Welcome to another Weekend Preview. After dropping two out of three to the Rangers thanks to some pitiful hitting, the Red Sox host a Los Angeles Angels team that – like the Sox – has combatted mediocrity early on after being projected in the preseason win their division. This is the first of two series between the teams this season.
Los Angeles Angels – Current Record: 21-20 – Projected Record: 89-73
The Angels were the class of the American League West last season, and entered 2015 projected to repeat that success. Although they’ve played better lately, the Angels have been held back by poor hitting throughout the season. They’re tied for last in baseball in true average (.247), and aside from Kole Calhoun and Mike Trout have received sub-par performances throughout their order. The offense suffered another setback Wednesday night when Albert Pujols left the game against the Toronto Blue Jays after being struck on the hand by a fastball. He is day-to-day with a bruised hand. Keeping the Angels afloat is their starting pitching, which ranks among the best in baseball with a 3.48 team ERA. This weekend they bring the top of their rotation to Fenway Park to face one of baseball’s worst offenses of late.
Rick Porcello vs. Garrett Richards, Friday, 7:10 p.m.
The Sox and Angels open their three-game set with a matchup between, dare I say it, aces. If nothing else, Rick Porcello and Garrett Richards have been their respective team’s most reliable starter over the past month. The Red Sox have won in Porcello’s last five starts, with the right-hander posting a FIP under three in three of his last four outings. Porcello outdueled Seattle’s Felix Hernandez in his last start Saturday, holding the Mariners to two runs on five hits with six strikeouts over 6.2 innings in a 4-2 Sox win. Porcello is throwing more fastballs – he threw 44 on Saturday, 32 of which went for strikes – and has upped his K/9 to 7.82 while improving his BABIP to .295 thanks to this current stretch.
Richards’ last start at Fenway Park was also his last of the season in 2014. The righty tore his left patellar tendon while trying to cover first base Aug. 20 against the Sox, resulting in a knee surgery that ended what was a stellar season. Richards returned from the injury April 19 and has been strong ever since. He’s tossed 39.1 worry-free innings through six starts, posting a 3.09 FIP, .220 BABIP and averaging 8.24 strikeouts and 0.23 home runs per nine innings. Richards is coming off his deepest outing of the season Sunday in Baltimore, lasting 7.2 innings after giving up two runs on five hits. He’s clearly picked up where he left off last year.
Steven Wright vs. C.J. Wilson, Saturday, 7:15 p.m.
With Justin Masterson placed on the disabled list, Steven Wright finally got his chance to establish himself as a mainstay in the major leagues. He proved Sunday he’s at least capable of being the Sox’ fifth starter for now. The knuckleballer allowed three runs on five hits over five innings, while maintaining decent location on his unpredictable signature pitch. According to PITCHf/x, Wright threw 52 of his 80 knuckleballs for strikes, while issuing just one walk as the Mariners put just 16 balls in play. That should be enough to produce wins once the Red Sox’ offense gets going again.
C.J. Wilson is clearly the more established of Saturday’s two starters, and he’s proven that sentiment with a strong start to the season that’s exceeded preseason projections. Wilson holds a 3.12 FIP while posting quality starts in five of his eight outings. One of those rare below-average performances came in his latest start Monday in Toronto. Wilson gave up four runs on 10 hits over five innings, ending a string of five straight starts of two runs or fewer.
Wade Miley vs. Hector Santiago, Sunday, 1:35 p.m.
Wade Miley’s allowed a combined 20 hits over his last three starts, but left those games with LOB%s of 80.7 percent, 100 percent and 75 percent. Miley’s had nothing but odd success lately, but it’s been success nonetheless, something that’s contributed to a significant turnaround for the righty. Miley has a 3.04 ERA over his last four starts and has thrown at least six innings in each of those outings. While he’s gotten himself in plenty of trouble despite his success over the last month, Miley’s used his fastball to end those threats, as was the case Tuesday against the Rangers. On two separate occasions Miley produced inning-ending strikeouts with two runners on base with a fastball that touched 94 miles per hour and, according to PITCHf/x, went for 17 strikes not in play on 36 pitches.
The Red Sox are getting the best of the Angels’ rotation this weekend, and it ends with the team’s leader in ERA (2.25) and K/9 (8.25): Hector Santiago. At 27 years old, Santiago is on pace for the best season of his career. The lefty has allowed one earned run or fewer in six of his eight starts this season, his most recent being two-run (one earned), four-hit performance over seven innings Tuesday against the Blue Jays. But there’s a reason PECOTA projected Santiago to finish the season with a 4.16 ERA. As his 4.10 FIP and 87 percent LOB% suggests, he’s prone to giving up plenty of hits, but finds a way out of those jams. That’ll likely not rear its ugly head Sunday given the Sox’ recent troubles with runners in scoring position.
The Angels boast a righty-heavy lineup. So even with all right-handed pitching this weekend, the Sox starters will probably see no more than three lefties at a time from LA throughout the series. Here is a common lineup the Angels use, assuming Pujols plays this weekend. If he’s out, expect either C.J. Cron to DH, or Trout to DH while Collin Cowgill mans center field, as was the case Thursday night.
Erick Aybar – SS – R
Mike Trout – CF – R
Albert Pujols – DH – R
Kole Calhoun – RF – L
David Freese – 3B – R
Marc Krauss – 1B – L
Matt Joyce – LF – L
Chris Iannetta – C – R
Johnny Giavotella – 2B – R
With the exception of Pujols, who is posting career-low numbers in all offensive categories, including a .231 batting average and .268 TAv to go with his (0.3) WARP, the Angels have received consistent production from Erick Aybar, Mike Trout and Kole Calhoun at the top of the order. But LA lacks an offensive threat beyond its first four hitters, which is good news for a Sox pitching staff that’s finally turning the corner.
The only way the Red Sox have success this weekend is if the offense figures itself out, because they’ll see the best of the Angels’ rotation this weekend. Expect a trio of low-scoring games, unless a starter – likely one on the Sox – has a bad day. But no matter what, you should enjoy this weekend. Watching Mike Trout play is always fun.