Haggerty: Sox stars lack shine in series opener

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Haggerty: Sox stars lack shine in series opener

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
Whenever the baseball calendar flips over to August and the Red Sox are pitted against the Yankees, its an automatic fact of AL East life that the best players on either side will need to elevate their games.

That needs to be the case in a three-game series between the ancient baseball rivals with first place on the line, and that simply wasnt the case in Friday nights opening act.

Prized left-hander Jon Lester suddenly misplaced the strike zone after five dominant innings against the dangerous Yankees lineup, and slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez pulled an 0-for-4 at the plate that snapped a 14-game hitting streak for the middle-of-the-order slugger.

Both of their baseball supermen blinked against Major League Baseballs version of the Legion of Doom, and it caused the Sox to come up just a smidgen short. When Lester and Gonzalez dont roll out playing high level baseball against a team like the Yanks, the chances of winning drop to something comfortably between unreasonable and unlikely. Thats exactly what happened in a 3-2 loss to New York at Fenway Park Friday night, and its why the Sox were lamenting a narrow defeat dotted with only a couple of legit turning points.

We thought we did a good job getting Bartolo Colon out of there, but we just couldnt get to their bullpen, said Dustin Pedroia. Weve got to come out and swing the bats a little bit better.

The game actually hinged on Gonzalez fanning to end the bottom of the fifth inning with the bases loaded and two outs after Bostons offense forced Bartolo Colon to the showers after only 4 23 innings. Yankees manager Joe Girardi called on lefty Boone Logan, and the southpaw reliever overwhelmed Bostons offensive linchpin in the pivotal at bat.

Its actually been a little bit of a struggle for Gonzalez against the Yankees this season with a .211 batting average and nine strikeouts in 38 at bats against the Bronx Bombers a set of numbers that have left him on the periphery of the impassioned hardball rivalry that he couldnt wait to be a part of heading into the season.

I just wasnt able to hold back, lamented Gonzalez about the pitch from Logan that retired the first baseman on a check swing strike three.

The lengthy-but-fruitless bottom of the fifth inning caused Lester to gather a little rust in the Sox dugout, and he looked little like the dominant lefty that fanned seven Yankees through the first five innings while working both sides of the plate like a Picasso.

In the sixth inning all the artistry turned ugly, and Lester walked No. 9 hitter Eduardo Nunez to start the inning. He couldnt recover fast enough once things got rolling for the Yankees offense and he coughed up three runs before finally stopping the bleeding.

The final numbers three runs allowed and seven strikeouts in six innings of work were more than passable, but Lester couldnt summon greatness when he needed to.

The strapping lefty prides himself on being a stopper for the Sox, and was his own worst critic when he couldnt find a way to prevent a Nick Swisher double down the left field line that ultimately plated the game-winning run. The lefty very nearly escaped a bases loaded, nobody out jam, but thats something that doesnt happen every often against a good offensive lineup like the Yankees.

Lester is also 2-1 with a 5.00 ERA in three starts against the Yankees this season, and will need to be better going forward against Bostons hated rivals if they harbor serious hopes for the AL East.

It seemed like for five innings we dictated both sides of the plate, and in the sixth inning they did, said Lester. You cant give these guys free bases. I need to do a better job of once we get those two outs of buckling down and getting that third out.

The Sox hurler liked the pitches he threw to Curtis Granderson and Swisher that really did the necessary damage for New York, but he still needs to discover some way to simply make that one pitch during winninglosing time.

I just have to do a better job. You tip your hat to Swisher because he hit a pretty good pitch, but I just have to do a better job of getting him out one way or another, said Lester. I have to get the out, minimize the damage to two runs and maybe thats the difference in the game.

Both Lester and Gonzalez are going to need to start getting better immediately if the Sox hope to cool down the red-hot Yankees, and finish strong in August and September before the real season begins.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Monday's Red Sox vs. Orioles lineups: Ortiz back from sore foot

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Monday's Red Sox vs. Orioles lineups: Ortiz back from sore foot

David Ortiz makes his return to the Red Sox lineup after being a late scratch on Sunday due to a sore left foot is sore after getting hit by a pitch Saturday. However, Hanley Ramirez is getting the day off, with Travis Shaw getting the start at first.

The lineups:

ORIOLES:
Adam Jones CF
Hyun Soo Kim LF
Manny Machado SS
Chris Davis 1B
Mark Trumbo DH
Jonathan Schoop 2B
Nolan Reimold RF
Ryan Flaherty 3B
Caleb Joseph C
--
Tyler Wilson P

RED SOX:
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Travis Shaw 1B
Blake Swihart LF
Ryan Hanigan C
Marco Hernandez 3B
---
Steven Wright P

Red Sox haven't allowed opponents to break out the brooms

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Red Sox haven't allowed opponents to break out the brooms

Through the first sixteen series of the season, the Red Sox are 9-5-3 (two ties coming from two-game sets) en route to their AL East leading 30-20 record.

Boston’s only mustered up two series sweeps -- taking two in Atlanta and three from the Yankees at Fenway -- but they’ve avoided the dreaded broom in each of their five series losses.

In fact, in four of their five series losses the Red Sox earned their lone victory in the final game, with Sunday being the most recent instance.

None of the series finale, sweep-defying wins were cakewalks either. Three of the four were decided by three runs or less -- the other being decided by four.

Boston’s MLB-leading 5.9 runs per game offense scored below its average each time -- so Red Sox pitching didn’t have the same gigantic cushion it’s used to.

Prior to his injury, Joe Kelly was the first savior, chucking five innings allowing two earned runs against a Baltimore Orioles team that was undefeated at that point in the season’s youth. Fast forward to the series at Yankee Stadium and Steven Wright nearly through a shutout, holding the Yankees to one run through nine innings.

In the two most recent cases, David Price’s turn came in the lineup -- and he’s answered the call. Boston’s ace held down both the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays -- on the road -- limiting both offenses to two runs each. Both starts have come the day after one-run losses, too.

So while Price’s “stuff” hasn’t been at its best, admitting Sunday it usually isn’t against the Blue Jays, he’s displayed the intangible aces are supposed to have – guts.

Now on any other team, they might be in trouble given Boston’s offense is the best in baseball. Because a bad scoring day for the Red Sox is better than almost half the league’s average day. But they aren’t on any other team, so that’s not the issue.

For all the struggles the Red Sox’ starting pitchers have dealt with, they’ve managed to get the job done when they’ve needed it.

Those wins add up, too.

If the Red Sox are swept in these four series, they sit at 26-24 right in the middle of the AL East -- and this season has an entirely different feel to it.

In an age where numbers have become the central focus of the game, Boston’s starting pitchers have managed to lock-in when the club needs it most -- and must continue to do so.

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter @ngfriar.