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July 19, 2012

What You Need to Know

Thursday, July 19

by Daniel Rathman

The Wednesday Takeaway
From John Lackey to Andrew Bailey, the Red Sox have not gotten many things right in recent offseasons. But the one-year, $3 million deal they struck with Cody Ross in January may be the steal of the past winter.

With Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford back atop Bobby Valentine’s lineup, but David Ortiz now on the 15-day disabled list with an Achilles injury, Ross moved up to the number-three spot for the first time this season. He proved worthy of that job, going 3-for-5 with a pair of three-run homers to pace Boston’s 10-1 victory over the White Sox in lefty Pedro Hernandez’s major-league debut.

It was a fine day all around for the Red Sox offense, with Ellsbury chipping in a 3-for-4 effort and Adrian Gonzalez adding his second home run in three games, but Ross led the way, as he often has this season. Wednesday’s outburst bumped Ross’ triple slash to .269/.345/.557, and he ranks third on the team—behind Ortiz and Jarrod Saltalamacchia—with 15 homers, even though he missed a month with a broken foot.

Ross slipped through the cracks this past winter, after a disappointing 2011 campaign in San Francisco left doubts about his ability to handle an every-day job. But the Red Sox saw a right-handed hitter with a pull-power approach and jumped on the opportunity to have him swat balls over the Green Monster. Ross’ spray chart from the previous two seasons (from TexasLeaguers.com) shows why general manager Ben Cherington had reason to believe that a move to Fenway Park would help the 31-year-old deliver a career year:

And Ross, who on Wednesday exceeded his 2011 output of 14 home runs, is on his way to doing just that. Combined with average defense, Ross’ resurgence at the plate has already been worth 1.8 WARP to the Red Sox, who—at a rate of $6 million per win—are only paying him for 0.5 WARP.

As the Red Sox jockey for position in the crowded American League wild-card race, a healthy outfield may prove vital to their post-season hopes. After last night’s win, the days of Scott Podsednik and Marlon Byrd are firmly in the rearview mirror.  

What to Watch for on Thursday
With eight matinees on today’s 11-game docket, you might as well tell your boss you’re calling in sick. 

  • Opponents’ lefties have had their way with the Indians offense throughout this season, holding Cleveland—which is 37-26 against right-handed starters—to a 10-18 mark so far. Things won’t get any easier for Manny Acta’s team this afternoon, with David Price, who has shut down left-handed hitters to the tune of a .223/.266/.294 triple slash this year, on the mound for Tampa Bay. Price carries a 4-0 record and 2.01 ERA in five career starts versus Cleveland into his matchup with Ubaldo Jimenez (12:10 p.m. ET).
  • Tim Hudson has had his way with the Giants over the past two years, holding them to six earned runs in 38 2/3 innings (1.40 ERA) over five starts, one of which came in the 2010 National League Division Series. But the Giants have a new weapon to unveil against the sinker-balling righty—center fielder Angel Pagan, who saw plenty of Hudson while he was with the Mets and went 11-for-28 with a home run in their past meetings. Pagan’s continued success against Hudson could be the key as the Giants try to complete their first road sweep of the season. They have not earned a three-game sweep in Atlanta since June 27-29, 1988. (12:10 p.m. ET).
  • The four-way tie atop the wins leaderboard is likely to be settled this afternoon, as R.A. Dickey and Gio Gonzalez—who are stuck at 12 with Price and Matt Harrison—are set to duel in the series finale between the Mets and the Nationals. Dickey tossed seven shutout innings on June 7 in his lone start against the Nats this year, while Gonzalez will be facing the Mets for the first time since last June, when he was still a member of the A’s (12:35 p.m. ET).
  • Mark Buehrle has struck out at least seven batters in each of his last four starts—a remarkable feat considering that, prior to this streak, he had never even done so in three consecutive outings. The southpaw is 4-0 with a 0.94 ERA over that stretch, which dates back to June 24 and spans 28 2/3 innings. He will try to make it five straight this afternoon at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs will counter with Paul Maholm, who has collected seven strikeouts in only one of his 17 starts this season (2:20 p.m. ET).
  • The Yankees come to Oakland with a 10-game lead in the American League East, and they swept the A’s in their previous visit to the Coliseum on May 25-27. Nick Swisher began his career in the East Bay, but he has thoroughly enjoyed facing his former team since leaving Oakland in a trade with the White Sox in 2008. The 31-year-old brings a .288/.401/.614 triple slash against A’s pitching into this weekend’s four-game set, but he is currently in the midst of an 8-for-43 skid (10:05 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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