By: Sean Clifford
Whether you are a fan of it or not, interleague play begins now! The Chicago Cubs will be making their first visit to Fenway since the 1918 World Series. The high flying Red Sox, have finally broken past the .500 barrier that eluded them for over a month and have won 6 straight. However, with both Lackey and Matsuzaka recently hitting the DL, the Sox will be starting both Tim Wakefield and Alfredo Aceves in this series.
May 20: Doug Davis vs. Jon Lester
Doug Davis is a journey-man in his first season with Chicago. The 35 year old started his first game in nearly a year on May 14 and pitched 5 strong innings of 1 run ball. Cubs fans shouldn’t get used to such success however; his career 104 ERA+ is mediocre at best. Davis is 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA against the Sox in his career.
Lester had one of his weaker outings during his last start on Sunday, giving up 4 earned runs in 6 innings. He has been solid so far in 2011. However, his current 4.39 FIP is more than 70 points higher than his career 3.66 FIP. He still stands to settle down and produce even better results. Lester has never faced the Cubs before.
Lester has a clear cut advantage in this matchup. It’s hard to know what to expect from Davis, but he has always been average or worse throughout his career.
May 21: Carlos Zambrano vs. Alfredo Aceves
Zambrano may never again be the ace he once was, but at the very least, he represents a quality starter. Last season, he posted a 131 ERA+, his highest since 2006. However, he only pitched 129.2 innings pitched due to a transition to the bullpen early in the season. He has been far worse in 2011, with just an 84 ERA+ so far. In one previous career start against the Sox, Big Z went 5 innings while surrendering 4 runs, yet recording 8 strikeouts.
Aceves will make his first start as a member of the Red Sox on Saturday. Primarily a reliever in his big league career, Aceves has made just 5 big league starts; 4 of which came in his rookie season of 2008. While his stats are better as a reliever, which is to be expected, he still posted a respectable 3.42 ERA and 1.253 WHIP in 26.1 IP as a starter. In 2 starts in AAA this season, Aceves recorded a 5.63 ERA.
Zambrano gets a very slight edge in this matchup. He could very easily get lit up at Fenway however, so this game is essentially a toss-up.
May 22: Matt Garza vs. Tim Wakefield
Garza and the Red Sox are certainly familiar with each other as Garza has pitched for the rival Tampa Bay Rays the past three seasons. Garza’s 110.1 career IP against the Red Sox is the most he has ‘spit’ against any team. He has been fairly successful against the BoSox; he has a 7-4 record with a 3.83 ERA against them.
Shakey Wakey makes yet another unwarranted start this season, directly as a result of Lackey and Matsuzaka hitting the DL. He has been very poor this season, posting a 5.23 FIP in just over 26 innings.
Garza gets the edge in this matchup. Wakefield has been too inconsistent to assume he can give the Sox a good chance to win.
The Red Sox offense is slowly trending upwards, and they now have a team .740 OPS, good for 6th in the MLB. Players like Pedroia and Crawford are not meeting expectations still. However, Gonzalez is destroying the ball this month with 8 homeruns and a .314 average. Ortiz, who just hit his 8th homerun last night, continues to excel in 2011 also.
The Cubs offense has been almost equally successful to this point in the season. They possess a team .738 OPS and have plated 175 runs in 42 games. Their .278 batting average is good for 2nd in baseball. Castro is a sparkplug at the top of their lineup, and Alfonso Soriano has had great power numbers thus far (11 homeruns).
The Sox have a very small advantage here, and either team’s offense could win the series for them.0
Player to watch: Carlos Pena
Pena spent the past 4 years in Tampa Bay, where he helped the Rays give the Red Sox fits. He signed with the Cubs this past offseason, and hasn’t been quite the performer they had hoped for (106 OPS+). Pena does have 23 career homeruns against Boston, his second highest total against any team. Can he turn it on for the Cubs in this series? Will his familiarity with the Red Sox prove to be helpful against the Red Sox, or a hindrance?
Either team could take 2 of 3 games here, but with the home field advantage that comes with playing at Fenway Park, the Sox should be able to get the better of the Cubs here.
Also, both the Red Sox and the Cubs will be wearing 1918 throwback jerseys on Saturday to commemorate the 1918 World Series. Hopefully, this series turns out like that one did!