The Week Ahead: Two big series for Red Sox


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.

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.

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.

Erik Johnson likely to open 2016 in the White Sox rotation

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Starting pitcher Erik Johnson #45 of the Chicago White Sox delivers against the Colorado Rockies during Interleague play at Coors Field on April 9, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the White Sox 10-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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With the White Sox losing Jeff Samardzija to free agency, Erik Johnson will likely get a shot to contribute out of the rotation to open up the 2016 season, GM Rick Hahn said in a conference call on Wednesday, per a report from’s Scott Merkin.

“As we sit here today, I think it will be an opportunity for Erik Johnson to convert on sort of the return to form he showed back in 2015 when he was International League pitcher of the year for [Triple-A] Charlotte,” Hahn said. “Obviously, he got some starts in September and continued to show the progress in Chicago he had shown in the Minor Leagues over the course of the last season.

“So if Opening Day were today, then I think Johnson is penciled in to that spot in the rotation right now. In all probability, once we get closer to spring, there will be some competition for him to earn that spot. But if we were strictly looking at today, then I would think Johnson has the inside track on filling Samardzija’s innings.”

Johnson was called up from Triple-A Charlotte in September and made six starts, allowing 14 runs (13 earned) on 32 hits and 17 walks with 30 strikeouts in 35 innings. That followed up an impressive five months in the minors where he compiled a 2.37 ERA and a 136/41 K/BB ratio across 132 2/3 innings.

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and each included Johnson on their top-100 prospect lists, ranking him 63rd, 67th, and 70th, respectively. The right-hander was selected by the White Sox in the second round of the 2011 draft.

Major League Baseball will investigate Yasiel Puig for his role in Miami nightclub brawl

Yasiel Puig
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

It was reported on Friday afternoon that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was involved in a brawl at a Miami nightclub. Details were scant at the time, but he reportedly left with a bruise on his face.

Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports that Major League Baseball plans to investigate Puig under the league’s new domestic violence policy for his role in the brawl. Citing a report from TMZ, Hernandez notes that Puig shoved his sister, “brutally sucker-punched” the manager of the bar, and instigated the brawl.

The Dodgers and Puig’s agent have thus far refused to comment on the situation.

Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was the first player to be investigated under the league’s new domestic violence policy earlier this month, as he allegedly assaulted his wife. Reyes has pleaded not guilty after he was charged with domestic abuse in Hawaii.

As our own Craig Calcaterra pointed out, commissioner Rob Manfred does not need to wait for Puig to plead guilty or to be found guilty to levy a punishment.

Dayan Viciedo close to signing with Japan’s Chunichi Dragons

Dayan Viciedo
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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Patrick Newman is reporting that the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and outfielder Dayan Viciedo are close to an agreement on a contract. Newman notes that the Dragons are close to signing pitcher Jordan Norberto as well.

Viciedo, 26, has struggled since making his major league debut in 2010 with the White Sox, batting an aggregate .254/.298/.424 with 66 home runs and 211 RBI in 1,798 plate appearances. He spent the 2015 season with Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox) and Nashville (Athletics), hitting a composite .287/.348/.450. While Viciedo can hit the occasional home run, he hasn’t shown the ability to do much else at the big league level. Given his age, he could prove himself in Japan and parlay that into a renewed shot in the majors in the future.

The White Sox signed Viciedo out of Cuba in December 2008, agreeing to a four-year, $10 million deal. The club re-signed him to one-year deals in 2013 and ’14 for $2.8 million each and $4.4 million ahead of the 2015 season.

Blue Jays sign J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract

J.A. Happ
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Update (8:45 PM EST): Per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Happ will get $10 million in 2016 and $13 million each in 2017 and ’18.

*’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the Blue Jays have signed lefty J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million.

Happ, 33, had a rebirth as a member of the Pirates last season after starting the season with 20 subpar starts with the Mariners. He made 11 starts for the Buccos, boasting a 1.85 ERA with a 69/13 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported this past August that Happ’s newfound success had to do with a delivery tweak suggested by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. The Blue Jays are certainly hoping that adjustment is the full explanation for his success.

The Jays’ signing of Happ most likely signifies they won’t be pursuing free agent lefty David Price.

This will be Happ’s second stint with the Blue Jays. The Astros dealt him to Toronto in a July 2012 trade. He posted a 4.39 ERA with a 256/113 K/BB ratio in 291 innings with the Jays, then went to the Mariners in a trade this past December that brought outfielder Michael Saunders to the Jays.