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.

Kevin Kiermaier on Rays’ recent moves: “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset.”

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On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”

Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.

The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.

When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.