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Red Sox-Mariners series preview

07.08.13 at 12:26 pm ET
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The Red Sox will look to rebound from a tough series against the Angels, heading north to take on the Mariners for the first time in 2013.

Raul Ibanez is having a strong season at the age of 41. (AP)

Raul Ibanez is riding a 12-game hitting streak, and the 41-year-old leads the Mariners with 21 home runs. (AP)

The West Coast road trip got off to a frustrating start for the Red Sox, who took the first game of the series with the Angels but lost a heartbreaker on Saturday night and were shut out by Jered Weaver and the Angels bullpen on Sunday. It was the first series the Red Sox dropped since losing three of four against Detroit on their last road trip.

“Last night was a tough loss. One out away from winning the series and it got away from us,” Sox manager John Farrell told reporters after Sunday’s setback. “We didn’t close the door and they kind of kicked it down and walked through it last night. I still like this team. Tonight, we didn’t create a whole lot for ourselves, but this is a team that continues to battle. There’s a lot of good at-bats. We’re going to put a lot of people on base. Tonight just wasn’t one of them.”

Despite the trying three-game set in Anaheim, the Red Sox still enjoy a 4½-game lead over the Rays and Orioles, while the Yankees fell to five games out with a loss on Sunday. With 54 wins, the Red Sox still have more victories than anyone else in the majors, and have won seven of their last 10. With the defeat on Sunday, the Red Sox fell to 23-20 on the road and 11-8 against AL West foes. The stop in Seattle is the second-to-last series for the Sox before they send (at least) three representatives to the All-Star Game, with David Ortiz making the start at the designated hitter position and Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz joining the AL squad. Reliever Koji Uehara also has a shot at making the team in a final fan vote.

The 39-49 Mariners have not been a winning team since April 5. They sit 12½ games back of the Rangers in the AL West. Their offense ranks in the bottom third of most offensive categories, while their starting rotation is hit-or-miss and their bullpen is one of the worst in the league. But despite all of this, the Mariners have been playing good baseball over the past couple of weeks.

The Mariners, a much better home team (21-22) than road team (18-27) finally won consecutive road series when they took two out of three from both the first-place Rangers and the 50-38 Reds. Seattle wasn’t able to gain much ground in the division, but the M’s managed to stay afloat, trailing the third-place Angels by only four games.

“It’s a real good trip for us,” manager Eric Wedge said after Sunday’s 3-1 victory in Cincinnati. “I think we would have liked to have won one more, but you don’t get greedy this time of year. You work hard to win series. Our guys fought hard and played pretty good baseball.”

It hasn’t been easy for the Mariners, but there have been bright spots. They will send two All-Stars to the Midsummer Classic in New York City this year, with staff ace Felix Hernandez being joined by another starter, Hisashi Iwakuma. The pair have been a force to be reckoned with at the top of the rotation, combining to post a 2.64 ERA between them. Another thing the Mariners have done well is hit home runs. The ageless Raul Ibanez may be the only player with 20-plus long balls, but the Seattle offense has combined for 104 home runs, good for fourth in the American League and more than stacked lineups like the Angels or the Tigers. But things haven’t quite clicked for the Mariners yet, and they’ll come into their first series with the Red Sox 10 games under .500.

Here are the pitching matchups for the four-game set:

Monday: Jon Lester (8-4, 4.41) vs. Felix Hernandez (8-4, 2.69)
Tuesday: Allen Webster (1-2, 7.88) vs. Hisashi Iwakuma (7-4, 2.60)
Wednesday: Felix Doubront (5-3, 4.11) vs. Aaron Harang (4-7, 4.92)
Thursday: Ryan Dempster (5-8, 4.04) vs. Jeremy Bonderman (1-3, 4.93)

WHO’S HOT: RED SOX

• There’s no question that Daniel Nava has been one of the team’s most consistent hitters throughout the first half of the season. The outfielder ranks third on the team in OBP (.378), third in slugging percentage (.450) and fourth in batting average (.294), and he’s tied with Pedroia for the third-most RBIs on the team (50). Though Nava went through a cool stretch in June, he’s heating up once again, going 7-for-14 in the series against the Angels, while batting .415 over his last 11 games with five RBIs, three doubles, and a walk. Overall this season, Nava is batting .294/.378/.450 with 10 home runs and 14 doubles, while drawing 35 walks and striking out 60 times in 79 games.

•  Could Andrew Bailey’s slump be over? The reliever showed encouraging signs in a one-inning outing against the Blue Jays on June 28, when he gave up a home run but struck out two batters. Since then, Bailey has appeared and had success in a low-pressure situation, throwing a scoreless inning in a game against the Padres on July 4, a game in which the Red Sox had a big lead. But he was really put to the test on Saturday when he was called in to take over for the injured Andrew Miller with one out and two on in a three-run game with Mike Trout at the plate as the tying run. It took Bailey one pitch to induce an inning-ending double play, and he came back out to pitch a scoreless eighth, allowing a leadoff single to Albert Pujols but striking out two batters and getting a ground out against the middle of the Angels order. It’s a small sample size, yet encouraging results from the right-hander, who owns a 4.15 ERA in 26 innings this year.

• Through his first 68 games last season, Jarrod Saltalamacchia had already clubbed 17 home runs but totaled only 13 doubles and was hitting .239/.289/.517. By all accounts, Saltalamacchia has been a better hitter through his first 68 games this season, coming into this series batting .268/.340/.460 with 22 doubles, 10 home runs and 35 RBIs. After a cool stretch that featured more strikeouts than usual, the catcher has batted .360 with a .467 OBP through his last seven games with five walks, eight strikeouts, four doubles and six RBIs in 30 plate appearances. It’s been 19 games since Saltalamacchia’s last home run, but he has been hitting more doubles and taking more walks than he has in the past.

WHO’S HOT: MARINERS

• It seems that Ibanez has aged gracefully. The 41-year-old is putting up a decent campaign for Seattle and has been heating up recently. Ibanez is in the midst of a 12-game hitting streak, hitting .360/.418/.840 with a double, a triple and seven home runs over that stretch. Through 66 games, the outfielder easily leads the team with 21 home runs while driving in 49 runs (also good for the team lead) and batting .257/.305/.559.

•  Reliever Oliver Perez is enjoying his second impressive year with the Mariners, posting a tiny 1.39 ERA in 32 1/3 innings pitched, striking out 46 batters and recording the first two saves of his 11-year career. Perez has allowed only two runs (both came in the same outing) since May 20, while he’s allowed runs in only four of his 35 appearances so far this season. Perez, a left-hander who has been dominant for two straight years as a reliever, is an interesting guy to keep an eye on as far as trade candidacy goes, especially with the Red Sox losing Miller to injury and with the Mariners out of contention at this point.

Kyle Seager has been showing off some serious power as of late, clubbing four home runs and two doubles over the course of his last 11 games. The infielder has hit safely in seven straight games, batting .481 over that span. Seager has been one of the most solid sources of production for the Mariners all season long, coming into the game hitting .286/.348/.478 with 24 doubles, 13 home runs and 41 RBIs, trailing just Ibanez in the home run category while leading all Mariners hitters in two-baggers. In a batch of prospects that includes the likes of Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak, Seager has proven to be the most consistent hitter at the major league level and has become a very important part of Seattle’s lineup this season.

WHO’S NOT: RED SOX

Craig Breslow came out on the losing end of Saturday night’s heartbreaker, giving up the game-winning home run to Josh Hamilton. Breslow hasn’t quite been lights-out in his last few appearances, compiling a 6.23 ERA in his last nine games (8 2/3 innings), giving up eight runs, six earned, while allowing two home runs. Opposing batters are hitting .385 with a 1.015 OPS against the left-hander in those nine games. With Breslow the only lefty in the bullpen now, in light of Miller’s injury, the Red Sox will need Breslow, who owns a 3.21 ERA in 28 innings this year, to step up.

• Another key member of the bullpen, Alex Wilson, also has been slumping a bit as of late, and was a big part of the ninth-inning meltdown for the Red Sox on Saturday. Wilson loaded the bases and was held accountable for three of the four runs scored in that ninth inning, giving up two hits in his two-thirds of an inning. Wilson, who bounces back and forth between Triple-A and the majors on a regular basis, has posted a 9.53 ERA in eight games since being recalled on June 19, giving up six earned runs on nine hits and three walks in his last 5 2/3 innings. The right-hander’s ERA has risen to 4.10 in 26 1/3 innings this season, while he’s compiled 21 strikeouts and 13 walks with a 1.671 WHIP in 25 appearances.

• One of the most frustrating aspects of the Angels series was the sheer amount of runners the Red Sox left on base. In three games, the team stranded 29 runners, including 14 on Saturday evening alone. Additionally, the team went a combined 7-for-36 with runners in scoring position, and only 3-for-17 on Saturday. Some of the biggest offenders were Jacoby Ellsbury (nine left on base in 13 at-bats), Jose Iglesias (also nine LOB in 11 at-bats), Mike Napoli (eight LOB in 12 at-bats) and Ortiz (seven LOB in 11 at-bats).

WHO’S NOT: MARINERS

• Iwakuma has been one of the best pitchers in the majors in the first half of the 2013 season. He’s got the lowest ERA in the American League (2.60) and the lowest WHIP of any major league qualifier (0.882) while his 5.72 strikeout-to-walk ratio also ranks as the best in the league. But the first-time All-Star has faltered a bit as of late, at least by his standards. Iwakuma has posted a 5.54 ERA over his last four starts, allowing four earned runs in each outing since his three-start scoreless streak. The 32-year-old has had trouble keeping the ball in the park, allowing seven home runs over his last 26 innings. Iwakuma has not earned a victory since June 10, and has fallen to 7-4 through 18 starts this season.

• Once a highly regarded top prospect in the Mariners system, Ackley has been wildly disappointing, with his struggles reaching a head about a month ago when the second baseman was exiled to Triple-A to work on his offensive production. He seemed to have found his bearings, putting up a .365/.472/.500 line in 25 games in the minors, and was recalled and placed in center field, taking over the spot temporarily while the Mariners were desperate for outfielders with Franklin Gutierrez and Mike Morse on the disabled list. The change of scenery hasn’t awoken Ackley’s bat, however, as the 25-year-old is hitting .185 in nine games since rejoining the major league club. He notched more hits in 25 minor league games than he has in 54 MLB games this season.

Carter Capps, a hard-throwing 22-year-old in his second year with the big league club, may not be in the majors much longer. The right-hander has recorded five straight nightmarish outings, allowing 13 runs on 14 hits and two walks in his last 5 2/3 innings, which adds up to a 20.65 ERA. Capps, who can reach the high-90s with his fastball, has fanned 40 batters while walking only nine in 33 2/3 innings this season, but has a 6.42 ERA and 1.604 WHIP through 31 appearances.

Read More: Andrew Bailey, daniel nava, felix hernandez, Raul Ibanez Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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