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.

Cubs, Jake Arrieta avoid arbitration at $10.7 million

Jake Arrieta
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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The Associated Press is reporting that the Cubs and starter Jake Arrieta have avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $10.7 million salary for the 2016 season. That marks the highest salary on a one-year deal for a pitcher with four years of service, the AP notes. Arrieta and the Cubs were set to go before an independent arbitrator but now can simply focus on the season ahead.

Arrieta, 29, is in his second of three years of arbitration eligibility. He had filed for $13 million while the Cubs countered at $7.5 million. The $5.5 million gap was the largest among players who did not come to terms with their respective teams by the January deadline. The $10.7 million salary is $450,000 above the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award for his performance this past season, narrowly edging out Zack Greinke, then with the Dodgers. Arrieta led the majors with 22 wins, four complete games, and three shutouts. With that, he compiled a 1.77 ERA and a 236/48 K/BB ratio across 229 innings.

Once a top prospect in the Orioles’ minor league system, Arrieta struggled in the majors but found immediate success with the Cubs in 2013 after the O’s traded him along with Pedro Strop in exchange for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman.

Giants sign Conor Gillaspie to a minor league deal

Los Angeles Angels third baseman Conor Gillaspie is unable to hold on to the ball after catching a grounder hit by Kansas City Royals' Lorenzo Cain in the fourth inning of a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)
AP Photo/Colin E. Braley
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Per Baseball America’s Matt Eddy, the Giants have signed infielder Conor Gillaspie to a minor league deal. Gillaspie was selected by the Giants in the supplemental round of the 2008 draft, then was traded to the White Sox in February 2013.

Gillaspie, 28, hit a meager .228/.269/.359 with four home runs and 24 RBI in 253 plate appearances between the White Sox and Angels during the 2015 season. Almost all of his playing time has come at third base but he can also play first base if needed.

The Giants, thin on depth, will allow Gillaspie to audition in spring training for a spot on the 25-man roster.

Joe Nathan plans to pitch in 2016

Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joe Nathan throws against the Chicago White Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game in Detroit Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that free agent reliever Joe Nathan, recovering from Tommy John surgery, plans to pitch in 2016 according to his agent Dave Pepe. According to Pepe, Nathan’s workouts are “going well” and the right-hander is “definitely planning on playing this year.”

Nathan, 41, got the final out on Opening Day (April 6) against the Twins before going on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right elbow, causing him to miss the next 161 games. He will likely be able to contribute out of the bullpen in late May or early June if he has no setbacks. On a minor league deal or incentive-laden major league deal, Nathan could make for a low-risk gamble.

Over a 15-season career that dates back to 1999 (he did not pitch in the majors in 2001 or 2010), Nathan has 377 saves with a 2.89 ERA and a 967/340 K/BB ratio over 917 innings.

The Rays are considering reliever Tyler Clippard

New York Mets pitcher Tyler Clippard throws during the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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On Thursday, we learned that the Diamondbacks were still considering free agent reliever Tyler Clippard. You can add the Rays to the list as well, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rays traded lefty reliever Jake McGee to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson in late January, so Clippard would be able to slot right in behind closer Brad Boxberger. Clippard, 30, compiled a 2.92 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 31 walks over 71 innings in a season split between the Athletics and Mets. The strikeout rate was at its lowest since the right-hander become a full-time reliever in 2009, and his walk rate was at its highest since 2010, which may be a factor in his still being a free agent in February.