Steven Wright

Weekend Preview: Red Sox vs. Rangers, Part II

It’s Friday! Time for another Weekend Preview.

The Red Sox had a rough week. Coming off a weekend series in which they took two of three from the Angels and scored 19 runs, they looked rough getting swept by Minnesota. In the three games they scored a total of seven runs, and added two more tallies to the rapidly accumulating number of games in which they score two or fewer runs. They have achieved the feat 19 times this year, a whopping 40.4% of their games. This team was constructed to be destructive on offense, but that has yet to pan out. Rusney Castillo was called up to provide some offense, Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts were flipped in the order, and David Ortiz was dropped to the 5-hole. These minor moves are not likely to punch the Sox into hyperdrive, but rather some natural regression to established career marks and some change in fortune on balls-in-play should get things moving in the right direction. This weekend the Red Sox continue their road trip, battling the Rangers who took two of three from the Sox in Fenway last week. The Sox won the series opener on Thursday night and the offensive-friendly Globe Life Park in Arlington might just be the medicine the Red Sox need.

Texas Rangers – Record (23 – 25) – Projected Record (80 – 82)

The Rangers have played just about to expectations thus far. They have won eight of their last ten games, running through Boston, New York and Cleveland. Josh Hamilton is back playing, which, depending on the player he is now, could make their offense scary. The team has posted a .274 TAv without Hamilton, which is the fifth best mark in the game. Shin-Soo Choo has found his stroke after an abysmal first month, Prince Fielder is absolutely crushing the ball (10 home runs, 181 wRC+), and while Adrian Beltre has yet to get going (.265 TAv, 91 wRC+) he is always lurking. The difficulty for the Rangers, as is typically the case, has been the pitching (4.20 ERA, 4.39 FIP). Losing ace Yu Darvish obviously hurt them, but even with him pitching every fifth day this team was not going to excel on the pitching front. Giving starts to Colby Lewis, Yovani Gallardo, Wandy Rodriguez and Ross Detwiler does not exactly instill confidence in the run prevention side of the game. All told, to this point in the season they have scored almost as many runs as they have allowed (214 RS, 227 RA), which more or less matches what PECOTA projects the rest of the way.


Game 1: Steven Wright vs. Yovani Gallardo, Friday, 8:07pm EDT

Steven Wright and his knuckleball have been a decent fill-in for Justin Masterson in the Red Sox rotation, although his 4.98 FIP looks pretty ugly. In Wright’s two starts this year he has allowed five runs over 11.1 innings. He has dealt with base runners, averaging one per inning pitched, but has limited extra-base hits (4) and, in turn, run scoring. Tonight will be Wright’s fifth career start, and a good one could keep him in the running, along with Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens, for a rotation spot going forward.

The Rangers acquired Gallardo in an offseason trade with the Brewers. Thus far, he has been considerably worse with the Rangers than he was in Milwaukee. His ERA and FIP are both above career marks, and the downward trend in his strikeout rate that began in 2012 has continued to his low mark this year at 16.5%, although on a positive note the declining walk rate that started the same year is down to a low point of 6.6%. Taken together these rates show that he has been working more in the strike zone, but allowing more contact. The Red Sox batters will need to be ready to swing the bat tonight. Gallardo has allowed two runs in all but one of his 10 starts this season. Against the Red Sox last week he went five innings, allowed 10 hits, two of which were bombs, four runs, and only struck out two batters. That start was Gallardo’s worst of the year by GameScore, and the Sox’s lone win of that series.

Game 2: Wade Miley vs. Chi Chi Gonzalez, Saturday, 7:15pm EDT

Looking at Miley’s overall season numbers shows a pitcher that you would be worried about taking the hill. His 4.47 ERA is nine percent worse than league average, although his 3.74 fielding independent mark (five percent better than league average) suggests he has been better. But Miley has been much better in his last three outings: 21.2 IP, 16 H, 3 R, 0 HR, 6 BB, 10 SO. It is worth noting that one of those three starts came against the Rangers. His walk (8.5%), strikeout (14.6%), and left-on-base (64.7%) rates have gradually regressed to career norms, which is a good sign for his figuring things out. Alex Skillin has more on Miley’s impressive month. Ideally Miley can build on his last few starts and keep the Rangers’ lineup in check again.

Chi Chi Gonzalez, who immediately jumps to the top of the best names in baseball list, will be making his major league debut on Saturday. Gonzalez, a 2013 first-round pick of the Rangers, was ranked as the team’s number two prospect by the Baseball Prospectus staff. He has not exactly been dominating at Triple-A Round Rock (4.15 ERA, 4.42 FIP) but the Rangers need someone who can give them five-plus innings and there are not available options on the major league roster. From the BP scouting report, Gonzalez throws four pitches: a fastball that runs 92-95 mph with lots of action, a slider in the mid-80s, a changeup in the same velocity range as the slider, and an occasional curveball. He has had trouble commanding his pitches, and as a result has walked 10.1% of the batters he has faced this year. He is also not striking batters out like he did while at the lower levels. In Double-A he was striking out 20.7% of the batters he faced, but this year at Triple-A that rate has dropped to 13.8%. The Red Sox should aim to be patient against him, and limit the much needed length he can offer the Rangers.

Game 3: Joe Kelly vs. Wandy Rodriguez, Sunday, 3:05pm EDT

There is a notion that Joe Kelly is pitching for his rotation spot this weekend, especially after Rodriguez came up and threw 7.2 strong innings of shutout ball. Kelly is a perplexing pitcher that seems to have great stuff but a difficulty knowing when and how to mix that stuff as he moves through a lineup. On Monday he did not get out of the second inning against a Twins team that owns the fifth worst offense in the league by TAv (.254). But, oddly enough, in his start before the disaster on Monday he held the Rangers, a strong offensive team, to two runs over seven innings of work (tied for his longest outing of the season), scattering seven hits, walking one and striking out seven. He needs to do something similar this weekend or he could find himself in the bullpen, or on a bus to Pawtucket.

Wandy Rodriguez will be the first left-handed starter the Red Sox have faced since Hector Santiago last Sunday. The Red Sox issues with lefties have been well documented. Rodriguez has pitched well this season, posting a 3.60 ERA, but that mark outperforms his fielding-independent number of 4.25 by a fair amount. He pitched very well against the Red Sox last week, holding them to four hits, and only one run, while walking two and striking out five. One thing the Red Sox may have in their favour is that Rodriguez has struggled in his starts in Globe Life Park. He has made two home starts, so small sample caveats apply, but in those starts he has yet to get out of the fifth inning, allowing nine runs in his nine total innings pitched.

Opposing Lineup:

The Rangers’ lineup has a lot of left-handed power. Navigating the Choo (7 HR, .440 SLG), Fielder (10 HR, .597 SLG), Beltre (6 HR, .417 SLG), Hamilton, and Moreland (5 HR, .541 SLG) three (or four) times a game is a significant challenge. Those numbers are current statistics for 2015 and therefore subject to some small sample variance, but the PECOTA projections for SLG also present a difficult row to hoe: .405, .459, .482, .461, and .405. Red Sox pitchers will need to tread carefully.


Leonys Martin




Shin-Soo Choo




Prince Fielder




Adrian Beltre




Josh Hamilton




Mitch Moreland




Elvis Andrus




Robinson Chirinos




Thomas Field



This lineup could look a little different for Saturday’s game against Wade Miley. I suspect that Delino Deshields Jr. will be inserted into the leadoff spot to play center field, with Leonys Martin sitting, and Kyle Blanks will be slotted in to play first base, moving Mitch Moreland to the bench. Blanks’ primary skill is hitting lefties (.308 TAv v. LHP, .252 TAv v. RHP), and while Deshields’ splits are not as defined due to limited appearances, Martin has struggled against lefties in his career (.220 TAv v. LHP, .270 TAv v. RHP).


Globe Life Park can be a bit of a launching pad and neither of these teams have pitched well this year. The Rangers are ranked 25th with a 4.35 ERA (4.44 FIP), and the Red Sox are ranked 27th with a 4.55 ERA (4.30 FIP). With that said, at this point I just don’t know what to expect from this Red Sox offense. Ideally they score more than 9 runs in this series, but if not still manage to scratch out a couple of wins. Their playoff odds are down to 30%, having dropped 11.6% over the last week. While it is still early in the season, and the AL East is a mess (nobody in the division has a winning record in May), it would be nice to see this team string together some series wins.

Photo by Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports Images

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