Red Sox-Giants series preview

August 19, 2013 - 6:19 am
Red Sox fans will prepare to stay up late, as the Sox head out to the West Coast for some interleague play, first stopping in San Francisco for a three-game set with the 2012 World Series champions. The long-anticipated arrival of top prospect Xander Bogaerts is here. The infielder has been called up by the Red Sox in an attempt to shake up the roster after a series loss to the Yankees, the third series loss in a row for a club that seems to be in need of a jolt. A flurry of roster moves came down after Sunday's 9-6 loss, with reliever Rubby De La Rosa, infielder Brock Holt and catcher Ryan Lavarnway returning to Pawtucket, and David Ross being activated off the disabled list. The Red Sox are hoping that the roster moves will supply a much-needed spark. The Sox have hit a rough patch, dropping nine of the 17 games they've played this month. Their lead in the AL East, which was four games less than a week ago, is down to just one game over the Rays. The Sox have dropped multiple series in a row only twice this season, but have lost their last three. "We're just not playing well," said David Ortiz. "We need to step up and try to win some games, you know? I guess it's just one of those funks that you walk into. We just need to get out of it." Manager John Farrell echoed a similar sentiment. "We're very confident in our team," he said. "We have a good team. And yet we're going to go through some peaks and valleys." The Red Sox hope they can find their bearing against a struggling Giants club. It's been a tough year for the defending World Series champs, who now look like they won't have a shot at capturing the title three times in four years. The Giants have fallen into last place with a 55-68 record, sitting 17 games back of the red-hot Dodgers in the NL West. The Giants had gotten off to a decent start, going 15-12 in April, but it would be the only month to date in which they finished with a winning record. An 8-17 showing in July dropped the Giants far out of the race for the division title. A lot of factors have contributed to the fall of the Giants. Injuries have taken their toll, with the club losing center fielder Angel Pagan for much of the season (Pagan likely will be able to return to the team in September), while Ryan Vogelsong has missed a big chunk of time with a broken hand. But really, it's been mediocre performances from many different parts of the team that have led to the losing record. The offense has been average, sitting in the middle of the pack in most categories, though they Giants have hit the second-fewest home runs in the majors. It's been the pitching staff that has been a disappointment. The rotation ranks in the bottom third in the majors with a 4.47 ERA, although the bullpen corps has been solid all season long. The last time the Red Sox visited AT&T Park was in 2010, when the Sox took two out of three from the Giants. Here are the pitching matchups for the three-game set. Monday: Jon Lester (10-7, 4.31) vs. Tim Lincecum (6-12, 4.38) Tuesday: Jake Peavy (9-5, 4.41) vs. Ryan Vogelsong (2-4, 6.75) Wednesday: Felix Doubront (8-6, 3.95) vs. Chad Gaudin (5-2, 3.06) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ Since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket last week, Will Middlebrooks has been showing the Red Sox that they made a good decision in bringing him back to the big league club. The third baseman has hit safely in all nine games since the promotion and is hitting a scorching .462/.548/.692 with three doubles and a home run. Middlebrooks also appears to be showing more patience, drawing four walks in 31 plate appearances while striking out only six times. '€¢ Jarrod Saltalamacchia has himself a seven-game hit streak and has been impressive with the bat over his last nine games, hitting .343/.395/.514 with six doubles. Saltalamacchia may not be displaying the same power as he did a year ago when he clubbed 25 home runs, with only 10 through 98 games in 2013. But the catcher already has 33 doubles, far exceeding his 2012 total of 17. Plus, Saltalamacchia has been a far better all-around hitter this season, hitting .270/.338/.452 through 382 plate appearances. '€¢ After a brief cool stretch to round out July, Daniel Nava seems to be finding his groove again. Nava has had a very good month of August, batting .379/.471/.552 with five doubles in 11 contests. He's managed to bring his season slash line back up to .290/.377/.431 in 417 plate appearances (100 more PAs than his previous season high in the majors), plus he's been demonstrating his versatility by playing a very solid first base for the club, sharing duties with Mike Carp while Mike Napoli remains day-to-day with a foot injury. WHO'S HOT: GIANTS '€¢ Pablo Sandoval has been having a down year, but he's been swinging a hot bat lately. After going 3-for-37 to begin August, Sandoval has hit .462 with a .548 OBP in his last seven games, clubbing three doubles and driving in seven. The third baseman's power number are down slightly in 2013, with nine home runs and 21 doubles to his credit through almost the exact same number of plate appearances as in 2012, when he hit 12 dingers and 25 doubles. He's also failing to get on base as much, hitting .268 with a .324 OBP through 105 games. Sandoval, whose weight has always been a concern for the Giants, has managed to drop 22 pounds in only six weeks, however, and credits the weight loss for his improved ability to beat out grounders. '€¢ Hunter Pence has enjoyed a solid season in his first full year with the Giants and has been especially hot as of late. Pence is batting .357/.386/.571 with four doubles, a triple and a home run in his last 10 games, knocking in a total of 13 runs. He's actually been on a tear since returning from the All-Star break, hitting .348/.397/.473 in the unofficial second half of the season. Pence has slashed .282/.326/.459 in 123 games this season, blasting 15 home runs and driving in a team-leading 64 runs. Pence finally ended a 111-at-bat home run drought on Sunday with a two-run home run against the Marlins. '€¢ Matt Cain hasn't had a great year, certainly not by his standards. The ace of last year's World Series-winning staff comes into the series with a .500 record at 8-8 with an ERA of 4.35 in 25 starts. But perhaps the time off during All-Star break did him well. Cain has posted a 2.41 ERA in six starts in the second half, while the opposition is hitting him at just a .193 clip. And while his ERA on the season looks to be a little high, his 1.118 WHIP ranks as second on the staff behind only Madison Bumgarner, who is enjoying a very solid season. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ Doubront's 16-game long string of outings in which he allowed three earned runs or less is now over, and the lefty has struggled in his last two starts. Doubront's most recent effort lasted only four innings for the second start in a row, but this time he allowed seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and two walks to the Yankees in a 10-3 loss Friday night. Inefficiency that occasionally plagues Doubront has returned, with the lefty through 98 pitches through only four innings in his start in Kansas City, and 76 through four against the Yankees, while striking out only seven between those two outings. Despite the struggles lately, Doubront ranks second among active Red Sox starters with a 3.95 ERA, though his 1.439 ranks as second-highest on the staff. '€¢ Drake Britton kicked off his major league career in impressive fashion, but he has struggled to be effective lately. Britton was thrown into a crucial bases-loaded, one out jam in the sixth inning of Sunday night's contest and allowed all three of the inherited runners to score. Britton began his major league career with a nine-inning, seven-game scoreless streak, but since that streak was broken he's given up a total of six runs and 11 hits in his last 5 1/3 innings, which spans five appearances. The rookie left-hander owns a 3.76 ERA and 1.466 WHIP through 14 1/3 innings in the majors this season, with 14 strikeouts and four walks in 12 appearances. '€¢ Jonny Gomes had a quiet series against the Yankees, going 1-for-6 in the two games he played, although he did reach base twice more with two walks. Gomes has only one multi-hit game this month and has hit .227 over his last eight games, but he's been getting on base a ton, drawing eight walks in his last 31 plate appearances. Overall on the season, Gomes is hitting .236, but he has a .342 OBP while knocking 10 home runs and 14 doubles. WHO'S NOT: GIANTS '€¢ It's been a while since outfielder Andres Torres has has had multiple hits in a game. It hasn't happened since June 29, 34 games ago. Since that time, Torres has been scuffling in a big way, hitting only .177/.241/.228 with three extra-base hits. His struggles have gotten even more dire recently, with Torres going just 2-for-21 in his last 11 games. A hot start to the season leaves Torres with a .242/.294/.337 line through 100 games. '€¢ After posting a 5.09 ERA in 21 starts this season, Barry Zito has been sent to the bullpen with the return of Vogelsong and the solid performance of Gaudin. Zito was up and down all season but had been disappointing as of late, giving up 16 earned runs in 16 innings, with four of his last five starts lasting less than five innings. The veteran has not had a smooth transition to the bullpen; he's given up runs in three of his four outings, and has pitched to a 10.80 ERA in five innings, giving up six runs on eight hits and two walks. '€¢ The Giants enlisted the help of Jeff Francoeur, who had been released by the Royals earlier this year after 2½ disappointing seasons in Kansas City, to add depth to their outfield. Francoeur initially hit .259 in his first nine contests as a Giant, but since then he's failed to produce. Francoeur has gone 1-for-13 in limited playing time, and his line in San Francisco has fallen to .200/.213/.233 with only one walk and two extra-base hits in 21 contests.