Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Playoff Diaries Volume III

1st Inning – WOOF…that was not an enjoyable experience, at least game two was a close game, games three and four weren’t even close. The last two games it never felt like the Red Sox had a chance. I guess that’s what happens when you give up 5 runs in the first three innings of both games and your offense couldn’t hit a…well they can’t hit that’s the long and short of it.

The Lester game definitely came as the biggest shock. No one thought the Sox would lose that game at home after the way he’s pitched so far this post season. Lester has been prone to blowing up ever now and then but it wasn’t so much Lester’s fault as it was the Rays being locked in. Right now no matter who’s on the mound it feels like Longoria could go yard on any pitch. That’s the kind of dominant feeling I used to have about Papi.

In game one the Rays were the ones that looked lost at the plate and couldn’t pick up base runners but as soon as Longoria went deep in game two the dynamic of the series changed completely.

The Sox bats went limp and so did the arms of the pitching staff while BJ Upton, Longoria, and Carlos Pena turned into Murderer’s Row. On the one hand it feels like it’s over but on the other I really can’t resign myself to count them out until the final out is made. I’m not jumping off the bridge yet.

2nd Inning – Sox pitching has been woeful with the exception of Dice-K. Who would have thought Dice-K would be the best pitcher for the Sox in this series. The most telling stat for the pitchers…33 runs in the last three games. That’s not going to get it done, even if they Sox were hitting 33 runs in three games is asking a lot from your offense.

The hitters just got enough to get the win in game one thanks to an unreal performance from Dice-K and despite the loss they bailed out Beckett in game two. In game three Lester just didn’t have it, which really isn’t that big of a deal if you can tie the series up at 2-2 with a win in game four but Wake is hit or miss and last night he was miss, now all of a sudden your in a big 3-1 hole.

True they’ve come back from down 3-1 in both of their World Series wins but if the Sox pitchers can’t keep the Rays in the ballpark we’ll be mourning the 2008 Red Sox before the week is over.

3rd Inning – Sox batters…I don’t know which has been more difficult to watch, the pitchers or the non-existent offense. The most telling stat for the offense…the leadoff spot is 0-25 in this series. You’re not going to win a lot of games when the guys that are supposed to set the table for the heart of the order can’t get on base.

I was wrong about Jacoby Ellsbury, at least as far as the ALCS has gone. He was great in against the Angels but he has looked miz against the Rays, so bad he was replaced by Coco in the field and JD Drew in the leadoff spot. Jacoby needs to turn back into Playoff Jacoby in a hurry because he’s the spark.

If he gets on base you’ve got Pedroia, Papi and Youk hitting with a man on. That changes the complexion of the game. The Rays can’t pitch to those guys the same way with a man on and no one out, especially when it’s Ellsbury who is always a threat to steal.

He’s not the only one to blame though. Ortiz has just been awful, maybe he’s hurt, maybe his timing is off, or maybe they are just pitching more aggressively to him. I don’t know what it is but he needs to find his stroke because while Ellsbury is the spark the offense flows through Big Papi. If Papi gets it going the other players are going to react. If Papi hits a long ball in game five watch how things change in the Red Sox dugout.

If the Red Sox want to win this series they need to start stringing together some hits. They haven’t been able to do that therefore they aren’t putting any pressure on the Rays pitchers. When you don’t work the count and get on base with less than two outs you don’t back the pitchers into a corner.

Andy Sonnanstine can make a mistake to Kevin Cash and give up a home run when he’s got a five run lead and he’s not pitching with runners on and an escalating pitch count. The Red Sox have to make the Ray pitchers uncomfortable. Everyone’s been talking about pitchers making Manny uncomfortable in the NLCS, well in the ALCS the hitters have to make the pitchers uncomfortable by forcing them into jams and making them throw a lot of pitches.

4th Inning – The Rays batters have really been the story of the ALCS. They looked overmatched in game one but boy did they turn that around in a hurry. After being shutout in game one Evan Longoria entered the Konami code and it’s been like he’s playing wiffle ball with one of those mongo bats ever since. The guy is on fire.

Longoria is 5-for-17 with seven runs scored, six RBI, two doubles, three home runs, two walks and four strikeouts.

He’s also slugging at a .941 clip and two of his four strikeouts came in game one. If I ever had any doubts about Evan Longoria I’m sorry. You know a guy is hot when you feel like every pitch that gets thrown to him is going to end up bouncing across the Mass Pike.

Oh yeah AND IT DOESN’T EVEN LOOK LIKE HE SWINGS. Seriously, he rolls his wrists and next thing you know Chip Caray gets to do another home run call.

Not that we don’t have a good first basemen in Youk, I love Youk and if I had to pitch between the two I’d pick Youk but I really wish we could have found more at bats for Carlos Pena. Pena is another guy who is just locked in for the Rays. Pena is 5-for-15 with six runs scored, four RBI, four walks, two homers and only three strikeouts. He also has a stolen base.

You know things are not going well when Carlos Pena steals a base. Although he is a Whirlway guy so he’s got to have some wheels.

The other guy that scares all of Red Sox nation is BJ Upton. He’s like Pena and Longoria where every time he swings I feel like I’m going to throw up. The Rays just look so much better in every aspect of their at bats.

They look like they have better bat speed, a better feel for the strike zone and they are really driving the ball. Every time some one gets on base in front of these guys it’s like an automatic run because of how well they are stroking the ball.

Continuing with the stat trend…Upton is 5-for-16 with five runs scored, six RBI, two homers, three walks and five strikeouts. Plus he’s playing stellar defense in centerfield. Compare those three with heart of the Red Sox order and it’s no wonder the Rays are leading 3-1.

Oh yeah and Carl Crawford woke up in game four, going 5-for-5, that’s not a good sign for the Red Sox.

5th Inning – The Rays pitching staff has easily out dueled the Sox. Even though Dice-K won game one it’s not like it wasn’t close. James Shields still held the Sox to just two runs, which he scattered over seven and a third.

The only pitcher the Red Sox have been able to touch is Scott Kazmir, who luckily is starting game five, which could give the Sox the break they need to get back into this series.

Unfortunately the way Josh Beckett has pitched and the way the Rays bullpen has locked down the Red Sox I’m not sure if we’ll get a chance to see what Jon Lester could do in a game seven.

Here’s why…if the Red Sox can win game five they’d see James Shields in game six and Matt Garza in game seven.

Shields – (0-1) – 7.1 innings – 6 hits – 2 runs – 2 ER – 2 BB – 6 K – 2.45 ERA
Garza - (1-0) – 6 innings – 6 hits – 1 run – 1 ER – 3 BB – 5 K – 1.50 ERA

Not promising for the Sox who would counter with Beckett and Lester.

Beckett – (0-0) – 4.1 innings – 9 hits – 8 runs – 8 ER – 1 BB – 5 K – 16.62 ERA
Lester – (0-1) – 5.2 innings – 8 hits – 5 runs – 4 ER – 2 BB – 7 K – 6.35 ERA

I guess I can understand why Joe Maddon would move Kazmir to get those matchups in potential games six and seven but like I said before I think the Lester game was an aberration, so I don’t agree with that move if that’s the logic. You can never give the Red Sox any room to breathe after all they’ve shown what they can do in these situations.

Unfortunately the Rays bullpen has also been much better than the Red Sox. The Sox pen has shown some bright spots but overall I think the Rays have been much, much better out of the bullpen.

6th Inning – The loss of Mike Lowell is really showing in the ALCS. Compare his numbers last year to Mark Kotsay’s numbers this year.

Lowell – 9-for-27 – 3 runs – 8 RBI – 1 HR – 2 2B – 2 BB – 3K - .333 BA - .375 OBP
Kotsay – 4-for-17 – 0 runs – 0 RBI – 0 HR – 2 2B – 0 BB – 2K - .235 BA - .235 OBP

It’s not that I don’t like Mark Kotsay. I think he’s a good player, he’s definitely been a good utility guy during this playoff run and the Sox have shown that you need a guy like that to win a World Series (see Roberts, Dave and Hinske, Eric) but Lowell clearly brings a lot more to the table offensively.

Youk makes the transition to third pretty seamlessly and he’s shown that with two very heads up plays catching guys rounding bases and Kotsay has been good at first but again Youk and Lowell at the corners gives you two gold glovers instead of one sort of out of position and the other playing something like his 10th game at first.
If the Red Sox lose this series the loss of Lowell will definitely be one of the major contributing factors. There’s no telling how the addition of Lowell’s bat effects this lineup, plus he’s played in a lot of playoff games.

7th Inning – Why this is like last year (why they’ll come back) – They have the best manager in baseball for this situation because he’s been there twice before. They have to approach it like they have in the past, one game at a time. They have a great chance to win game 5 because you have Dice-K, the guy that has looked the best starting and Scott Kazmir, the guy who has looked the worst for the Rays is starting game five.

I’m not sure why the Rays wouldn’t start James Shields. He looked good against he Sox, he gave up a couple runs early but Dice-K was better that night. Wouldn’t James Shield give you the best chance to send the team to their first ever World Series? Why would you send out the pitcher who looked the worst when all the other guys looked solid?

These are things that the Sox thrive on. They aren’t playing well right now but we’ve seen it before, what can happen when you give the Red Sox extra lives. Even though the scores looked a little bit different it feels a lot like last years ALCS where the Red Sox weren’t hitting and weren’t pitching.

In 2007 the Red Sox hitters looked lost at the plate in games two through four. They weren’t having good at bats and they weren’t getting good performances out of their clutch players. This year has been very similar, Jacoby Ellsbury is 0 for the series and playing like Coco last year, Big Papi is not hitting, Tek isn’t hitting and they’re only getting production out of a few guys at the plate and the same goes for the pitching staff.

Last year’s ALCS the bats woke up in the final three games and the pitching staff got their shit together winning 7-1, 12-2 and 11-2 with Beckett, Schilling and Dice-K pitching. Looking at that you have to figure that this is a winnable series because you have a similar pitching line up going forward.

Dice-K is the constant. He won game seven by holding the Indians to just two runs while Ellsbury, Pedroia and Youk got the offense going. Fast forward to 2008 and you’ve got Dice-K coming off a great performance on the road in game one and the hitters get a chance to face the pitcher that they had the most success against in this series.

We know now that Beckett is not the Beckett of last postseason but if the Sox offense can give him some early help I have full confidence in his ability to gut out a similar performance to the one Schilling put up last year. I’m not asking him to pitch six shutout innings but if the bats get going all he has to do is keep it close. That’s really all I ask is that they make a game of it.

That would leave Lester as your game seven starter and as I mentioned before he’s taken the place of Josh Beckett this postseason. I don’t think game three was indicative of what you’re going to get from Lester if the series goes to game seven. If that’s the case I have all the confidence in the world that Lester can step up and shut down the Rays like he did to the Angels in game four.

Unfortunately all this hinges on the Red Sox offense waking up, which doesn’t look promising. I do think the Red Sox pitching can keep games close but if the offense continues its impotence then this series is going to be over before it gets back to Tampa. The Rays are going to score runs, if the Red Sox can’t keep pace the 2008 World Series is going to start at the Trop on October 22.

The Red Sox also need some one to wake everyone up, the players, the fans everyone, just like JD Drew did last year with his grand slam.

8th Inning – Why this isn’t like last year or why they won’t come back to win. Three big reasons…No Manny, no Mike Lowell and no ’07 Beckett. I will be the first to say that I love having Jason Bay. He has been great and you could not possibly ask for more from him. With that said success with Jason Bay in the lineup relies on different things then success with Manny in the lineup did.

Manny changes the way pitchers throw to Pedroia and Big Papi and while Bay can certainly go yard he’s not the hitter that Manny is/was…taking all of that into account though I’m still happy that we got Bay and even if the Sox lose this series it was the best move for the team. Plus there’s no telling how many more runs the Rays score with Manny in left, Bay’s defense is worlds better than Manny.

With no Lowell and no ’07 Beckett the team is missing two of the key pieces to their championship run in 2007 it wouldn’t be as hard to cover up one of those losses but both…that’s an up hill battle and it might be too steep of a climb for the 2008 Sox to summit.

9th Inning – If it is over there are some positives…Jason Bay has shown he’s ready for prime time, Jed Lowrie, Lester, and Masterson are for real and there is life after Manny.
Despite the evidence I still can’t bring myself to count them out until the final out is made…Sox in 7

As always all stats are courtesy of

No comments: