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.

Julio Urias is on his way back to the majors

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 27:  Julio Urias #78 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches against the New York Mets during their game at Citi Field on May 27, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images
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Dodgers 19-year-old rookie Julio Urias is coming back to the majors and Alex Wood is headed to the 15-day disabled list with left elbow soreness, Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times reports. Urias will likely start Saturday against the Braves, which will mark his debut in front of the home crowd.

Urias made his major league debut on Friday against the Mets at Citi Field, but lasted only 2 2/3 innings. He yielded three runs on five hits and four walks with three strikeouts.

Urias came into the season rated as the Dodgers’ #1 prospect and the #2 overall prospect in baseball. Prior to his promotion, he had compiled a 1.10 ERA with 44 strikeouts and eight walks over 41 innings with Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Mookie Betts enjoys a three-homer game against the Orioles

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 31: Mookie Betts #50 of the Boston Red Sox follows his three run homer against the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 31, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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The Red Sox seem to have hit the jackpot on all of their young players so far this year. Jackie Bradley, Jr. just had a 29-game hitting streak snapped. Xander Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 24 games on Tuesday night. And Mookie Betts has been quite productive batting leadoff for the Red Sox this year, entering Tuesday with an even .800 OPS.

Betts, 23, hit 18 home runs in his first full season last year. With a three-homer night against the Orioles on Tuesday, he’s already up to 12 in 2016 with four months of season left. The first was of the solo variety, a line drive to center field off of Kevin Gausman in the first inning. Betts followed up in the third with a liner to left field for a three-run dinger off of Gausman. He made it three in the seventh, drilling a Dylan Bundy offering to right field.

Here’s video of homer number two:

Betts finished 3-for-5 as the Red Sox won 6-2 at Camden Yards.

The stats show the Pirates as an outlier in throwing “headhunter” pitches

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 5: Reliever Arquimedes Caminero #37 of the Pittsburgh Pirates pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals in the seventh inning at Busch Stadium on September 5, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
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Last week at ESPN Sweetspot’s Inside the Zona, Ryan Morrison looked into the data and found that the Pirates stand out among the rest when it comes to throwing “headhunter” pitches. Those are defined as fastballs 3.2 feet or higher and 1.2 feet towards the batter from the center of the plate.

The research was prompted because Diamondbacks second baseman Jean Segura was hit in the helmet by Pirates reliever Arquimedes Caminero last Tuesday in the seventh inning. The next inning, Caminero hit shortstop Nick Ahmed in the jaw with a pitch and was instantly ejected.

Morrison illustrated the data in a nice chart, which you should check out. The Pirates have thrown 93 of those pitches, which is way more than any other team. The next closest team is the Reds at 68 pitches. The major league average is approximately 48 pitches.

The Pirates have had an organizational philosophy of pitching inside since at least 2013, as MLB.com’s Tom Singer quoted manager Clint Hurdle as saying, “We’re not trying to hurt people, just staying in with conviction.”

Morrison goes on to suggest that the Diamondbacks should have forfeited last Wednesday and Thursday’s games against the Pirates in protest, out of concern for their players’ safety. As it happened, the D-Backs lost both games anyway, suffering a series sweep. The two clubs don’t meet again this season.

D-Backs manager Chip Hale said after last Tuesday’s game that Caminero “shouldn’t be at this level”. Caminero responded to those comments today, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. “I’m actually glad you asked me about that,” Caminero said. “The only thing I’ve got to say about (Hale) is that he is a perfect manager. And he was a perfect player, too. That’s it. I know what I did wasn’t good, but it happens in baseball. I wasn’t trying to hit anyone.”

I realize I’m late on pointing out Morrison’s terrific article and the whole debacle between the two teams, but I felt it was worth highlighting.

Jose Bautista: “I’d be stupid to leave” Toronto

TORONTO, CANADA - MAY 29: Jose Bautista #19 of the Toronto Blue Jayshits a two-run home run in the fifth inning during MLB game action against the Boston Red Sox on May 29, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
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Also included in a recent report on Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista by Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated — along with his belief that Rougned Odor was the only bad guy in the May 15 debacle — was the slugger’s desire to remain a Blue Jay. Per Verducci, Bautista said, “I love the city. I’d be stupid to leave” Toronto.

Bautista, 35, is in the final year of a five-year, $65 million extension signed in February 2011. Back in November, the Jays exercised their 2016 club option for $14 million. Bautista isn’t willing to discuss contract details during the season, so the two sides will have to wait until at least October to come to an agreement.

Entering Tuesday’s game against the Yankees, Bautista is hitting .237/.371/.489 with 11 home runs, 37 RBI, and 40 walks, the latter of which leads the American League.