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Down and away

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff May 22, 2009 09:49 AM

After they get through this weekendís series with the New York Mets (insert tired, but true arguments against Interleague play here) the Red Sox embark on a 10-game road trip, one which will take them to Minnesota, Toronto, and Detroit. It will be their longest venture away from what have indeed been friendly confines of Fenway Park until the final fortnight of 2009.

No team outside of Chavez Ravine has played better on home turf than the Red Sox, a 16-4 mark that translates into a projected 65-win season at Fenway Park. On the road, things are predictably different, a 9-12 record that translates into a 35-win travel season.

Itís certainly not that the 9-12 mark is of concern, particularly in a league where only the Yankees can boast a better than .500 record (11-10). Most Red Sox starters have been just as bad on the road as they have been at home (Jon Lester: 2-2, 5.02 ERA at Fenway; 1-2, 6.93 away. Josh Beckett: 2-0, 5.63 Fenway; 2-2, 6.08 away. Brad Penny: 3-0, 6.14 Fenway; 1-1, 6.00 away).

The bullpen has been as comparatively lights out as it has been under the lights of the Fens. Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Delcarmen, and Ramon Ramirez have a combined 0.00 ERA at Fenway Park. On the road, itís 1.86. The bullpen has allowed 42 earned runs overall, an average of just over one per game. I mean, just how do you expect to win with a Ďpen like that?

While itís a given that whomever Terry Francona puts at shortstop is nearly a sure bet to throw the ball away (Sox shortstops are averaging one error every 3.42 games), itís the unpredictability of the bats that allowed a road deterioration. The Red Sox tout a hefty .920 OPS at home (best in baseball), but itís just .730 on the road, where they collectively have scored 33 fewer runs.

Perhaps they can take advantage of Minnesotaís dreadful pitching staff (5.16 Ė albeit with a better WHIP -1.41 - than Bostonís 1.48) in the first four games of the trip to get things kicking again. After that, heading to Detroit (3.21) and Toronto (3.38) wonít be attractive options, the 1-2 AL teams, respectively, in home ERA. Many of the Red Sox regularsí stats are plain olí dreary on the road. David Ortiz: .541 OPS. Mike Lowell: .258 OBP. Lowell, Jason Varitek, and Ortiz are all batting .233 or lower.

Not counting Kevin Youkilis, who just returned to the lineup this week, the Soxí two best road performers have been (not surprisingly) Jason Bay (seven home runs, 1.051 OPS Ė only Evan Longoria and Victor Martinez have better road OPS numbers among those with more than 50 at-bats) and JD Drew (four of his six home runs, .909 OPS). After that, things drop somewhat significantly compared to Fenway numbers (Varitekís OPS numbers are almost 300 percentage points lower on the road), and it will be interesting to note what happens on the whole with the return of Youkilis.

If you really want to get to the main concern of this team (not named Big Papi) well, thatís a whole other issue entirely. But Tim Wakefield, Penny, and Lester all did yeomanís work in calming the fears of the ineffective starting pitching these last three nights against the Jays (21 combined innings, four earned runs). If they can straighten things out thereÖoh, Daisuke.

Well, after tonight, I mean.

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by eric wilbur

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