The Week Ahead: Two big series for Red Sox

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daisuke-matsuzaka-100502.jpgThe Boston Red Sox were swept by the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend. I’ll let you take a moment to read that again.

Yes, we know that it’s a long season and teams have their ups and downs, but this is the Orioles we’re talking about. A team that was 2-16 not so long ago, a franchise that hadn’t swept Boston (at home) in 36 years.

Boston has its share of problems. The Red Sox’s pitchers rank 25th in ERA and 23rd in opponent slugging percentage. The hitters are 15th in batting average, 13th in on-base percentage, and 13th in runs scored. Some of these problems will be helped with a little bit of good health (Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron), and with a return to form – or at least something resembling decent play – from Daisuke Matsuzaka (pictured) and David Ortiz.

All of which brings us to this week, which is a big one for Boston, about as big as any early May series could be. First the Red Sox face the Angels in a four-game series at Fenway, then they play host to the hated Yankees in a three-game series over the weekend.

At 11-14, the Red Sox are in fourth place, seven games behind the AL East-leading Rays. And while it’s far too early to suggest that this week will make or break Boston’s season, it’s still a big stretch of games. You don’t want one little sweep to the Orioles to snowball into something bigger. The way the Rays and Yankees are playing, you don’t want a bigger hole to dig out of. Otherwise, the next thing you know you’ll be talking about whom to deal – instead of acquire – at the trading deadline.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Writer Henry Schulman was so tired of seeing New York teams on ESPN that he decided to boycott Sunday night’s Mets-Phillies game. So to avoid being boycotted by Mr. Schulman, we won’t put Yankees-Red Sox (May 7-9) on the list here. We won’t even mention that series. No way. Not a word. You say we already did? Oops!

Rockies at Padres, May 3-5: Colorado was considered by many to be the favorite to take the NL West this year, but they’re struggling at 12-13. Meanwhile the Padres are riding dominant pitching to a 16-9 start. Can it continue?

Tigers at Twins, May 3-5: The Tigers took two of three in a series between these two teams last week in Detroit. Now the Twins get a chance for revenge at Target Field.

Cardinals at Phillies, May 3-6: Joe Blanton is back off the DL and will make his season debut Monday against the Cardinals. This four-game series should be a doozy. NLCS preview, anyone?

Angels at Red Sox, May 3-6: This four-game series is a rematch of a 2009 ALDS series, which the Angels swept. This time, though, John Lackey will be pitching for Boston. He’ll face his ex-teammates on Wednesday.

Giants at Mets, May 7-9: Schulman covers the Giants. Unfortunately he won’t see them on ESPN against the Mets this weekend, because the worldwide leader is showing that other New York team play against some team I won’t mention from Boston.

ON THE TUBE
Monday, 7:10 p.m. ET: Angels at Red Sox (ESPN)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Cardinals at Phillies (ESPN)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m., Braves at Phillies (FOX)
*Saturday, 3:10 p.m., Yankees at Red Sox (FOX)
Sunday, 1:35 p.m., Braves at Phillies (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m., Yankees at Red Sox (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.