Red Sox-Dodgers series preview

August 23, 2013 - 7:17 am

It will be a clash between two first-place clubs and a chance to see some old friends as the Red Sox head to Los Angeles to take on the red-hot Dodgers this weekend. Almost exactly a year ago, the Red Sox and the Dodgers completed one of the biggest trades in MLB history, with the Sox sending first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Carl Crawford, pitcher Josh Beckett and infielder Nick Punto to Los Angeles in exchange for pitching prospects Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, first baseman James Loney and minor leaguers Ivan De Jesus and Jerry Sands. Both teams benefited from the blockbuster deal, and now both sit atop their respective divisions. Beckett -- who talked to's Rob Bradford about his trying last days in Boston -- is done for the season after having surgery in July to relieve pressure on a nerve in his neck. The former Sox starter made only eight starts on the season, going 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA. Gonzalez has been a big part of the Dodgers'€™ success in 2013, putting up a .297/.346/.456 line with 26 home runs and 77 RBIs. Punto, who was only with the Red Sox for a brief few months in 2012, has benefited from more regular playing time, batting .257 with a .335 OBP in 276 plate appearances. And Crawford, who was more than ready to get out of Boston, looks revitalized, hitting .289/.340/.413 in 88 games. "I want to win all three games. Bad," said Crawford, who has made his feelings about his time in Boston well known. "Then on to the next series." The deal allowed the Red Sox to rebuild their club and become a contender this season, just a year after losing 93 games. "At the time things weren't going well for us and we simply weren't who we wanted to be," general manager Ben Cherington said. "Though there were many reasons for that, we felt a significant reallocation of money might allow us to reshape the team more quickly and get us started down a different path. "It wasn't about the players we traded. It was simply an acknowledgment that things weren't working." The blockbuster has played a part in the Dodgers'€™ success this year, undoubtedly. But there are many reasons why LA, a team that played .500 baseball in the first half, has become the hottest team in baseball, going 28-5 since the All-Star break. The rotation, the bullpen and the offense has begun to click and get hot at the same time, and a few additions (starter Ricky Nolasco and, most notably, rookie sensation Yasiel Puig) have sparked a talented team and made it one of the toughest clubs to beat. The Dodgers sit 9½ games ahead of the second-place Diamondbacks, their biggest lead of the season. They grabbed hold of the division lead on July 22 and haven'€™t looked back since, continuing to expand the gap between them and the rest of the division. The Red Sox aren'€™t in a bad spot either, but the race for the AL East title is a little more competitive, to say the least. The Sox briefly lost their lead in the division, with the Rays pulling even with Boston on Tuesday, but a series win against the Giants (and a victory by the Orioles over the Rays) means that the Red Sox are alone again at the top. The series victory against the reigning World Series champs was the first series win for the Sox since taking two of three from the Astros earlier this month. The Red Sox have played .500 baseball this month, going 10-10, but they still have yet to lose more than three games in a row. They hope that the resurgence of Will Middlebrooks, the addition of top prospect Xander Bogaerts, the return of David Ross and the eventual return of Clay Buchholz can inject some life into a club that'€™s been unable to string wins together. It'€™s been a little while since these two clubs have met, with the Red Sox sweeping the last series, a three-game set at Fenway back in 2010. The last time the Sox visited Chavez Ravine was back in 2002. Here are the pitching matchups for the three-game set. Friday, 10 p.m.: John Lackey (8-10, 3.22) vs. Ricky Nolasco (9-9, 3.60) Saturday, 4 p.m.: Jon Lester (11-7, 4.09) vs. Hyun-jin Ryu (12-4, 2.95) Sunday, 8 p.m.: Jake Peavy (9-5, 4.25) vs. Chris Capuano (4-6, 4.70) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ Even though he couldn'€™t quite finish it out, Jon Lester pitched a gem in his last start, going 8 1/3 six-hit, shutout innings against the Giants. Lester has been very solid lately, tossing three quality starts in a row and posting a 1.25 ERA over the course of those three outings. The lefty'€™s been hot and cold all season, but his performance against San Francisco was a promising sign that he'€™ll be able to finish the season strong. Lester has cut his ERA down to 4.09 through 26 starts, and his 1.327 WHIP ranks only behind Lackey among active starters on the club. '€¢ Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been swinging a hot bat over the last couple of weeks and hasn'€™t shown any signs of letting up. Saltalamacchia ranks second in the AL in doubles with 34, third in the league with 44 extra-base hits and third among starting catchers with a .453 slugging percentage. He'€™s got a nine-game hit streak and is batting .349/.417/.512 with seven doubles in his last 11 games. He'€™s also been making more contact recently; in his last 23 plate appearances, the catcher has drawn three walks while striking out only four times, and he has struck out in 20 percent of plate appearances this month, a low number compared to his 30 percent rate on the season. '€¢ Daniel Nava continues to get on base, going 9-for-18 in his last seven games. Five of those nine hits went for doubles, and he'€™s also drawn three walks to bring his OBP to .571 since Aug. 15. After a rough couple of weeks to round out July in which he hit only .179, Nava is back to being the consistent on-base machine that he was to begin the season. The outfielder/first baseman'€™s .814 OPS is actually second the team to only David Ortiz, and his .380 OBP is also good for second. Nava, who has hit 10 home runs on the season, hasn'€™t sent one out of the park in a good long while, though; his last dinger was 153 plate appearances ago, back on June 19. WHO'S HOT: DODGERS '€¢ The Red Sox caught a lucky break with the schedule falling in their favor, allowing them to avoid having to face Clayton Kershaw, who is having an absurdly spectacular season. Kershaw is probably the best pitcher in either league this season, posting a 1.72 ERA in 27 starts, the only starter in the majors with an ERA under 2.00. The big lefty has thrown almost 200 innings already for the fourth straight season, and at this pace is likely to set a new career high for innings pitched. He also has the lowest WHIIP in the majors (0.86), the most strikeouts in the National League (188), and the second-highest WAR in the majors (5.6 wins). An astounding 22 of Kershaw'€™s 27 starts count as quality starts, and he'€™s given up more than three runs only twice on the season, while he hasn'€™t allowed more than four earned runs in any start. '€¢ Since Aug. 9, Juan Uribe has hit .462/.500/.641, making him one of hottest hitters in all of baseball in that time period. Uribe has clubbed four doubles and a home run over his last 13 games, bringing his total to seven homers and 16 doubles through 103 games this season. The 24-year-old infielder is in the midst of a bounce-back season, hitting .280/.341/.416 in 103 games after hovering around the Mendoza line in his first two injury-riddled seasons with the Dodgers. Uribe hit a skid in the middle of July that lasted almost a month, batting .172 in 22 games from July 12 to Aug. 8, but he is hitting a solid .338/.368/.462 since the beginning of this month. '€¢ Closer Kenley Jansen has been as solid as they come in the back of the Dodgers bullpen, compiling an ERA just under 2.00 with 21 saves in 24 chances. Jansen, who has always been a strikeout pitcher, has fanned 90 batters in just 63 2/3 innings, or about 13 per nine innings, while walking less than two per nine. The 25-year-old has been particularly dominant as of late, allowing just two earned runs in 21 1/3 innings (0.84 ERA), striking out 31 in 20 appearances. Jansen began the season as a set-up man but moved into the closer'€™s role in mid-June. He'€™s pitched to the tune of a 1.42 ERA since taking over ninth-inning duties, allowing just 15 hits in 31 2/3 innings. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ Junichi Tazawa doesn'€™t give up many runs. He'€™s allowed only 17 in almost 60 innings this season, good for a 2.61 ERA. But recently, the runs he'€™s given up have come in some crucial spots. Tazawa allowed two singles and a sac fly to the Giants in the eighth inning of Tuesday'€™s loss, tying the contest and leading to an ugly ninth inning. He was charged with a blown save, his seventh of the year. A few appearances ago in Toronto, Tazawa also gave up the game-tying run, that time in the form of a solo home run off the bat of Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia. Despite the few shaky outings, the right-hander has put up a 2.08 ERA since the beginning of July, but he'€™s also earned just one more hold in that time (five) than saves he'€™s blown (four). '€¢ The bullpen was not sharp in the sole loss against the Giants, and Franklin Morales, who was pegged for the winning run in the ninth, was a big part of the subpar performance from the pen. Morales recorded two outs but loaded the bases on a single, walk and hit batter, leaving the bases juiced for Brayan Villarreal, who walked the next batter on four pitches. Control problems have plagued Morales this year, with the reliever walking 11 batters in his 15 1/3 innings, though his command has improved since his second DL stint. Overall this year, Morales, who has suffered injuries throughout the season, hasn'€™t been effective, and owns a 6.46 ERA in nine appearances. '€¢ David Ortiz has been relatively quiet at the plate over the last few series, batting just .200 in his last 10 games. Ortiz has only eight hits in his last 40 at-bats, but he'€™s made those hits count, with three doubles and two home runs over that stretch. Despite the low batting average, Ortiz has posted a .304 OBP in those 10 contests, working six walks (one intentional) while striking out 11 times. The small slump has made no real impact on Ortiz'€™s overall numbers this season; he leads the team in average (.320), OBP (.401), slugging percentage (.576), home runs (24), RBIs (78) and walks (57), all while striking out only 66 times, less than seven other players. Ortiz has apparently been dealing with some tightness in his lower back, but he assures that it'€™s nothing that will keep him out of the lineup this weekend. WHO'S NOT: DODGERS '€¢ There'€™s no doubt that Yasiel Puig has made a big impact on the Dodgers, and that he'€™s put together an extremely impressive rookie campaign. After all, he is hitting .346/.405/.558 with 17 doubles, two triples and 12 home runs through 70 games. But Puig has cooled a bit. He'€™s hit just .178 with a .235 OBP in his last 12 games. He'€™s also been giving the Dodgers, and manager Don Mattingly, a bit of trouble. The 22-year-old has been a little lax on fundamentals, overthrowing cutoff men, running through stop signs '€¦ that sort of thing. He also showed up a little too late for a game this week. But despite the occasional displays of youth and disregard for fundamentals, Puig is still a huge part of the lineup. '€¢ Catcher A.J. Ellis has had a rough month at the plate, batting .188/.268/.271 with two extra-base hits after enjoying his best offensive month in July. Despite the slump, Ellis, who is hitting .252/.333/.363 in 89 games, has driven in 11 runs, already his second-highest total of any month this year.  But Ellis'€™ value is more than just with the bat; he'€™s been extremely solid behind the dish this season, throwing out 48 percent of runners (well above the league average of 29 percent) and allowing only five passed balls. '€¢ Reliever Brandon League got a big payday this past offseason. He'€™ll be with the Dodgers for the next three years and is set to make $7.5 million each year for the next two years. So his 5.24 ERA and five blown saves in 19 chances probably wasn'€™t what the Dodgers were hoping for when they signed League. The righty has been taken out of the closer'€™s role, where he began the season, in favor of Jansen. In his 27 games as the closer, League saved 14 games and closed out 24, but he posted a 5.33 ERA in 27 innings, striking out only 13 batters while walking eight and giving up four home runs. Since relinquishing the job, League'€™s been better, but only slightly. He hadn'€™t allowed an earned run in seven appearances prior to giving up three runs in a third of an inning on Aug. 6, and since then he'€™s allowed runs in three of his six outings, including his first blown save since being taken out of the closer'€™s role in his last appearance.