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Boston Red Sox series preview: Hot bats a-comin'

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The top offense in baseball comes to The K.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox come to Kansas City owning a share of the division lead in the American League East with the Baltimore Orioles.

The reigning World Champion Kansas City Royals, finally broke their five-series losing streak against the lowly Atlanta Braves, but they hardly did so in convincing fashion as Wade Davis blew his first save as the official Royals closer on Sunday and the game went to the 13th before Kendrys Morales took him off the hook with a walk-off two-run dong. The Royals limp into this series, a team thoroughly discombobulated with both its starting pitching and hitting struggling mightily.

The Red Sox are not suffering the same sluggishness. Since April 24, they have won 16 of the 21 games they have played while owning the top offense in baseball. This could be a long three-game series.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Pitching match-ups

Game One - Monday, 6:05 PM CDT

Rick Porcello 7 46.1 46 10 3.11 3.62 3.35 3.28
Yordano Ventura 7 37.0 26 28 4.62 5.43 5.92 5.99

For the bulk of his major league career, Rick Porcello has been one of those pitchers who always seem to be snakebit by the BABIP Fairy in its serpentine form. 2009 and 2014 were exceptions - the latter getting him a nice contract with the Red Sox - but 2016 seems to be the year in which he might have put it all together. He is striking the opposition out nearly five percentage points more than in any other campaign (24.9% compared to a career 15.5% rate and a previous career best of 20.2% last year). His K-BB% is a whopping 19.5% compared to 9.8% on his career and 15.1% last year. It may have taken eight seasons, but this looks like the Rick Porcello that Detroit had in mind when they named him to their Opening Day roster back in 2009 when he had never pitched above high-A ball.

Yordano Ventura has been bad. His ERA should be worse. He leads the majors in walks allowed. He has lost the command of his repertoire, and it has looked ugly. That Ventura has been fortunate to only have a 4.62 ERA hang around his neck is a bad, bad sign. It is probably time to send him on a bus to Omaha and have it turn right back around.

Game Two - Tuesday, 7:15 PM CDT

David Price (L) 8 48.0 65 13 6.00 2.52 2.67 2.77
Ian Kennedy 7 44.1 41 16 3.25 4.34 4.62 4.13

By many measures, David Price has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. In eight starts, he has been worth 1.4 fWAR, good for ninth in baseball. His 2.52 FIP puts him eighth amongst qualified pitchers. 2.67 xFIP? Fourth. 24.8 K-BB%? Also fourth.

Of course, only one qualified starter has a worse BABIP than his .379 mark. His 3.48 ERA-FIP is just less than a run (0.98) higher than the next least fortunate pitcher in baseball, Adam Wainwright. These last two stats help to explain how Price owns a 6.00 ERA despite arguably pitching better than he ever has before in his career. Of course, he has allowed a hard contact 12.0% more than his career mark. This has led to a 29.3% line-drive rate. Line drives overwhelmingly end up as hits. When looking at how Price has pitched, it is probably important to note that he has altered his pitch selection. Where his four-seamer was his most-thrown pitch last year,

Game Three - Wednesday, 1:15 PM CDT

Steven Wright 7 45.2 41 18 2.36 3.23 4.17 4.17
Edinson Volquez 8 48.2 38 15 3.51 3.51 4.08 4.13

It seems like Steven Wright has got to be too old to still pitch in the majors, but I guess hard knuckle-ballers are immune to aging.

Judging by his peripherals, Edinson Volquez has been a little better than he was last year. This is largely due to the fact that he has cut his walks by roughly half a walk per nine innings, trimming 1.4% off of his walk rate from last year while maintaining the same strikeout rates. That his ERA is roughly the same is more a product of a little less help from the defense behind him, as his BABIP is up to .301 from .290 last year. His hard contact and line-drive percentages are both down from last year, so there is reason to believe that perhaps his ERA is a bit higher than it should be with the Royals' defense behind him. An interesting note (as pitchers' velocities typically peak when young and slowly decline) on Volquez is that despite the fact that he is set to turn 33 this summer, his fastball velocity has basically sat in the 93 MPH range for every year but the 2013 season.

The Batsmen

The Red Sox offense is the best in baseball by nearly any measure. Here is how their lineup might look.

Mookie Betts RF 178 6 30 26 7 .256 .298 .429 .314 94
Dustin Pedroia 2B 164 6 27 20 1 .301 .348 .484 .360 126
Xander Bogaerts SS 167 3 30 19 6 .340 .389 .490 .381 142
David Ortiz (L) DH 148 10 20 33 1 .320 .405 .695 .453 193
Hanley Ramirez 1B 153 4 24 22 4 .309 .359 .460 .353 122
Travis Shaw (L) 3B 151 5 22 26 3 .328 .404 .567 .414 166
Brock Holt (L) LF 117 3 17 19 2 .270 .345 .400 .327 103
Jackie Bradley Jr. (L) CF 142 6 20 30 2 .336 .380 .603 .416 167
Christian Vazquez C 69 1 12 2 0 .250 .304 .375 .293 79
Ryan Hanigan C 52 0 4 4 0 .149 .231 .213 .207 17
Josh Rutledge IF 27 0 4 3 0 .348 .423 .522 .409 162
Chris Young OF 52 0 5 4 0 .255 .327 .404 .321 99

*Stats through Saturday, May 14

All it takes is a quick look at that squad to see that opposing pitchers don't really get a break. Mookie Betts is off to a slow start, and the Vazquez/Hanigan tandem bicycle has two flats and a rusty chain, but otherwise this offense is the best in baseball over the first quarter of the season. They lead baseball in runs, batting average, slugging percentage, wOBA, wRC+, and the offensive component of fWAR (their position players trail only the Cubs when figuring in defense, 10.8 to 11.8 fWAR).

Jackie Bradley Jr. has been red hot of late. He is likely to suffer some regression to the mean, along with Travis Shaw and probably Xander Bogaerts, but it would be hard to argue that Mookie Betts has not significantly underperformed his own expected levels of performance. Age could also be a factor with both Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, who have enjoyed resurgent 2016 campaigns, recalling their peak performance levels despite Father Time supporting the assertion that such levels of performance should probably be in the rear-view.

With the Royals' pitching staff struggling like it has been, this could get ugly.

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