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Series Preview: Boston Red Sox vs. New York Mets

The Red Sox pay a rare visit to Queens, but these hot Mets are still the main event.

Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

When I was a kid, I used to think of the Red Sox as the Mets' American League cousin. Both teams had long-suffering fan bases (longer for Boston than New York back then) and both of those fan bases had a rivalry with Yankees fans. Rooting for the Red Sox to overcome their championship drought was a lot more fun than cheering for the unstoppable Yankees to win another World Series. That was before I learned about the joys of rooting for the bad guy.

Times change, front offices wise up, and we now live in an era in which Boston has won three titles since 2004. The franchise went from being a lovable underdog to another version of the Yankees with too much winning, too many bandwagon fans, and those notorious pink hats. Still, it's hard for me to turn my back on a team that still has David Ortiz, Fenway Park, and one of the most exciting young players in the game. That's why I wanted Boston to win the AL East this season.

It doesn't look like that's happening, and a big part of that is the performance (or lack there of) from Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, two players whom the Red Sox paid a combined $183 million to acquire this offseason. Amazingly, both guys are playing below replacement level, and that likely played a big role in the ouster of former general manager Ben Cherington in favor of Dave Dombrowski.

Third baseman Sandoval is hitting .259/.307/.393 with poor defense, while the former shortstop Ramirez is batting .249/.291/.426 with some of the worst defense the majors has ever seen in left field. One of Dombrowski's biggest challenges in his new gig will be managing around the two stars, who now represent a pair of giant albatross contracts. Fortunately, there's good news for the future of the Red Sox as well.

Boston's best players are very young

Even with Sandoval and Ramirez not living up to their contracts, the Red Sox still score 4.54 runs per game (third in the AL) thanks to center fielder Mookie Betts and shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who are both still 22 years old. The rookie Betts is already hitting .273/.320/.440 at a premium defensive spot, and with the power and speed he's displayed in his first full season, it's easy to see 20 home runs and 20 steals per year in his future.

Bogaerts burst into the seen during Boston's 2013 postseason run and then disappointed with an 82 wRC+ in his official rookie season of 2014. Like many players who arrive in the majors so young, Bogaerts has needed a little seasoning to reach his potential, and we're now seeing the star potential again with his 104 wRC+ and solid defense at shortstop. If Bogaerts can just start to realize the walks and power that made him such a hot prospect back in the day, he'll be on his way to many All-Star Games in the future.

Two young studs like Betts and Bogaerts would be enough to make any fan base optimisitc about the future, but if you look around Boston's roster some more, you'll see why Dombrowski didn't take long to sign up with the Red Sox after he was let go by Detroit.

Before Betts was the exciting Boston outfield prospect, Jackie Bradley Jr. was the guy all the fans were clamoring for. That clamoring came to a halt following a terrible 2014 campaign in which Bradley didn't hit a lick in 127 big league games. However, the 25-year-old crushed the ball in Triple-A this year and he looks much better (.252/.344/.514 in 39 games) during his latest stint in the majors. Bradley might be an even better defender than Betts, but his major league strikeout rate of 26 percent (29 percent in 2014) needs to shrink before we pencil him into Boston's future.

Two other young players worth mentioning are Blake Swihart and Travis Shaw. Swihart is a 23-year-old good defensive catcher whose offense (.300/.353/.487 at Double-A last year) hasn't begun to show up in the majors yet, while first baseman Shaw is crushing the ball for Boston during the past month despite struggling to establish his power at Triple-A Pawtucket. The 25-year-old destroyed Double-A last year and still has a chance to turn into a power-hitting asset.

In addition to all those young, exciting players, Boston is still getting good production from veterans Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, although the latter in on the shelf with a hamstring injury. It might not be too long before we see a team that starts Betts, Bradley, and Cuban rookie Rusney Castillo in the same outfield. It seems the real issue in building the next great Red Sox squad will be the development of a pitching staff.

Boston's pitching staff is young, but not very good

At the start of the season, critics wondered if the Red Sox had someone who could be considering an ace in a seemingly mediocre rotation. It turns out that Clay Buchholz was the stopper that Boston needed, but he went on the disabled list with a strained flexor tendon right before the All-Star break. In the first half, Buchholz was pitching splendidly with his lowest ever walk rate and highest strikeout rate since last decade. With affordable options on his contract for the next two years, you have to count Buchholz's campaign as a plus, even if it was too short.

That left Rick Porcello to be the next candidate for best pitcher on staff, and he hasn't lived up to the four-year, $82.5 million extension that Cherington inked him to in April. The right-hander is allowing way too many home runs and has seen his ground ball rate (the biggest thing going for him in his Detroit days) drop to 43 percent. The good news is that Porcello is striking out more batters than he used to and is still only 26 years old. Yes, the kid from New Jersey is still that young even after pitching at least 160 major league innings in every year since 2009.

Date Time Television Red Sox Probable Starter Mets Probable Starter
August 28, 2015 7:10 PM SNY, MLBN Henry Owens Matt Harvey
August 29, 2015 4:05 PM PIX 11, FS1 Joe Kelly Jacob deGrom
August 30, 2015 1:10 PM SNY, TBS Wade Miley Noah Syndergaard

Porcello and Buchholz might be the two of the biggest factors in Boston's near-future success, but neither guy is pitching in Queens this weekend. That means we get to talk about Henry Owens, the left-handed prospect who has the same name as the right-hander whom the Mets traded for Jason Vargas following the 2006 season. The younger Owens has been pretty great so far in four big league starts and he's giving Boston hope that the team can improve on its league-worst 4.86 runs allowed per game this year.

After dominating Double-A in 2014, the 23-year-old Owen's strikeout rate took a dip in Triple-A this year, but he recently struck out 10 batters in six innings against the Mariners. And that was his worst major league start so far with seven runs allowed in six innings (but only one walk). In his latest outing, Owens allowed just one run in eight innings during a win over Kansas City. Tonight will be the most anticipated pitching matchup of the weekend with Owens being a hot prospect and Matt Harvey being fresh off of a skipped start. Mets fans should be expecting something special, as Harvey hasn't allowed more than two runs in a game since July 20.

Next up is Joe Kelly against Jacob deGrom. While deGrom has been mostly brilliant and his coming off of a bad outing in Philadelphia, Kelly has been mostly mediocre (5.18 ERA, 4.26 FIP) but has allowed just four total runs in his last three starts while coming up with the winning decision in his last five. The right-hander throws a hard fastball (95 mph), but he hasn't been able to miss many bats in his four-year major league career. This year, Kelly has raised his strikeout rate to 19 percent, but he'll continue to be a back-of-the-rotation arm until he boosts his ground ball rate back above 50 percent (where it was during his St. Louis days).

Wade Miley is a guy who has seen an improvement in his ground ball rate in recent years, but he's also had his ERA increase every year since he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2012. The reason for that looks to be a walk rate that was below two per nine during Miley's debut campaign but has been hovering around three since then. Like Porcello, Miley is another youngish hurler whom Boston has bought low on. Unlike Porcello, the lefty from Louisiana comes with a palatable price tag for the next two seasons.

Opposing Miley will be Noah Syndergaard, who has struggled a bit lately on the road. I'm sure most pundits will be predicting a return to excellence when Thor returns to Citi Field, but it won't be easy to shut down a Boston team that has won six of its last nine games. Then again, the Mets were able to overcome dubious pitching performances during their entire recent road trip. If the bats stay hot, there won't be a lot of pressure on the hurlers.

Prediction: Another Mets sweep!

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