After a very rough start to the season (for the second year in a row, no less), the Red Sox will look to get back on track against the always tough Blue Jays. The Blue Jays won their first series of the year 2-1 against the Cleveland Indians and barely missed sweeping the Indians, losing 3-4 on Sunday. The Red Sox had a disaster of a series against the Tigers, with Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera combining for 5 home runs against Red Sox pitching. Josh Becketta and Clay Buchholz both got rocked by the Indians, though the Red Sox had a chance to win games one and three of the series. The Red Sox rallied from a 2-0 deficit against Jose Valverde in the top of the ninth inning on Thursday, but in the end lost on a walk off single by Austin Jackson in the bottom of the ninth. The Red Sox loss on Sunday was even more painful. Up 3 runs in the bottom of the ninth, Alfredo Aceves allowed a bomb to Miguel Cabrera with two runners on base to tie it up. The Red Sox scored two in the top of the twelfth inning, but Mark Melancon blew the save, allowing 3 runs, 2 of them coming from a walk off home run by Alex Avila. Needless to say, the Red Sox need a series win against the Blue Jays to avoid more panic in Red Sox Nation.
It’s two relatively unproven starters facing off here. Doubront earned the #4 spot in the rotation by having a great spring training, going 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP in 16.2 innings of work. He’s only made 4 major league starts, all of them coming in 2010. He had an ERA of 4.11 in those starts. Henderson Alvarez is a very promising young pitcher for the Blue Jays who had an ERA of 3.53 last season in 10 starts. He worked on a slider during Spring Training and the addition of the slider to his repertoire should enhance his above average changeup and fastball.
Doubront had a very rough 2011 season both for the Red Sox and the PawSox. He didn’t do that badly for the PawSox, posting an ERA just above 4, but he wasn’t as well as the Red Sox expected him to do. He got knocked around in the 10.1 innings he pitched for the Red Sox, though his BABIP (.344) suggests he got unlucky. His vast improvement in Spring Training this year was a big encouragement to Red Sox fans to say the least.
Alvarez earned the promotion to the Blue Jays big league squad last year after posting a 2.86 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP while going 8-4. Alvarez was aggressively promoted by the Blue Jays in 2011 after not exactly excelling in A+ ball. The Blue Jays have high hopes for Alvarez and he is the youngest pitcher in Blue Jays history to pitch a home opener.
I really like this matchup for the Red Sox. Although Daniel Bard is a question mark at this point, Kyle Drabek doesn’t worry me at all. He has an unsightly ERA of 12.00 against the Red Sox in 9 innings of work and 2 starts and we always seem to hit him hard. He’s always had a lot of potential (he was the #25 ranked prospect in 2010 and the #29 ranked prospect in 2011), but he hasn’t come close to fulfilling it.
This game will be very important to the Red Sox. Should Bard excel in his start, it’ll likely quiet all of the Red Sox fans who want Bard to be our full-time closer. If he gets shelled or struggles, it’ll cause more people to call for him to be sent to the pen to bolster it. Bard hasn’t started full-time since 2007, and while he struggled, that’s not a good indicator of how he’s going to do now at all. He only has 197 innings in his major league career, and he has said that he wants to match that this year. If Bard is able to pitch 197 innings I’d be shocked, but thrilled. He’s clearly capable of being a great starter, and if he can the Red Sox rotation will be one of the best in baseball.
Here’s another matchup I like a lot for two reasons. The first reason is while Ricky Romero is one of the better young pitchers in baseball, we always hit him hard. He is 4-6 against us with an ERA of 7.12 in 12 starts. He also has a WHIP of 1.93 against us. The Red Sox always seem to have his number. He could shut us down, but I have a good feeling that we’ll have no trouble getting runs from him. On the other hand Lester has a career 3.33 ERA against the Blue Jays in 11 career starts.
The second reason I like this matchup is because we have Jon Lester going for us. I predicted before the season that Lester would have a breakout year and he looked really good in his first start. Against a stellar Tigers lineup that put up 10 and 13 runs in game 2 and 3 respectively, he held them to 1 run in 7 innings. That run wouldn’t have even reached on base if Sweeney played it correctly. After a 2011 season where Lester was one of the scapegoats for the collapse, I thought that Lester would be very motivated to silence the doubters this year and he has done that this year. He had a quality Spring Training and owned up for him becoming out of shape during the season. Barring any injuries I feel that Lester is going to be a Cy Young candidate this year and finally show Red Sox fans that he can be a legit ace.
I’d be surprised if the Red Sox didn’t take at least two games out of this series. The Red Sox have a better matchup in two of the three games and game one is certainly winnable.
While the Blue Jays offense is very good this year and not one to sleep on, the Red Sox still have a top 3 offense in the league. They had some struggles against the Tigers, but they showed in game 3 that they’re not going to have problems scoring runs this year. And remember that Nick Punto was leading off for the Red Sox in that game. The Blue Jays have the second best hitter in baseball in Jose Bautista (right behind Miguel Cabrera) and Brett Lawrie is one of the most promising young hitters in baseball right now. The Red Sox are still without Crawford, who is expected back in May. The Red Sox offense is still ahead, but the Blue Jays are a hard team to beat at home when they’re hot.
Player to Watch
Adrian Gonzalez. He had a great series against the Tigers and is the most important player on the Red Sox lineup by far. He still dominated last year coming off of shoulder surgery and looks much better this year. I’d be surprised if AGon didn’t hit a bomb in Toronto this series, he always excels in the Rogers Center.