After finishing the National League portion of their 32-game tour of the East at 8-6, the Washington Nationals will head to Boston to continue their battle through the most competitive division in the Major Leagues: the American League East.
The first-place Nationals will play the last-place Boston Red Sox this weekend, but that doesn’t mean this will be a breezy series for the Nats. At one game above .500, the Red Sox are just three games away from taking first place in their division. No other division is working with that tight of a margin between its teams. So if you are the Red Sox, truly every game counts and you aren’t going to be eager to let the Nationals keep you in the basement.
The Nationals have played just six games against the Red Sox (in 2006 and 2009), and have never won a game at Fenway Park. The Nats sole win against the Sox came at the hands of Jordan Zimmermann, who will pitch against Jon Lester on Sunday. Zimmermann allowed just one earned run in the Nats’ 9-3 victory.
Based on their stats, the Red Sox would probably be higher in the standings if they had not allowed their rivals to get a head start at the beginning of the season. The Sox were just 4-10 through the start of the year, but have since boosted their record up to 25-18 in games played since April 23.
Their remarkable hitting numbers have kept them competitive despite lackluster pitching. The Sox have scored the third most runs in baseball (297, 5.2 per game), in keeping with their third place .272 team batting average. They have smacked 146 doubles - the most by a huge margin (the Kansas City Royals are in second place, 30 doubles behind them). The Sox are in sixth place for home runs (69), leading to a .452 slugging percentage, the second-highest in the majors.
In comparison, the Nationals have scored 88 less runs, averaging 3.8 per game. As a team they are batting .241, slugging .390, and have hit only 52 homers.
On a less exciting note for the Red Sox, their team ERA is 4.50 – only three teams have an ERA that is higher. The Sox pitching staff has given their opponents the gifts of a .262 batting average (tied for sixth highest) and 64 home runs (tied for seventh most).
The Red Sox’s numbers are the foil to the Nationals’: the Sox have hitting, the Nats have pitching. This series will show which element of baseball will reign supreme. Will it be bats or arms that wins these ball games?
I think it must be frustrating to be the Red Sox – to be doing everything right at the plate with very little room for improvement, yet to have still only won half the games they’ve played and be last in their division. The Nationals will have to be careful not to let the Red Sox take out any of that frustration on them this weekend. However, with the top of the Nationals pitching rotation set to face the Sox, the odds seem to be in favor of the Nats, assuming their starters can come through with the bat-debilitating stuff we have seen from them this year.
Daisuke Matsuzaka is slated to make his first start of the year on Saturday, the day before the one year anniversary of his Tommy John surgery. Three weeks ago Daisuke experienced some discomfort in his arm and struggled with his mechanics, putting his comeback date into question. However, after being shut down for a week Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine is confident he will be ready on Saturday. Daisuke claims a 4.25 career ERA and a 1.40 WHIP.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia has yet to get a hit in 11 at-bats since he returned from a muscle tear in his thumb that has forced him to wear a brace when he plays. In that time frame, Pedroia has struck out four times and walked twice, and has collected two RBIs in sacrifice situations. He has a .280 batting average on the year.
And you can’t forget Big Papi. All-Star David Ortiz leads the Red Sox in every offensive category. Although he has been going through a slight slump lately, batting just .182 in his last 22 at-bats, no one seems worried about the slugger and he remains just as dangerous as ever.
David Ortiz (DH) .304 AVG, .570 SLG, 13 HR, 37 RBI
Will Middlebrooks (3B) .312 AVG, .541 SLG, 6 HR, 22 RBI (109 ABs)
Scott Atchison (RP) 1.42 ERA, 26 SO, .217 AVG (31.2 IP)
Darnell McDonald (LF) .197 AVG, .393 SLG, 2 HR (61 ABs)
Alfredo Aceves (CL) 5.02 ERA, 25 H, 16 ER, 3 HR, 14/17 SV/SVO
Stephen Strasburg (6-1, 2.35 ERA) vs. Felix Doubront (6-2, 3.75 ERA)
Gio Gonzalez (7-2, 2.31 ERA) vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Jordan Zimmermann (3-5, 2.82 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (3-4, 4.64 ERA)