Series Preview: Boston Red Sox (31-32) at Chicago Cubs (21-42)

Wait, the Red Sox have a losing record? That was a surprise to me. Pythagoras disagrees with their record, as they have a +26 run differential, second in the AL east and 4th in the whole AL. If their non-winning trend continues they might have to watch out for some sleeper cell cultists. Luckily the Red Sox are playing the Cubs and not one of their much more formidable AL East foes.

Team Overviews

Respective league ranks in parentheses

  Sox Cubs
wOBA .331 (3rd) .298 (14th)
UBR -0.9 (11th) 3.4 (3rd)
UZR 13.8 (4th) 3.8 (7th)
DRS +35 (2nd) +1 (4th)
SP FIP 4.43 (10th) 4.00 (11th)
RP FIP 3.74 (8th) 4.74 (16th)

Aside from injuries, it looks like the Red Sox main problem this year has been starting pitching. Their top three pitchers have pitched well but have significant ERA-FIP splits, and the back end of their rotation (Buchholz, Bard) has been a mess, to be putting it lightly. The Cubs maintain their lead for the worst bullpen in all of baseball. Toronto is 0.2 points back, and they're far ahead of everyone else.


It's been a while since we did a injury status roundup for the Cubs, so here it is

  • Ian Stewart hit the DL due to more problems with his wrist. They're talking like he might have nerve damage, which I would guess means surgery and thus no more Stewart this season. He's a good bet to be nontendered in the offseason. I still like the trade though. Stewart still had a lot more upside than Tyler Colvin.
  • Geovany Soto is rehabbing from his knee surgery and could be back next week. He's playing for the I-Cubs and the team wants him to get a few full 9 inning outings behind the plate before they bring him up.
  • Lendy Castillo has been out for a month with a "groin strain". I have heard zero news since then, it sounds like they have him in the top secret Rule 5 Rehab Center.
  • Blake Parker and Marcos Mateo are done-zo for the year with elbow problems
  • Alfonso Soriano *should* be on the DL, as he's had knee problems for the past month and has a hard time stopping while running. His bat is doing just fine though.

The Red Sox have had injury problems of their own, especially in the outfield

  • Kevin Youkilis is day to day with a sore ribcage, and is expected to have limited availability in this series.
  • Berselius vendetta target Carl Crawford has been out the whole season due to wrist surgery in March. He just started a throwing program and the Red Sox hope he'll be back after the all-star break.
  • CF Jacoby Ellsbury dislocated his shoulder in mid-April, and is on the 60-day DL. He's rehabbing in Florida right now and could be back before the all-star break. It's too bad the notoriously lazy Aramis Ramirez isn't the gritty youngster that Ellsbury is. He took 8 long weeks to return from his shoulder seperation. If Ellsbury took that long he wouldn't have been back until….today.
  • CF Jason Repko managed to emulate Ellsbury by separating his other shoulder only a week later
  • Marlon Byrd was brought in to stop the bleeding, and he posted better numbers than he did in Chicago, but still was awful enough that they had to DFA him anyway.
  • OF Cody Ross broke his foot in mid-May, and could make his way back next week
  • SP John Lackey is out for the year with TJS. This is probably an addition by subtraction situation though, considering how awful he was last year.
  • Theo compensation RP Chris Carpenter is out indefinitely with elbow surgery
  • Former A's closer Andrew Bailey had thumb surgery and hit the 60-day DL to start the season. He could be back around the all-star break
  • Former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks had multiple back surgeries this offseason and might be done with baseball. The Red Sox are supposedly trying to buy out his contract.
  • Former Cub Rich Hill made seventeen appearances before hitting the DL again. He could be back in July
  • Former Cub Mark Prior is pitching well in Pawtucket and could get a call-up soon.

Position players

David Ortiz has been the main force in the offense, posting a .405 wOBA in 265 PAs, good for 19.1 wRAA. It looked like he might be on the decline a few years back but he got right back to where he was earlier in his career. Here are his yearly wOBAs since joining the Red Sox in 2003 – .400, .408, .418, .427, .448, .372, .340, .380, .405, .405. The dude can hit. Luckily without the DH the Cubs might not see much of him this series. Or maybe we'll get to see his statue impresion at 1b, especially with Youkilis ailing. The biggest negative contributers to the offense are the glove-focused SS Mike Aviles and surprisingly Kevin Youkilis, who has posted only a .293 wOBA this year. Marlon Byrd had the largest negative effect on the offense, posting -5.1 wRAA in his relatively brief time with the team.

Aviles has been the best baserunner on the team, and not surprisingly Ortiz has been the biggest negative on the basepaths. Without Ellsbury, this hasn't been a particularly SB happy team. No one is in double digits.

Adrian Gonzalez is the best rated defender on the team, but he's been spending a lot of time in RF lately so that's mostly gone. Pedroia is a good defender, and some of the no-bat guys the Red Sox have filling in for their injured outfield can at least play defense.

Pitching Matchups

ERA, FIP, xFIP, ZiPS FIP listed for each pitcher

Not surprisingly both weekend games were picked up for national broadcast, but I'll be stuck watching the Rangers obliterate the Astros on Saturday.

Friday: Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP (4.24) vs Ryan Dempster, RHP (2.31, 3.27, 3.56, 3.92), 1:20 PM CT

I just listed Matsuzaka's projected FIP since he's only made one start. It seems like he's been injured forever, but he did manage to make eight starts last year before getting TJS in June. He's been making rehab appearances in the minors since April, and while he managed to keep his walks down (his main problem in the majors) he gave up a ton of HRs. He had a decent debut against the Nationals last week, striking out eight but allowing four runs in five innings, and only walking one batter.

Could this be Dempster's last start? Given the lack of news around this team that's all the beat writers have been focusing on. After the breathlessly reported conversation that Theo and Dempster had in the stands a few days back there was a lot of speculation. It was defused the next day by claims that they were just talking about charity events, but later reports said they certainly did talk trade scenarios. Dempster was originally going to start on Saturday but they flipped him and Samardzija to give F7 and extra day of rest, which they said they were going to to with F7 all season. If they trade Dempster, the sooner the better both because he has more value now (more starts to give) and because some other pitchers on expiring deals (Hamels, Greinke) might hit the market in the next few weeks. I still think the Cubs are better off keeping him around and trying to get the picks, but they should definitely shop him.

Saturday: Jon Lester, LHP (4.57, 3.66, 3.82, 3.66) vs Jeff Samardzija, RHP (3.96, 3.09, 3.39, 4.11), 6:15 PM CT (FOX)

The ERA-FIP splits on these Red Sox starters is especially baffiling when you consider how good their defense is. Lester hasn't been too unlucky BABIP-wise – he has a .316 BABIP but is a ground ball pitcher. His strand rate sits at a Volstad-esque 64.6%, so maybe he's also having trouble in the stretch. He's also had problems striking batters out this year. He has 6.92 K/9 following three seasons where he averaged more than strikeout per inning. According to Fangraphs's pitch values, a big difference could be that he lost the handle on his cutter. Early in his career it was his best pitch, this year it looks like it's his worst. He's been throwing a lot less of it, accordingly.

Samardzija was hammered in his last start, giving up eight runs in 3.2 innings to the Twins. I wasn't too surprised, as he had made comments before the game that he was going to pitch to contact because of the dimensions of the park or something. Listen, Jeff, if something ain't broke don't fix it. Just do what you've been doing in every other start. It's safe to say that seems to be working. Hopefully he learned that lesson.

Sunday: Josh Beckett, RHP (4.14, 3.78, 3.89, 3.92) vs Paul Maholm, LHP (4.91, 4.76, 4.41, 4.21), 7:00 PM CT

I thought the Tigers would be all over Paul Maholm but he pitcher very well, striking out seven in six innings and allowing two runs. The bullpen promptly blew the lead for him but the suddenly Jaramillo-less Cubs offense managed to come back with a booming display of scoring on two conscutive errors by the Tigers SS. His outing pushed his ERA and FIP below 5 for the first time this season, so he's got that going for him.

Beckett has always been stingy with walks, but has been especially so this year. But like Lester he's also seen a significant drop in his strikeout rate, going from averaging ~8.3 the past few seasons to 6.5 K/9 this year. I'm also extra confused by the chicken and beer complaints with him last year, because his final ERA and FIP were 2.89 and 3.57, respectively. I guess he must have just pitched poorly down the stretch. Or maybe he's a system SP, ala Tom Brady (laughing). Never change, Boston sports fans.


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