Climbing the Ladder with the American League
ALCS Preview and Predictions!
Boston Red Sox vs Tampa Bay Rays
Granted I’m a fan of the Boston Red Sox.Â I’ve never tried to hide it, but I try to not let my bias of the home town team show in my writing. That aside, I’m taking the Red Sox in this series.Â Boston has what it takes to win in this series and I’m not talking about experience or Tampa’s lack there of.Â I’m talking about starting pitching and defense. Â Of the pitchers slated to start the first four games for Boston, Jon Lester (18), Daisuke Matsuzaka (16), Josh Beckett (11) and Tim WakefieldÂ (10) combine for 55 win shares while James Shield (15), Scott Kazmir (12), Matt Garza (12) and Andy Sonnanstine (10) combine for just 49. The Boston Red Sox also have a proven closer who can get the job done when the called upon. Papelbon has posted 15 win shares in 2008 compared to 6 by Troy Percival and 12 by Dan Wheeler, who gave up a home run in his only post season appearance during the Chicago series and 5 home runs in just 29.2 innings at home this season.Â With the end of the Tampa Bay bullpen in flux, a weakness could be exposed in the late innings of this series.
The Boston Red Sox ranked #1 in the American League in fielding percentage and with Jason Bay and Jed Lowrie taking over at left field and short stop, Boston is sure to be strong in all defensive positions.Â Boston proved in the ALDS that defense matters and perhaps won the series because of it. Tampa was ranked 6th in the American League in fielding percentage but has yet to commit an error this post season.
Daisuke Matsuzaka will pitch the first game on the road, where he’s enjoyed a 9-0 record in 13 starts while posting a 2.37 and an outstanding (for Dice-K) 1.16 WHIP.Â The bullpen will be well rested when Matsuzaka leaves the game after 5-6 innings and should be able to bridge the gap to Masterson and Papelbon.Â James Shields, who will start for Tampa in the first game, has a5.23 ERA over 8 career starts against Boston and is just 2-4 over in those games.
Josh Beckett will start game two for the Red Sox and his performance will weigh heavily on the outcome of the game.Â The good news is that Beckett’s uncertainty is matched with the uncertainty of Tampa’s starter, Scott Kazmir.Â This game has the potential to be the highest scoring affair of the series or perhaps one of the lowest. As I mentioned in a previous edition of Climbing the Ladder with the American League, Kazmir’s ERA has steadily increased every month of the season.Â He finished the season poorly, allowing 9 home runs in his last 26.0 innings.Â The upside potential lies on the side of Josh Beckett and if what he said after his last start about just being rusty is true, then Boston gets the edge in game two.Â If Beckett isn’t sharp and the Boston bullpen is taxed from picking up Dice-K’s slack then Tampa could easily take game 2.
Four words:Â Jon Lester Fenway Park.Â I don’t know of a game in the series where Boston will have a greater advantage.Â Jon Lester will start at home where he’s been exceptional, going 11-1 with a 2.49 ERA.Â If that wasn’t enough, Lester is 3-0 this season against Tampa and has only given up 2 earned runs in 20 innings.Â Tampa’s starter, Matt Garza can hardly compare to Lesters.Â In Garza’s last start against Chicago, he allowed 5 earned runs over 6.0 innings of work and took the loss. In four starts against the Red Sox this season, Garza is 1-1 with a 4.5o ERA while giving up 11 earned runs over 22 innings.
Tim Wakefield’s numbers against Tampa this season aren’t what they used to be.Â In 3 starts against the Rays this season, Wake is 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA.Â Everyone remembers Andy Sonnanstine posting back to back impressive outings against Boston in which he went a combined 13 innings, allowing 7 hits and 0 earned runs.Â I would say that unless a change is made to the probable pitchers, the edge lies on the side of Tampa.Â One could argue that Sonnanstine was somewhat over achieving in his starts against Boston since he posted a 4.38 ERA for the season but until he proves otherwise, Wakefield and the Boston Red Sox will need to do everything they can to win this game.
For those of you who want to argue that Boston isn’t the same team without Manny, look at what Jason Bay has done for the team.Â In his 49 games as a Red Sox, Bay has hit 9 home runs, drove in 37 runs and slugged .527, all while playing better defense in left field and running the bases much better than Manny.Â In Manny’s 100 games with the Red Sox he hit 20 home runs, dive in 68 RBI’s and slugged .529.Â Bay is an improvement for this team and its offense and defense no matter how you look at it.
When youÂ look at the the line up’s of these two teams they look very similiar.Â Good position players who run the bases well and get the job done.Â What separates these two teams is the ability of the Boston Red Sox to score runs and the factors that lead to this.Â In 2008, Boston scored 845 runs compared to Tampa’s 774.Â Boston had a run differential of +151, 48 runs better than that of Tampa Bay who were at +103.Â The Red Sox hit 69 more doubles than the Rays (353 vs. 284) and also had 162 more total bases than Tampa (2,503 vs. 2,341). Boston also took more walks (646 vs. 626), had more hits (1,565 vs. 1,443), struck out less (1,068 vs. 1224) and had a higher OBP (.358 vs. .340), SLG (.447 vs. .422), and BA (.280 vs. .260) than the Rays.Â Tampa does have the edge in home runs by 7 (180 vs. 173) and triples (37 vs. 33) and the only offensive stat that Tampa was significantly better than Boston in was stolen bases (142 vs. 120) and if Tampa wants to win this series with the Red Sox they will need steal it away from them.
Boston in 6