Friday, October 10, 2008

The Playoff Diaries Volume II

Well my playoff diary got a little side tracked due to my computer decided to get f’d once again. I used to compare my laptop to a hot shot starting pitcher that throws serious gas and my old desktop was like a crafty veteran, the Tim Wakefield of computers if you will.

Well I was wrong…way wrong. My laptop is more like Ryan Leaf, leading me to a 1-15 season after getting f’d twice in less than a yeah…way to work kid.
On to volume II of the diaries…

First inning – Why doesn’t anyone in Boston give Tito credit for the decisions he makes? Why do people continuously call weei and say that he’s messing up the rotation and he should have brought it Paul Byrd and what not? I know weei callers don’t represent the majority of fans but Christ on a crutch people he’s led the Sox to two World Series an AL East title and they are in the ALCS for the third time in his five years here.

He announced the ALCS rotation the other day and it’s a solid lineup.
Dice-k, Beckett, Lester, Tim Wakefield

What was the immediate reaction…how can he start Dice-k in game one…Lester has to pitch game one…on short rest.

Easy guy, it’s game one. It’s the general consensus that when you’re the road team in a playoff series you need to steal a game on the road. Realistically you want the Sox to go up 2-0 but I think everyone would be alright with the Sox returning to Boston with at 1-1.

One thing I'm really interested in seeing is how people react to the Tito vs Maddon matchup. Last year he out managed Eric Wedle who went on to win Manager of the Year. Not to take anything away from Joe Maddon, after taking the Rays from worst to first he deserves the award but Tito continues to get passed over when talking about the best managers. Like I said in Volume I he's not the best manager ever but he's the best manager for this team.

Second Inning - Dice-k has a history of pitching poorly with extensive rest and what would it do to his confidence if Tito says ‘hey Dice-K I know you went 18-3 and won a playoff game out in LA or Anaheim or wherever the hell it was but we’d rather pitch Lester and blow out his arm because he’s better than you and f up our chances to win.’ That’s were Tito is like and angel on our shoulders.

With a rotation of Dice-k, Beckett, Lester and Wake you give the first three guys pretty much normal rest plus you get Lester back at home, where he was 11-1 or something like that…yeah old Ryan Leaf the computer no internet when I wrote this and I’m far too lazy to look it up.

Also, Dice-k was better on the road and tends to lose it a little bit less when he’s on the road. We’re not talking about some stiff either, the guy went 18-3 for a reason. He’s a good pitcher and he has a good lineup hitting behind him. The playoffs are all about timely pitching, hitting and good defense. There is no reason to think that the Red Sox can’t win a game on the road with Dice-K starting.

My main reason for totally agreeing with this choice hinges on Dice-k’s command of the strike zone. Evan Longoria said yesterday that Dice-K walks a lot of guys. If Dice-k comes out and attacks the strike zone and goes after the hitters he can go at least six innings and the Sox will be in a good position to steal game one.

That might seem like I’m expecting a lot out of Dice-K but I think he’s perfectly capable of it and Jason Varitek is way smarter than I am at game planning for a pitcher so really it just comes down to execution. The Rays are going to be patient at the plate that is for sure, so if Dice-K comes out throwing strikes he can get ahead of hitters and do some damage.

It seemed like Josh Beckett was a bit of a victim of that circumstance in the ALDS. The Angles have been known for their aggressive play, their fast and loose, both on the bases and at the plate at times. Buck Martinez and Chip Caray talked at length about how the Angels were going to ‘force the issue’ which they did. That also caused them to run into a couple outs, including the botched squeeze but that might have cost them the series.

The Angels hitters also swung at a bunch of pitches out of the zone in the first two games, in game three with Beckett on the mount they got a little bit more patient and combined with Beckett’s control issues they worked walks and pounced on a mistake pitch to help them take game three.

Third Inning – Game two sends Beckett to the mound and it’s going to be a different Beckett then what we saw in the ALDS. It’s not going to be the same Beckett we saw last season but it’s going to be a better Beckett then the guy that was masquerading as Josh Beckett in game three of the DS. To be honest I don’t think he pitched as bad as people are making it out to be. He gave up two homers and his lineup didn’t help him out very much. Take away Playoff Jacoby’s three run blooper and the Sox are never in that game. Beckett needs to be better than that but so do the hitters.

Beckett’s playoff history suggests that he’s going to pitch better and I think we’re going to see a Beckett closer to what we’ve seen in the past now that he’s gotten a chance to shake off some of the rust.

Beckett’s struggles in game three came from his inability to find the strike zone with his fastball. It looked like he got squeezed a little bit but so did the Angels pitchers, so that’s no excuse. I don’t think it had anything to do with his health thought. If his body wasn’t right he probably would have looked a lot worse. He was missing but he was around the strike zone. You could see that he didn’t have confidence in all his pitches as he kept shaking off Tek.

Now Beckett is back into a routine and pitching for a chance to help his team get to the World Series and overall he’s been pretty good when that’s the situation. And like I said I think he feel victim to the Angels changing their strategy at the plate after their aggressiveness got them into some trouble both at the plate and on the bases (see Guerrero, Vlad).

Mound visit - I’m watching the Phillies-Dodgers game and Manny just launched a double off the wall in center…remember how Dodger fans were warning us about JD Drew and how he would drive us nuts, that he was soft and that we wouldn’t like him? Consider it fan courtesy but don’t be shocked when the other shoe drops with old Man-Ram. It probably won’t happen this post season but if he gets signed ooooh boy its coming.

Fourth Inning – See I told you Jon Lester is F’ing harsh. Lester has definitely filled in for the MIA Josh Beckett, as I pointed out in Volume I of these diaries Lester was starting to look like Beckett did in 2003 and he showed that again in game four. Unfortunately the bullpen nearly wasted his great start but a Jeff Suppan like base running error, Jason Bay and Jeddy Ballgame pulled it out.

Lester has been incredible this post season, which is why I’m glad he’s lined up to pitch game three. Mainly because it gives him normal rest and as Tito has said rest at this point is critical. That also means if the series goes to a game seven you have your best pitcher on the mound and it’s the first time he’s had to go on short rest so even with fewer days to recover he’ll be certainly be able to pitch effectively.

Plus he seems like the kind of guy that would respond favorably to the pressure of a road game seven. I mean it can’t be that much of a pressure situation for him, the guy beat cancer.

Honesty I don’t have much to say about Lester he’s getting it done that’s all I can really ask for out of the guy.

Fifth Inning – Game four will bring us Timmy…and the lords of the underworld…If the situation is anything different than 3-0 get ready to hear a lot of ‘why aren’t they pitching Paul Byrd’, thankfully we won’t hear any ‘Lester should pitch on three days rest’ like we did last year with Josh Beckett. I swear people wanted him to pitch games 4, 5, 6, and 7 last year.

Who pitched game seven of the ALCS last year? Dice-k, see it’s going to be alright. Tito is a good manager.

Back to Wakefield – It’s pretty much a crap shoot with Wake but I will say this…Wakefield is the definition of a crafty veteran, well I guess he’s not that crafty he only throws three pitches but he’s certainly a veteran.

He’s pitched in 17 postseason games, including 10 starts with a 5-6 record. His numbers aren’t lights out but you don’t expect Wake to be lights out you just need him to keep it close and possibly just eat up innings, which he can do.

In 17 postseason games he has a 6.36 ERA but what’s really interesting about Wake are his numbers in the league championship series’.

Wake has appeared in nine LCS games in four different seasons (He’s been pitching in the playoffs for so long he even pitched in the NLCS for the Pirates). Wakefield is 5-2 with a 4.50 ERA, two complete games, 30 Ks and 16 walks. Kind of surprising to see that his numbers are that good in that many appearances but once again Tito knows what he’s doing.

Mound Visit - I never ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever thought I’d agree with Tim McCarver but he’s right Manny is a douche.

Sixth Inning – All of this is not to say that the Red Sox hitters are going to be hitting off a tee. The Rays are certainly more than legit. They won the AL East, a feat even our mighty Red Sox have only accomplished once this decade.
They also have between 75 and 90 percent of the country rooting for them. They usually large Red Sox Nation population in western Florida is going to be a lot smaller at the Trop over the next two weeks.

Might we see instant replay in this series? Considering the fact that they are playing games in a mickey mouse stadium with 18 different levels of catwalks, yeah we probably will.

The key guys that the Sox pitchers need to shut down…err…keep in check are Evan Longoria (who’s slugging like it’s cool), Mass native and fellow Whirlaway guy Carlos Pena (I wish we could have found some more at bats for him) and Carl Crawford. Crawford is a guy that makes me nervous because he can make a play that sparks a team like Jacoby.

Looking at the Rays numbers they’re aren’t a lot of players that really jump out at you stats wise other than Longoria and Pena but they are a pretty complete team. Those two guys had 31 and 27 homers respectively. They had two guys with 20 stolen bases and Crawford had 44 and only played in 109 games.

They aren’t a crazy moneyball team as far as getting on base goes and only Pena drove in over 100 runs (102) but they sure as hell get it done. 97 wins does a lot of the talking for the Rays. Including Pena they had six guys with over 50 RBI and six guys that scored 100 runs they can do it all. They can hit the three run bomb or manufacture a run, and with their pitching they can win a game only scoring a couple of runs.

Scott Kazmir has long been known as a Red Sox killer but the Red Sox have actually done all right against the Rays first three starters – Kazmir, James Shields and Matt Garza. The guy that caused them the most trouble, especially late in the season when he out dueled Josh Beckett, is Andy Sonnanstine.

Side note about Sonnanstine, he’s an alumnus of the NECBL, The New England College Baseball League where they actually let me talk into a microphone and call the plays for the Lowell All Americans. Sonnanstine was the 03 most improved player as a member of the Sanford Mainers…way to work ked.

Suddenly that game four is looking more and more interesting. Wake, who’s been big in LCS play and the former Mainer that went 13-9, second most wins on the team, throwing nearly 200 innings with a 4.38 ERA.

The Rays pitching staff is a lot like their hitters no one guy that really stands out but they all get it done. What’s more worrisome than their starters is their bullpen, which after Masterson and Okie struggled in the DS, gets the advantage.
I’ll be a lot more nervous with Grant Balfour on the mound than I was with K-Rod.

Seventh Inning – The experience factor – I heard this stat on Mike and Mike this morning. Only three Rays hitters have more post season hits than Josh Beckett. The Sox have their share of playoff new comers too but they also have a nucleus that has seen plenty of playoff ups and downs…

Seventh Inning stretch– I’m watching the new episode of South Park and there is a commercial for Shaun White snowboading…holy shit on a shingle…I can’t wait to buy that game.

Eighth Inning – Losing Mike Lowell hurts. We might try to act like it doesn’t because Yook can play third but it hurts when you consider that Mark Kotsay will most likely be playing first. Not that I don’t like Kotsay, he’s a solid player and a starter on most teams but I’d rather have Yook at first with Lowell at third and Kotsay your utility guy like Hinske or Dave Roberts.

Ninth Inning - Keys to the game – Dice-K needs to get ahead of the hitters by throwing strikes. Pedroia and Big Papi need to get it going offensively and take advantage of Jacoby getting on base…assuming that he continually plays like Playoff Jacoby and the Sox need to play good defense. The Rays are a team that can jump on you if you give them extra outs, especially with their speed and players that can drive the ball like Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria.

Ok game time…let’s go Sox

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