BOSTON, MA - APRIL 30: Ichiro Suzuki #51 of the Seattle Mariners steals second safely against the Seattle Mariners Marco Scutaro #10 of the Boston Red Sox defends on April 30, 2011 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. The Seattle Mariners defeated the Boston Red Sox 2-0. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The Red Sox are in hot pursuit of a wild card spot as they head to the West Coast to take on Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners.
After moving into a tie for third place in the American League East Wednesday with a win and a Tampa Bay loss, the Red Sox are looking to push ahead and play their way into a wild card spot for the first time in 2012. To do so, they'll need to play well where they've often slid: the West Coast.
It's no wonder why the Red Sox have such trouble out west. Playing at 10:10 EST every night doesn't exactly get a lineup energized or a pitching staff sharp. Add in the basic stresses of travel, and you've got a recipe for disaster.
The good news is that the Sox will get to ease into things against the Mariners, who at 32-45 shouldn't prove much of a challenge while the Yankees and Orioles will have to take on playoff contenders in the Indians and White Sox. It's an opportunity for Boston to gain ground, and one they shouldn't waste, West Coast or not.
Boston Red Sox (40-35) at Seattle Mariners (32-45)
Thursday, June 28, 10:10 p.m. EST
Franklin Morales (1-1, 3.12 ERA) vs. Felix Hernandez (5-5, 3.36 ERA)
Wait, did I say ease in? Felix Hernandez isn't really easing in, I suppose. While Hernandez showed he was mortal with some mediocre outings around the turn of the months, he's right back to being his old self in his last two outings. While they came against NL West competition in the Padres and Giants, there's no denying the numbers: 14 innings, two runs, 14 baserunners, 17 strikeouts. The realistic hope for the Sox here is work some good at bats, maybe push across a couple of runs, and hopefully get him out after seven.
The other hope is that Franklin Morales will once again impress. Coming up against his weakest opposition since his switch back to starting (possibly even taking into account having the DH, unlike in Chicago) if Morales improves on his last couple of outings then he could be putting up an outing slightly shorter than but comparable to Felix's. That's not saying nearly so much against the Mariners, of course.
Friday, June 29, 10:10 p.m. EST
Aaron Cook (1-1, 9.39 ERA) vs. Hector Noesi (2-9, 5.50 ERA)
Aaron Cook did what the Sox wanted him to do, inducing ground ball after ground ball in a Sox win over the Braves. In Seatte, he should fair even better, since his fly balls won't be nearly so much trouble as in Fenway Park. If the defense comes through, Cook shouldn't have any reason to worry.
Hector Noesi, on the other hand, could have quite a bit of trouble here. He's had a few decent outings against the likes of the woeful Padres lineup. Against the rest of the league? He's been a disaster, somehow giving up 1.53 homers per nine innings even playing in a place like Safeco, Add in the fact that he can't stay away from contact despite walking more than his fair share of batters, and it's a stiff drop in quality from Felix Hernandez.
Saturday, June 30, 10:10 p.m. EST
NESN/MLB Network, WEEI
Josh Beckett (4-7, 4.14 ERA) vs. Erasmo Ramirez (0-2, 4.18 ERA)
The last time we saw Josh Beckett, he was suffering hard-luck loss after hard-luck loss, either by virtue of mediocre defense or mediocre offense. The good news is that he's making his return to a Red Sox team that's started performing at top-level. Up against a team he holds a 3.03 ERA against with plenty of recent success, Beckett just needs to dodge the dangers of rust. Unfortunately, lots of rest has been bad news for him so far this year, so that's a very real concern.
Far from a top prospect given his 2011 troubles between Double-A and Triple-A, the Mariners have been pleasantly surprised by the first 28 innings they've gotten out of Erasmo Ramirez. Unfortunately, he's had some troubles making the transition to starter. While his last long outing was good for eight innings and one run with a remarkable ten strikeouts, that was against the Athletics, and came right after allowing 11 runs (nine earned) in nine innings against the Diamondbacks and Padres. Was this last game a fluke, or were the first two just growing pains? He'll have to take advantage of his wide repertoire if he wants to avoid the usual fate of inexperienced starters against the Sox: a quick start, and a drawn-out death in the middle innings.
Sunday, July 1, 4:10 p.m. EST
Felix Doubront (8-4, 4.54 ERA) vs. Jason Vargas (7-7, 4.54 ERA)
This is a big outing for Felix Doubront. After starting the year on fire, Doubront has struggled through his last few outings. With a start against the Mariners he's got a chance to find his footing and get back to doing what he'd done so well early on. If he should struggle again against such a weak lineup, however, then it could be a sign that something has to be done to get him back to where he was before, because the Sox aren't going to let the sort of potential they saw in April and May get away from them without a fight.
Jason Vargas might be the most difficult player in the MLB to find something interesting to say about. He'll strike out a few guys, walk a few guys, give up some hard contact, allow a few runs. He just will. It's what he does. 90% of the time, if the other team plays pretty well, they'll win. If the other team plays poorly, they'll lose. He's neutral, hurt by the fact that his team isn't very good most of the time, but helped by the fact that his park tends to favor his strengths. Long story short, though, this game should be about Felix and the Mariners lineup, not so much Vargas.