fortnight.
The strongest pitchers in the Phillies bullpen have been Antonio Bastardo and some guy named Papelbon. Bastardo has a 1.50 ERA and a 2.38 FIP but has a 3.86 xFIP and a 3.49 SIERA, mainly because he has a 20.8% GB rate and a walk rate of 5.25 per nine. Bastardo’s BABIP is .192, which indicates he can’t sustain this success, but he had a .179 BABIP in 58 innings last year. Just sayin’. Meanwhile, old friend Jonathan Papelbon is kicking butt and taking names. Paps has converted 11 out of 12 save chances and is stranding 89.3% of baserunners. His K rate is over 10 per nine but he is walking 2.35 batters per nine. On the flip side, Jose Contreras has an 8.00 ERA but this may have been bad luck, as his BABIP is .423 and he has a 3.52 FIP, a 3.29 xFIP and a 2.77 SIERA.
RHP Justin De Fratus (sprained right elbow) and 2B Michael Martinez (right foot fracture) are on the 60-day DL. RHP David Herndon (right elbow inflammation), 1B Ryan Howard (ruptured Achilles tendon), LF Laynce Nix (calf injury), RHP Michael Stutes (rotator cuff strain), 1B Jim Thome (strained lower back), 2B Chase Utley (left knee injury) and RHP Vance Worley (right elbow inflammation) are on the 15-day DL.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE RED SOX?
In the past two weeks, Daniel Nava is still hot, with a .409/.594/.727triple slash line, a .556 wOBA, and 261 wRC. Also hitting well in the last 14 days are Dustin Pedroia (.345/.426/.552) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.314/.342/.571). However, Will Middlebrooks has cooled off, hitting .236/.263/.527 in the last two weeks. Also on the cool side are Ryan Sweeney (.234/.250/.255) and David Ortiz (.264/.371/.453). The starting pitching has come around, the bullpen is pitching well, and they are getting the hitting they need. Looking good, Billy Ray! Feeling good, Louis!
The Phillies are heating up again, so it is probably only a matter of time until they start their annual assault on the standings in the National League East. Once Ryan Howard and Chase Utley get healthy, they will again be a power.