McAdam: Rangers a daunting playoff foe for Sox

McAdam: Rangers a daunting playoff foe for Sox
August 23, 2011, 4:17 pm
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By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
ARLINGTON, Texas -- With the playoffs on the near horizon and the prospect of a Division Series matchup with the Texas Rangers a distinct -- and sobering -- possibility for the Red Sox, much of the attention has been focused on the team's struggles with the Rangers.

The Sox are 0-4 against Texas this year, have lost 10 of 12 and, since the beginning of 2009, they are 6-17 against the Rangers.

This, surely, looks like a playoff opponent the Red Sox would like to avoid, especially given the fact that the team is even more helpless against C.J. Wilson (4-0, 1.08 in five career starts vs. Boston). Add in the fact that Wilson would pitch the series opener and that the last 16 Division Series winners all won Game 1, and the task is even more daunting for the Sox.

Of course, it should be noted that the lineup Terry Francona used Monday night in the 4-0 loss will not be anything like the one he'll (presumably) have for the playoffs. The Sox are, for the time being, without their leadoff hitter (Jacoby Ellsbury); cleanup hitter (Kevin Youkilis); and No. 5 hitter (David Ortiz). Should the teams meet again in the Division Series, it's a safe bet that Marco Scutaro and Darnell McDonald will not be hitting first and second. Rookie Ryan Lavarnway will not be the team's DH.

But beyond the short-term injury picture and the team's recent struggles with Texas, there are more ominous trends emerging.

The shutout suffered by the Sox Monday night at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington was the ninth this season, an alarmingly high number for a team with the top-ranked offense in the game. Translated, that means about one of every 5.5 losses the team has suffered has been by shutout.

That figure is alarmingly high, even factoring in random slumps and loss of manpower due to injury.

(Taking that figure further, Monday was the 29th time the Red Sox had been held to under three runs, or, an average of once every 4.4 games.)

A second, equally disturbing trend is the team's inability to grind out wins against top starters.

Remember the last two seasons when the Red Sox seemed capable of beating any starter in either league? On one interleague swing in 2010, the Sox beat Ubaldo Jimenez -- at the time, the hottest pitcher in the game -- and Tim Lincecum in the span of only a few days.

Apart from their well-documented success against CC Sabathia this season, the Red Sox haven't been nearly so successful against top starting pitchers.

It's possible to count on one hand the number of times the Red Sox have beaten a front-line starter this year. They've had success against Tampa Bay's James Shields and (before last week) David Price, and have won two games started by Seattle's Felix Hernandez.

But what do Tampa Bay and Seattle have in common? They are, statistically speaking, two of the weakest offensive clubs in the American League, often unable to provide much run support for their starters.

That's not the case with Texas, which can support Wilson (and others in the starting rotation) with some muscle. The same goes for Detroit and Justin Verlander, another potential first-round opponent.

Beyond their success against Sabathia, the Red Sox have shown little evidence that they can beat front-of-the-rotation starters who receive at least moderate run support.

That doesn't bode well for October when, by definition, the quality of the starting pitching improves and lineups must grind out wins in low-scoring games.

Sean McAdam can be reached at smcadam@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam