Red Sox-Mariners series preview

July 30, 2013 - 6:41 am

The Red Sox will welcome the Mariners to Fenway for the first (and only) time this season, kicking off a three-game set on Tuesday evening. It's been an intense schedule for the Red Sox to kick off the unofficial second half. The Sox have faced exclusively AL East rivals since returning from the break, playing three against the Yankees, four against the Rays, and three against the Orioles, capped by a makeup game with the Rays on Monday that had the atmosphere of a playoff matchup. A 2-1 loss in an exciting and tight game means the Red Sox are a half-game back of the Rays in the AL East standings with a 63-44 record. It was a frustrating night all around, with a blown call by home plate umpire Jerry Meals one of the deciding factors in the game. "This is not something that fazes us," said right fielder Shane Victorino. "It's just, yeah, it's a little disappointing. But beyond that, we can't sit there and dwell on the moment. Tomorrow's another day." With the division race as tight as it is with four of the five teams above .500, the Red Sox will approach the non-waiver trade deadline on Wednesday looking to improve in a number of areas, at least for the right price. Right-handed relievers, left-side infield help and starting pitching depth remain the club's top priorities as the deadline draws near. The Mariners are one of those teams that seems to be undecided as to whether they're buyers or sellers leading up to the July 31 deadline. Even though they're five games under .500, 12½ games behind the AL West-leading A's and 7½ games out of a wild card spot, the Mariners have been on a roll in July. Although they've gone 2-3 since an eight-game winning streak in the middle of the month, they've still won 15 of their last 23 games. The streak has allowed the club to move past the Angels and take hold of third place in the West division. They'll come to Boston without an important part of their team: manager Eric Wedge. Wedge suffered a mild stroke before the Mariners' game on July 22. He's since been released from the hospital and met with the team on Sunday, but he won't be making the road trip. In his absence, bench coach Robby Thompson has assumed managerial duties for the time being. This will be the last meeting between the Red Sox and Mariners in the 2013 regular season. The Red Sox took three of four games in Seattle earlier this month. Here are the pitching matchups for the three-game set. Tuesday: Brandon Workman (0-1, 4.40) vs. Joe Saunders (9-9, 4.48) Wednesday: John Lackey (7-8, 3.19) vs. Hisashi Iwakuma (10-4, 2.87) Thursday: Ryan Dempster (6-8, 4.24) vs. Felix Hernandez (11-4, 2.34) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ David Ortiz took out his frustrations on a dugout phone on Saturday, but now it seems like he's taking out those frustrations on baseballs instead. Ortiz followed that incident with a 4-for-4 day and is batting .429/.512/.600 over his last 10 games with three doubles and a home run, drawing six walks (two intentional) while striking out only three times. It's just more of the same from the Red Sox slugger, who is batting an impressive .329/.414/606 on the season, leading the team in just about every offensive category with 20 home runs and 67 RBIs in 86 games. '€¢ The Red Sox bullpen situation seemed dire after season-ending injuries to Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey and Andrew Miller, plus less-serious injuries to other key relievers including Franklin Morales and Alex Wilson. But some of the newer members of the relief corps are holding their own. Pedro Beato has allowed only one run in his two stints with the major league team, allowing five hits without walking any batters in 6 1/3 innings. Drake Britton also continues to impress. He has gone five outings (six innings) in the majors without allowing a run. On Monday, he made his first multi-inning appearance as a reliever, recording six outs without allowing a hit or a walk in a close game against the Rays, striking out two. The lefty has given up just two hits and a walk since joining the big league club. '€¢ It seems like Jon Lester may be returning to form. The lefty has recorded three consecutive quality starts, with his last outing one of his best this season. Lester held the Orioles scoreless through seven innings, allowing just four hits. Also encouraging is the fact that Lester has exhibited good command lately, allowing eight walks in his last 31 2/3 innings while striking out 31. Lester, who posted a 7.62 ERA in five starts in June, will finish this month with a 3.13 ERA in five starts, with four of those being quality starts. In his five starts in June, batters were hitting .328 with a 1.013 OPS against Lester, but he's held them to a .256/.301/.400 line in his last five outings. On the season, Lester has compiled a 4.27 ERA and 1.331 WHIP in 139 innings, striking out 119 batters while issuing 47 walks. WHO'S HOT: MARINERS '€¢ Through the entire first half, Hernandez was hot and cold, mixing flashes of brilliance with occasional rough outings. But the Mariners ace has been outstanding as of late. Hernandez initiated what would become a 24-inning scoreless streak when he held the Red Sox without a run in the last two innings of his start on July 8. The career-long streak spanned two full starts, while the right-hander was two outs away from a complete-game shutout before allowing a run in the ninth inning of his last outing. In Hernandez's last six starts, he's allowed only seven earned runs over 44 innings, good for a 1.43 ERA, striking out 46 while issuing only seven walks. Opposing batters are hitting only .217/.259/.304 over that stretch. Hernandez has only lost four times this season, and he hasn't come out on the losing end of a decision since May 25, 11 starts ago. In 22 starts this season, Hernandez has posted a 2.34 ERA, which stands as the best in the American League entering play on Tuesday. Hernandez has displayed excellent command all season long, with a 5.85 strikeout-to-walk ratio through an AL-leading 153 2/3 innings pitched. '€¢ Kyle Seager continues to be one of the Mariners' most consistent hitters. The third baseman is enjoying an impressive third season with Seattle and has been particularly hot as of late. Seager has hit .384/.455/.605 over his last 23 games, bashing four doubles and five home runs while driving in 12. He's also drawn 10 walks as compared to only eight strikeouts over that stretch. Out of his 23 games played in July, 10 of them have been multi-hit efforts for the 25-year-old. Seager's .455 OBP ranks as the best in the league this month, at least for players with over 30 at-bats in July. Seager is batting .293/.356/.481 in 103 games this season, leading the Mariners in batting average while ranking second in OBP and tying for second with 16 home runs. '€¢ Rookie Nick Franklin has been a big contributor for the Mariners and has displayed some impressive power lately. In his last 10 games, Franklin has clubbed six extra-base hits, with four of those leaving the ballpark. In those 10 games, Franklin is hitting .310/.348/.643, though he has struck out 14 times in 46 plate appearances. The second baseman, Seattle's first-round draft pick in 2009, is batting a solid .277/.340/.492 with 10 home runs, 12 doubles and 32 RBIs through 52 games on the season. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ It's been a rough month for Jose Iglesias, who took home the American League's Rookie of the Month honors for June. The infielder has only five hits in his last 12 games (a .114 average) and has recorded a multi-hit game in 12 contests. Iglesias' last extra-base hit came all the way back on July 4 (19 games ago), while it's been 17 games since he last drew a walk. The 23-year-old, who finished June batting .409/.455/.530, has seen his batting average drop almost 80 points in one month, and is now slashing .330/.377/.410 in 61 games. Iglesias' struggles put the Red Sox in a tough position with the trade deadline approaching, when they will have to decide whether or not they'll require outside help to round out the left side of the infield. '€¢ Dustin Pedroia's trials at the plate continue, with the second baseman hitting just .077 in his last 10 games. Among qualifiers, that's the second-lowest average in the majors in that time span. Pedroia doesn't have an extra-base hit in those 10 games, and he has only one in his last 14 contests. Pedroia has also only drawn two walks over the course of his last 10 games. The slump is obviously unusual for Pedroia, who is still batting .294/.373/.402 through 106 games with 25 doubles, a triple and six home runs. Pedroia also is one of the few Red Sox players to total more walks than strikeouts, with 53 free passes compared to 52 strikeouts on the season. '€¢ Victorino is enduring a cool stretch offensively, going 8-for-40 in his last 11 games. While Victorino isn't getting on base a ton lately, he's been making the most of his time on the basepaths, swiping five bags in six tries over those 11 games. Victorino's taken 14 bases this season while being thrown out only three times. The slight slump has caused Victorino's line to fall to .274/.321/.388 on the season, but despite his decline in offensive production over the past couple of weeks, Victorino continues to save the Red Sox runs on defense, playing a stellar right field. WHO'S NOT: MARINERS '€¢ Raul Ibanez may be having a better season than many anticipated at 41 years old, but the outfielder has been dealing with a bit of a slump as of late, going 3-for-28 in his last eight games, though he's also drawn six walks. Ibanez, who leads the Mariners with 24 home runs on the season, hasn't knocked one out of the park in his last 11 games after blasting two in one game back on July 12. Despite the recent cold stretch, Ibanez is still enjoying a fine season in his third stint with Seattle, slashing .252/.307/.535 in 82 games. '€¢ The Mariners' depth at catcher is wearing very thin these days. Jesus Montero (who is actually one of the names linked to the Biogenesis clinic), was demoted to Triple-A back in May and hit only .208 with a .590 OPS before being sent down. Mike Zunino, one of the Mariners' top prospects, was putting up a solid line of .242/.315/.343 in his rookie season before breaking his hand in a game last Thursday, an injury that requires surgery yet the recovery time is short enough that Zunino will likely play again this season. Former Red Sox catcher Kelly Shoppach was released after posting a .196 batting average through 35 games. And Jesus Sucre, a 25-year-old rookie, is working his way back from a hand injury. That leaves the 41-year-old Henry Blanco, who was released by the Blue Jays earlier this season, and Humberto Quintero, who was designated for assignment by the Phillies earlier this month, as the Mariners' two catching options. Quintero, a well-traveled veteran, was batting .250/.294/.406 in 68 plate appearances for Philadelphia this season, while Blanco has managed just a .167/.253/.256 line between his two clubs this season. '€¢ It's been a quiet couple of series for first baseman Justin Smoak, who has only three hits over his last six games and is batting .171/.275/.257 over his last nine contests with only one extra-base hit. Smoak is batting .258 with a team-leading .359 OBP in 77 games for the Mariners with 13 doubles and nine home runs to his credit, driving in 23 in 309 plate appearances.