It's a holiday and so please, spend the day with family and friends rather than reading copious amounts of internet baseball chatter. We'll still be here tomorrow; we promise. For all those that drop by, though, use this as the open thread for the day.
Monday, July 5 (7:10 PM): Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. Matt Garza
Tuesday, July 6 (7:10 PM): Felix Doubront vs. Jeff Niemann
Wednesday, July 7 (7:10 PM): Tim Wakefield vs. David Price
This is huge, about as important as a three-game series in July can get. But then again, you already knew that. The Rays appear to be on the upswing after a horrible month and are sitting a half game behind the Red Sox. A series win would allow the Rays to enter the All-Star Break on a high note and potentially with the lead in the Wild Card. As an analyst I know that momentum doesn't have a discernible effect on future games, but as a fan that would sure feel really good.
It's tough to go into a series with the Red Sox and expect a series win - they're a darn good team and luck can tip the scales one way or the other - but I know I'll be disappointed if the Rays don't win at least two games here. The Red Sox are beat up right now, with eight players on the 15-day disabled list. And it's not like they're eight insignificant players either: Josh Beckett, Manny Delcarmen, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jeremy Hermida, Mike Lowell, Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia, and Jason Varitek are all out. Also, Clay Buchholz tweaked his hamstring in a recent game and the Red Sox are playing it safe with him, skipping his scheduled start in this series to let him rest until after the All-Star break. This is as weak a Red Sox team as we'll ever face, and the Rays need to take advantage.
We've seen Dice-K and Wakefield multiple times before, but this will be the Rays' first time facing left-hander Felix Doubront, the prospect called up to fill in for Buchholz. Here's a brief scouting report, courtesy of SoxProspects.com:
Doubront utilizes a 91-94 mph fastball, a very good 79-81 mph changeup with screwball action, and a developing mid-70s curveball. Flawless and fluid downward pitching motion with excellent control. Deceptive delivery, hitters don't pick up the ball until late, causing his fastball to look a little faster. Used to struggle against left-handed batters, but seemed to fix this issue in 2009. He has a reserved and modest demeanor, but is aggressive and poised on the mound. Sometimes has the tendency to leave the ball up in the zone too much, giving up too many home runs. Athletic and agile in the field. Doubront struggled in 2007 due to numerous injuries, including recovery from a hernia operation.
Statistically, Doubront is a pretty middle-of-the-road pitcher. He walks a bit more than three batters per nine innings, strikes out a bit less than eight per nine, and generates a moderately above-average number of groundballs (~45%). He sounds good and pitched well in his first major league start earlier this season, but the Rays should still have the pitching advantage in that game.
Overall, I believe the Rays have the pitching advantage in every game this series. Let's keep the good vibes alive and win this series.