Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Playoff Diaries Volume I

Welcome to the playoff diaries…

Nine innings of thoughts on the Sox playoffs

1st inning – Jon Lester is F’n harsh. Even if Josh Beckett isn’t 100% of Josh Beckett I’m suddenly not as concerned now after Lester kicked down the door to the 2008 ALDS.

Here’s what I mean by that. 2008 is Lester’s third season in the majors and the first season he started more than 15 games, obviously his development was stalled by cancer (which only makes what he’s done more remarkable), but he went 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA, 152 Ks, 1.27 WHIP in 33 starts. Those numbers look kind of familiar…

In fact they are almost eerily similar to the numbers Josh Beckett put up in 2003. When oh-by-the-way the Marlins won the World Series. By comparison 200 was Beckett’s third season in majors and only the second season in which he started more than 4 games (He started 4 in ’01 then 21 and 23 in ’02 and ’03). In 2003 Josh Beckett went 9-8 with 3.04 ERA 152 Ks, and a 1.32 WHIP.

In the playoffs he went 2-2 but appeared in six games including the clincher at Yankee stadium, in which he pitched on three days rest and officially became Captain Kick Ass.

Last year Lester made three postseason appearances, starting and winning the final game of the World Series.

Now realistically the Red Sox aren’t going to win the World Series without Beckett pitching well but looking at the numbers I’d say Lester is certainly a guy that they can ride to multiple wins much like the Marlins rode Josh Beckett in 2003.

What’s even more encouraging is the fact that Beckett’s F-you-there’s-no-way-you’re-hitting-this-pitch-ness has trickled down to Lester. He has definitely progressed from a guy that couldn’t find the strike zone to a budding ace. I have a feeling this postseason is going to be the time that he shows everyone he is a go to guy too.

Last night proved that having Jon Lester as your plan B number one starter isn’t such a bad thing. Now if Beckett isn’t good to go by game three things will be a little different but all in all taking game one on the road with Dice-K and Beckett set to start the next two games, you’re in pretty good shape.

2nd inning – You know how the Tiger Woods video game had that ‘Sunday Tiger’ character that was a 99 in everything and he was unreal, even more so than the regular Tiger. You would hit an unreal second shot on a par five and be lined up for an eagle but then Sunday Tiger chips in dropping a double eagle on you then you some how miss the eagle put. Now instead of being up a stoke your down two. Apparently Jacoby Ellsbury has that too.

There’s regular Jacoby and Playoff Jacoby. We saw it last year and he picked up right where he left off last night. Playoff Jacoby was all over the field last night. He made a sick catch in center and a play that not a lot of other players could physically do by going to third on a ground ball to the pitcher. Last night we saw Playoff Jacoby using his 99 speed a couple of times.

In 33 games last year Ellsbury hit .353 with a .394 OBP, nine steals, seven doubles and three homers. Then in October he played in 11 games hitting over .400 with seven runs scored, four doubles, three RBI and two steals…see it’s Sunday Jacoby.

3rd inning – Some times coaches and managers are just the right fit for a team. Tito took a lot of criticism when he first got here but all he’s done is win two World Series and get the team to the playoffs in four of his five seasons. He might not be the greatest manager ever, but he has been the perfect manager for this team since he’s been here. He just fits.

The same thing happened with the Celtics last year. Lot’s of people were calling for Doc Rivers to be fired. I even wrote here that the moves that Danny Ainge made saved himself and Doc from being run out of town on a rail. The Celtics obviously made drastic moves but Doc brought everyone together and found the right focal point to make things work. That’s what Tito does, he knows how to work with what he has, maybe better than anyone else in baseball. There’s no doubt Joe Maddon is the Manager of the Year but Tito has been the best manager over the past five years.

4th inning – Jason Bay isn’t not Manny, but that’s not a bad thing. Bay has been a solid addition to the Sox lineup since coming from Pittsburgh. He’s not going to intimidate teams like Manny did sitting behind Papi but he showed last night that he’s perfectly capable of changing the outcome of a game. If you like Jason Bay check out Will Leitch’s column here -

I used to be such a big Manny defender. For the last two seasons Reynolds had been emailing and calling asking if it was time for Manny to go. I always said no. I felt like he was too valuable to give away for 50 cents on the dollar. I finally came around in late August. Manny is absolutely an MVP caliber player, he has shown that in LA but he’s only that way when he’s happy Manny. When he was happy Manny here he loved it but when he was grumpy Manny or Manny le douche he was worse than anything for the team.

Obviously Bay is a defensive improvement and changes the complexion of the lineup. They lost a big bat but lets be honest Manny wasn’t producing because he wasn’t happy. The move cut the teams losses and while they didn’t get the same caliber player back they did get someone who fits the team better. As we’ve seen in the past fitting in with the team can be more positive than being a great player.

5th inning –Last year I predicted that JD Drew would breakout in the playoffs and be the teams MVP, he did hit a monster grand slam but a number of other players stepped up including Playoff Jacoby, Pedroia, Mike Lowell and Beckett. This year I’m feeling a big time performance from Jason Bay but I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised by JD Drew.

Stay with me…because Jason Bay is the guy protecting Manny in the lineup and he’s going to see more pitches to hit and he’ll probably find himself with runners on because of the depth of the Red Sox lineup. If Mike Lowell can remotely perform the Red Sox lineup is dangerous from top to bottom and I think Bay benefits from being Jason Bay.

Sometimes I think people sleep on him, like last night for example. He was struggling and looking overmatched when the Angels were throwing him curveballs then they forget and throw him a fastball and oops.

As for Drew, pretty much anything he gives you is gravy at this point because people expect so little out of him. It’s weird people expect a lot but they know they aren’t going to get it so they get pissed at him but he seems to find ways to redeem himself.

If the Sox make a deep run we’ll probably hear some start Coco instead of Drew talk on WEEI but Tito, like he does, will stick with Drew and I think he’ll be able to find a rhythm as he gets more at bats.

6th inning - The Angels are aggressive at the plate, which plays to the strengths of guys like Lester and Dice-K. If you look at some of the at bats that Vladdy da di had he swung himself into a couple of bad outs. He’s the ultimate free swinger and a lot of times he kills bad pitches but he lined out on ball four once and popped out on another pitch that was out of the zone earlier in the game. We’ll have to see if the Angels change their approach with Dice-K on the mound since he has a penchant for walks sometimes.

The Angels aggression hurt them last night. Swinging at bad pitches and Vlad running into an awful out attributed to their game one loss and if they don’t make adjustments its going to mean more consecutive playoff losses to the Red Sox.

Look at games when the Yankees have great success against the Red Sox. They are incredibly patient. Why do you think the games last five hours? You have to make the Red Sox bullpen a weakness instead of a strength. What I mean by that is you have to get to the bullpen early. If the Red Sox get to the sixth or seventh, or even the eight inning before you get to their bullpen they are going to be very hard to beat.

However if you get into the bullpen early it aids you in that game as well as future games because guys start to pitch a lot of high pressure innings very often. Dice-K has a way of getting out of jams without a lot of damage, he’s 18-3 for a reason. If Dice-K goes deep into the game on Friday night the Angels will probably be staring an elimination game at Fenway with Josh Beckett on the mound. I like the sound of that.

7th inning - I know, I know everyone is wamping about the TV coverage and I know its cliché to complain about it. This happens every year but what do you expect we get six months of pure gold with Remy and Orsillo and then we get this crap. I think it’s time to use the DVR to sync the TV and the radio (North Shore 104.9 ked) for some Dave O’Brien and Joe Castig.

8th inning - Initially when I saw the way the Red Sox celebrated clinching the wild card I thought it was a little bit over the top. Granted only four teams make the playoffs so it’s a big deal but it seemed a little much. Now I’m reminded of why this team has been so successful over the last few years. They are relaxed, they don’t tighten up, look at these guys half of them are wearing camo under their jerseys. They don’t seem to get rattled and tighten up like other teams…which sort of brings me to my next point.

9th inning – A month or even a week ago the bullpen was a point of concern but last night they looked pretty strong to me. That’s not to say they won’t have their struggles but I get excited every time I see Justin Masterson stride out of the bullpen. The bullpen is certainly strong at the back end with Masterson and Papelbon but you’re not going to get seven innings out of all of your starters every night. Like Papelbon said this after the game, the playoffs are about pitching, defense and timely hitting. The Red Sox bullpen is going to have to step up if they want to repeat at World Series champs. It’s worked in the past, riding Keith Foulke and Papelbon’s arms in the late innings and this season it looks like Tito will be calling on Masterson and Paps to close out games.

The move to Masterson in the 8th instead of Okie said a lot about how Tito is going to manage the bullpen. With Mark Texieria coming up Tito going to Masterson shows you that he thinks Masterson is for real and we can get used to him coming in to set up Papelbon. It will be interesting to see how Tito manages Okie. Masterson has clearly shown that he’s can be the set up guy for this team for a long time. Okie put up very similar numbers this year as he did last year. In fact they were nearly identical. With the exception of one of his three WS appearances Okie was pretty lock down in last season playoffs.

With Masterson establishing himself as a very strong setup man that allows Tito more flexibility with the rest of the bullpen. If you get six innings out of your starters then you have to be confident with the back end of your bullpen in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

*all stats are courtesty of

No comments: