Beckett Not Being Beckett: The Game 3 Reaction

Fenway says hi

I’ll admit it: seven hits in 12 innings was not precisely what I had in mind for my first in person postseason appearance at the park this season. After all, I brought a lifetime 5-1 playoff record to Fenway last night. I recognized that the Angels pitching was excellent – and that our offense can be pitched to, now more than ever – but, well, you saw what happened.

About as fun as a kick in the crotch.

On the one hand, if you’d told me we’d be up 2-1 after three games before the series began, I would have taken it. On the other, we lost a Beckett start, and if Lester can’t clinch tonight we’re looking at a Game 5 started by Matsuzaka. Which is almost more than I bear.

Twelve innings and a one run loss make it seem like the game was close, but in truth, it wasn’t. Ells’ first hit should never have dropped, and without that we don’t score four and we don’t go to extras. Sadly, we were unable to steal the game we didn’t deserve to win, with out best chance dying in the glove of Rivera (or was Willits in by then?) when Lowrie flied out to right off K-Rod with the bases loaded.

Anyway, I doubt reliving the game inning by inning would be all that cathartic, so let’s move on to the post-game comments:

  • Beckett:
    The Texan righthander says that physically he’s fine. Which is entirely unsurprising, whether it’s true or it isn’t. For my part, I say that the available evidence contradicts that claim. Easily.

    When Saunders is throwing harder (96) than Beckett (topped out at 94, sat at 92) according to the Fenway Park gun there’s something wrong. Set aside the results for a minute – while he labored in giving up nine hits over five, Beckett did keep us in the game – he just didn’t look like Beckett. His velocity was down, his command was poor, and he – like Matsuzaka the start before him – could not put batters away. Beckett started the game with one fastball in his first ten pitches and couldn’t cover first base; if that doesn’t scream “problem” I don’t know what would. If you asked the Angels privately, I would bet you a case of Smithwick’s that each and every one of them believes Beckett is still hurt.

    Which begs certain questions: if he’s not healthy – as I assume that he’s not – why not hold him for a Game 5 start and throw either Byrd or Wake? Lose that and you would then have to take one of two pitched by Lester and a more fully rested Beckett. And if he’s not healthy, why was he starting at all? Not only were we behind the 8 ball all day, the start cost us seven innings and 109 pitches from the pen. If last night was a consequence of Beckett trying to do too much and misleading his manager and the training staff as to his physical readiness, it’ll be a shame.

  • Bullpen:
    Much maligned by yours truly during the season, the relievers have pitched brilliantly for the most part. They haven’t been perfect, and have been as lucky (think Vlad’s first-to-third try) as they have been good, but last night was an excellent illustration of their turnaround: seven innings, three hits, one run. Can’t ask for any more than that.
  • Lowell:
    As you’ve no doubt read by now, Lowell looked bad last night. What was not properly conveyed was precisely how bad he looked. Lowell, who’s building a strong case as the toughest player in the league, is a shell at present, and moves as if he were hollow. His range is literally measured in feet, and his at bats are tough to watch. I have nothing but respect for him trying to play – and for gutting out the late innings walk last night – but we need to ask whether at the 30 or 40% he’s playing at currently, he’s an asset or a liability. Painful as that might be for our club.
  • Lopez:
    Just for the record, I don’t blame Lopez for last night’s outcome. His game is not facing righties, and that’s what got to him in the 12th. Why Lopez over Byrd? I didn’t quite follow Tito’s explanation, but I think it was this: Lopez needed to face the lefties coming up. If you use Byrd, he’s on in for a few batters, then it would Lopez’ turn, at which point you’ve burned your long guy (Wake was not an option because Cash had been erased). Seems a little circuitous logic-wise, but frankly there aren’t many great options in 12th inning of a playoff game in which your starter only went five.
  • Lowrie:
    Nor, for the record, do I hold Lowrie accountable for last night. Bases loaded, two out, facing one of the better closers in the game, the kid put a good swing on the ball, which is all that you can reasonably ask. The ball just hung up a few seconds long.
  • MDC:
    Giving credit where credit is due, as I’ve been a critic, MDC looked positively overpowering last night. He threw his change for strikes and made Anderson, in particular, look bad swinging through it. And while I don’t believe it was intentional, I’m glad he hit Napoli. The Angels catcher was far too comfortable in the box.
  • Napoli:
    Speaking of, I’m not sure if it was obvious on the telecast, but his first home run (I was in the dude’s room for the second) was an absolute bomb. The ball was crushed, and there was less than no doubt about it, even as it came off the bat.
  • Papi:
    I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but one common observation last night was that the Large Father just isn’t the same. He hit the ball hard a few times – flying out short of the warning track in his first two at bats – and walked late, but he’s clearly not the threat he was last season, or even early this one. Which is a problem.
  • Pedroia:
    The little guy actively took upon himself the blame for last night’s loss, which was good but hardly necessary. True, he remains hitless, and didn’t deliver in two or three spots last night that might have won us the ballgame. But a.) he’s not the only problem on offense, b.) he’s been unlucky on a few balls that were hit and hit well, and c.) they’re not giving him a lot to hit.
  • Shields:
    Was absolute nails last night. He located a fastball with good velocity (topping at 94), dropped in a mid 70’s hook, and threw in a slider for good measure. None of our guys looked comfortable, and none had particularly good at bats. That’s the good news for the Angels fan; the bad news is that he was leaned on heavily, throwing 28 pitches in 2 and a third IP. His availability tonight, presumably, will be limited.
  • Texeira/Vlad:
    Are easily outdoing their Red Sox counterparts this series. Like our ’07 Papi/Manny combo, they’re hitting pretty much everything (averages are .538 and .583, respectively). They are, frankly, terrifying at the moment.
  • Varitek:
    A few people were surprised that Tito pinch hit for Varitek. I would remind those people that a.) Tito manages – again, as he should – for the moment in the postseason, and that b.) Varitek can still hit lefties with moderate success, but is having serious trouble hitting from the left side of the plate. The move, therefore, was nothing more than a logical decision, if one that didn’t pay off.

What to expect tonight? It’s all on the starters. With an offday tomorrow if the series goes to five games, both clubs will have some flexibility with their respective ‘pens. But not a lot: the workloads have been heavy. Last night alone, the Angels’s relief core all threw around 30 pitches (Arredondo 28, Shields 28, K-Rod 33). Our workload wasn’t that much lighter (Delcarmen 25, Oki 17, Masterson 16, Pap 31, Lopez 20). If one starter goes five against the other’s seven or eight, he’s going to lose.

The good news is that we’re throwing the ace of our postseason tonight in Lester; the bad news is that the Angels are doing the same. True, Lackey’s history at Fenway is less than stellar (I’m on a train and can’t look up the numbers), but his near no-hitter this year was pitched there, unless I’m mistaken.

In other words, I expect another good, tight ballgame. Which makes for good TV. But I have to be honest: I’d settle for a big margin Sox win.

P.S. One thing to keep on the back of your mind: might Beckett be available for an inning or two out of the pen on Wed, if necessary?

Did That Just…Oh My God IT'S OUT: Game 2 Reaction

Speaking for each and every one of us, Denton said this:

F#@KING JD DREW WHOM I LOVE LIKE A BROTHER OR PERHAPS A WOMAN OF QUESTIONABLE BACKGROUND AFTER I’VE HAD MANY DRINKS JUST DRIVES A TWO-RUN HOMER OUT OF THE PARK AND THE RED SOX TAKE THE LEAD HOLY SHIT I’VE LOST IT

So let it be written, so let it be done. After a long, brutally drawn out night spent nursing four beers and dreams of failure at Byrnes’ Irish Pub in Bath, ME, we are shipping up to Boston, improbably up 2-0.

Any by we’re, I don’t just mean in a metaphorical sense, as in we the Red Sox. I mean, we as in me and the Red Sox. Or, if you want to be like that, the Red Sox and I.

That’s right: thanks to what is essentially a miracle, I will be making a shockingly unanticipated visit to Fenway Park to see Josh Beckett – who is now, apparently, a definite – take the mound. Thanks to the largesse of a friend and wicked clevah reader.

A few comments (of dubious value):

  • Let’s give credit where credit is due: Matsuzaka did his job Friday night by keeping us in the ballgame. That said, watching him pitch is just excruciating. His games are all too typically a high wire act, and last night was no exception. Add in the additional weight of a playoff game, and it was a long night. In my clearly inexpert opinion, his difficulty largely stems from the fact that he lacks – or lacks consistent command of – a true swing and miss pitch. His K rates demonstrate more than adequately that he has the ability to generate strikeouts, but in games like last night’s he seems consistently unable to put away hitters after getting them in two strike counts.
  • Schilling said exactly what I was thinking on the drive home last night: “the league MVP or runner up has not had a hit yet.” One reason – a healthy Beckett would be another – to be optimistic in tomorrow’s contest. Another? The little guy is 7-18 against tomorrow’s starter for a lifetime .389/.389/.444 line. I’m not worried about Petey: he’s going to hit sooner or later, and with two wins, we haven’t missed him terribly yet.
  • No one will – or should – claim that we don’t miss Manny Ramirez offensively. His postseason performance with the Sox speaks for itself. But much as was said at the time of the trade, while Bay is no Ramirez, he’s not a bad player. And right now, if you were to vote for a series MVP, wouldn’t it have to be Bay? Also notable: Bay is 1-3 lifetime vs Saunders, which would be less interesting if the hit wasn’t a home run. That’s one of three home runs we’ve hit lifetime off the pitcher (the other two came from Crisp and Youk).
  • I confess to being sorry to have made this particular Angels fan unhappy. But if I have to pick between that and making everyone’s favorite beat writer happy, it’s not even a conversation. Sorry, lady: you’re cute, but you’re no Amalie.
  • Chad Finn on Tito:

    I was almost as encouraged by the inclusion of third-string catcher David Ross on the final roster as I was by the news that Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew were among the final 25, for this reason: It’s a clear sign that Tito Francona intends to pinch hit for the mummified remains of Jason Varitek when the situation calls for it. One of the countless things I admire about Francona as a manager is that he consciously changes his approach in the postseason. He manages with more inning-to-inning urgency, whereas from April to September he always has the big picture and the long season in focus. There were a handful of times during the regular season when I’d catch myself screaming at the Samsung after Francona refused to hit for Varitek in a key situation. (Varitek, of course, either whiffed or grounded into a routine double play, depending if there was a runner on first). Ross’s presence on the roster is all the proof I need that Tito is about to change his ways again.

    Precisely. And you need look no further for evidence of this, I think, than Mike Lowell’s DNP last night. This decision was clearly excruciating for Francona, in part because Lowell even hobbled adds something to the club, but more the respect the third baseman has earned. But Tito, as he might not do during the regular season, is clearly managing for the moment.

    Exactly as he should be doing.

  • JD DREW! That’s twice in the last two postseasons that I’ve seen K-Rod taken deep by one of our boys. And twice in the last two postseasons that Drew has hit a big, game changing homer. That this one wasn’t a four run job like last year’s does nothing to diminish its importance: it was huge, because extra innings – and, presumably, an MDC appearance – lay dead ahead.
  • A couple of folks at Byrnes were nervous when Pap threw a few balls in the dirt. Personally, I was elated, as that indicates that the days of the fastball-only approach may be over for the time being, as the split moves back in.
  • Speaking of MDC, does anyone else think it’s interesting that he hasn’t pitched yet?
  • And speaking of absences, did anyone note that senior Globe writer Nick Cafardo was sent to Tampa, rather than the series we’re actually playing in? I know his is a more national beat, and that I know next to nothing about the staffing of sports beats, but dare I hope this means that someone feels the same way I do about Cafardo? Adam Kilgore, by the way, a new addition to the Globe team, is excellent so far. IMHO, anyway.
  • If you’re going to make the argument that – in hindsight – the hole that the Angels have dug for themselves is due to poor roster construction, poor managerial tactics, or something similar, shouldn’t you at least mention the fact that both games could have gone the other way? Or is that a case of the facts getting in the way of a good story?
  • And because I can’t post without talking about numbers, lifetime our guys have put up a .670 OPS against Saunders in 130 ABs. The best (minimum 5 ABs): Crisp at 1.000, Youk at .931, Pedro at .833, Drew at .733, and Cash at .733. That’s the good news. The bad is that Lowrie, Lowell, Ortiz, Ells, Tek, and Casey are all OPSing at .500 or under. All of which, based on the results to date, means precisely dick. But just so you feel prepared.

Game 3

Yes, the pressure is on the Angels. Yes, we’re playing at home. Yes, our ace is throwing against their #3 starter. And yes, we can probably expect Pedroia to chip in before the series is ended.

But tomorrow’s game is very far from a given. As noted in this space before, we’ve thrown Beckett against weaker starters this season and come out on the losing end. And Saunders – for reasons that are unclear to me – generally performs well against our lineup. Besides, who knows better than us that 2-0 does not a series win make?

So no guarantees here that we’ll wrap it up. Quite the contrary, in fact: I expect the Angels to come out loose because that’s all they can do, and I expect a solid outing from Saunders. Beyond that, I leave it to Beckett’s right arm.

While I can’t guarantee a win, however, I can guarantee that I’ll be doing everything in my power to secure one. Which might not be much, but is something.

Lester = Nails: Game 1 Reaction

I love being wrong. Truly. Particularly when it results in us taking the first game of what will be a tough series, whoever ends up moving on.

While I focused on his poor showing against the Angels this season in my preview, Lester battled through some early command problems, settled down, and essentially destroyed a pretty solid lineup. True, perennial irritant Garret Anderson had a couple of hits, and there was the unearned run courtesy of a nervous Lowrie, but the lefty standing in for Beckett was – there really isn’t any other word for it – nails. Beckett himself couldn’t have done much better.

Which was excellent timing, because Lackey – inexplicably pulled after 97 pitches – was outstanding himself. Apart from an outside fastball to Bay, who looked truly awful against the breaking ball in his first two at bats, the Angels’ ace pitched a solid ballgame.

The question that everyone – including myself – has at this point is: what happens from here? Senor Churbuck seems optimistic, arguing that I didn’t account for my Navajo brother’s (sorry, ahl) resurgence at the plate. Which is true; Ells was all over the basepaths last night, and the insurance run he knocked in was big.

As is typical, I have no idea what happens next. To advance, our job is pretty straightforward: we need to win two of the next four ballgames.

The matchups, again, will be:

  1. Matsuzaka vs Santana
  2. Beckett (in theory) vs Saunders
  3. Lester vs Lackey
  4. Matsuzaka vs Santana

If Beckett is Beckett, or a close enough approximation thereof, our chances in Game 3 are good. It’s very far from a given – remember that Beckett has lost to luminaries like Andy Sonnanstine and Brian Moehler this year – but the matchup, on paper, has to be considered a good one for us.

Should we win his start, that obviously means we would need to take one of two Matsuzaka starts and another from Lester. Possible? Absolutely. Likely? I’m not sure I would go that far.

Remember that while a win is a win, last night was not exactly a drubbing. There were several points in that game – Lester’s early command issues, Ellsbury’s unreal grab of a sinking liner, Vlad’s blind man’s baserunning – which potentially would have led to a different, less favorable, outcome.

I’m happy we won, you’re happy we won, and merciful Poseidon is happy we won, but the kids didn’t exactly light it up. 8-35 is good for a .229 batting average; most nights that’s not good enough. Not that the Angels were that stellar either, mind you, at 9-36.

All of which is a fancy way of saying that we got a little lucky, which is nothing to be ashamed of in the postseason, and that in another Lackey v Lester game, it’s reasonable to expect that things could go either way.

Which brings us to Matsuzaka v Santana; to my mind, the least favorable matchup of the three. Even if we throw Matsuzaka’s poor start against the Angels this year out – because Lester certainly outperformed his – there’s Santana to consider.

Always a talented pitcher, Santana has had something of a bizarre career. Exhibit A was last season, when he was dominant at home (3.27 ERA) and essentially useless on the road (8.38 ERA). This year, however, he’s put things together and had a fine season. 3.49 ERA, 214 strikeouts, 47 walks, and a .237 allowed average in 219 innings pitched. His home / road split even reverted: 4.03 at home, 3.02 on the road. Yeah, you got me.

He didn’t throw against us this year, but how do we hit him historically? Not bad, actually. 26-77, good for a .338 average, to go with a .414 OBP and a .597 slugging percentage. Crisp is 2-2, Cora 2-3, Ortiz 5-9 with a home run, and Kotsay (who, reportedly, is playing first) is 7-18 with two doubles. Casey, Tek, Pedroia and Ells, meanwhile, are hitless in a handful of at bats.

But none of the above, of course, means much. If it did, Lester would have gotten shelled last night. This is the playoffs, those are small sample sizes, and who knows what the hell will happen.

Tomorrow night is big, obviously. If we can steal both games against the Angels best pitchers, with our ace yet to throw, we’re in excellent shape. It’s not a must win: if you’d told me we’d split to open the series, I probably would have taken it. But a loss would put immense pressure on the Angels, who are already dealing with questions about all of the playoff exits, the recent history, etc etc, ad nauseam.

So from a predictive standpoint, to answer the question: am I more optimistic than I was prior to the series start? Certainly. With one game won, our odds cannot help but increase. But a win tomorrow night would make me even more positive.

The wicked clevah ALDS Preview

2007

So we’re in the playoffs. Which is terrific. Fantastic, even. I don’t know about you, but I savored the shit out of this appearance. Partially because it’s been a long, tough road to get here. But mostly because if you don’t make the playoffs, it’s difficult to win the World Series. Which is bad.

The obvious question at this point – the question on your mind and mine is simple – can we win? That one, at least, I can answer: yes. If the Cardinals, winners of a mere 83 games, could win it in ’06, anything is clearly possible. The playoffs, as several wise people have commented, are something of a crapshoot. And besides, as Bob Ryan says, we are pretty much playing with house money at this point.

But to answer the better, more important question of will we win, I looked at the numbers, and I’m sorry to say they’re not good. Like, really not good. The Angels beat writers may be shooting for the reverse jinx, the MLB Angels guy might lean our way, and Rob Neyer might argue we have the best team, but man, the numbers. I know it’s a small tiny sample size and all that, and that most of it will go out the window tomorrow night at 10 PM ET…but man, the numbers.

So with the reiterated caveat that we’re dealing with an extremely small sample size – all numbers are for the ’08 season unless otherwise specified – here’s your Angels v Sox playoff preview.

The Season Series

Everyone knows this already, but in case you hadn’t been keeping up with current events, we got our asses kicked. The Angels not only took eight of the nine contests between the two clubs, they scored nearly twice as many runs as we did in doing so – 61-33.

Thankfully, that’s behind us, and truthfully it was a long time ago. The last time we saw the Angels was the 30th of July.We’re a different team than we were then, and so are they.

The Injuries

As if the record wasn’t quite discouraging enough, there’s the fact that we are light years from operating at full strength. No club is fully healthy at this time of year, but having your starting third basemen and right fielder afflicted with a torn labrum of the hip and herniated disc, respectively, wasn’t how we’d draw things up. ESPN says they could both play in Game 1, but even if they can, what can they give us?

And then, of course, there was the late breaking Beckett news, which was about as welcome as a kick to the crotch. Before I continue, however, let me compliment the Sox on their tight ship: I’m with Art – if the Angels known Beckett is iffy, they probably opt for the schedule requiring us to use four starters, not three. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the likelihood that Beckett starts on Sunday.

No matter what I tell the ladies, I am not a doctor, so I don’t have the faintest idea. But I can’t say that Art’s review of the Sox history with oblique injuries is particularly reassuring: our last four bouts with the side muscle have cost us an average of just under 21 days. Which, in case you’re scoring at home, is about 14 more days than Beckett will have. But, like Lowell, the kid is tough, so we’ll see.

If he doesn’t pitch, however, or doesn’t pitch effectively, we’re probably in trouble. For reasons that I’ll get into in a minute.

And we’re not even accounting for the fact that Ortiz still seems bothered by his wrist from time to time.

Healthy, we ain’t.

The Angels Lineup

This, according to just about everyone, is the Angels’ primary weakness – Texeira or no Texeira. Which is understandable, given that they put up a .268/.329/.412 line for a .741 OPS. Non-stellar, especially for a team that won a hundred games. As Keith Law puts it in his scouter:

The Angels’ main Achilles heel is their lineup, although they’ll head into October with a stronger offense than their season-long totals might indicate. It is as impatient a lineup as you’ll see in the postseason; they finished 11th in the AL in OBP at .329, and 12th in walks, ahead of only Seattle and Kansas City. Many of their hitters try to get a fastball early in the count and shoot it to the opposite field, eschewing both power and the benefits of patience to try to reach base quickly via singles and the occasional double down the line and then put pressure on the defense. On any given night, they’ll run four below-average hitters for their positions out there in Chone Figgins (who does work the count, but has so little power as to be ineffectual), Aybar, and two of Juan Rivera, Gary Matthews Jr. and Garret Anderson; it’s five on nights when Jeff Mathis starts behind the plate. Vlad Guerrero can still get the bat to the ball — wherever the latter might be — extremely well, but the result of that contact is a little weaker than it’s ever been before. Teixeira’s arrival is one of the reasons why those season-long numbers are a little misleading; he’s put up numbers for the Angels comparable [ed -.133/.188/.333/.521] to what Manny Ramirez has posted for the Dodgers, but in the tougher league.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that against us, at least this year, the Halos have been better than non-stellar. And then some.

En route to scoring those 61 runs, the Angels’ lineup hit .305/.360/.540/.901 against our pitching. And before you ask, yes, that includes two Beckett starts and one apiece from Lester and Matsuzaka. Here’s what their projected started lineup did against the good guys:

POS NAME AVG OBP SLG OPS
C Mathis .231 .259 .423 .682
1B Texeira 1 GP 0-4
2B Kendrick .200 .261 .250 .511
3B Figgins .306 .405 .361 .766
SS Aybar .500 .500 .857 1.357
LF Anderson .378 .395 .649 1.043
CF Hunter .361 .395 .694 1.089
RF Guerrero .270 .325 .459 .784
DH Rivera .286 .353 .357 .710

Granted, Aybar’s not likely to OPS 1.357 against us in the Division Series, but still. They killed our guys pretty good, as you’ll see when I get to the Sox pitching.

But for now, the Angels’ pitching.

The Angels Pitching

For the year, the Angels’ pitching was good. Their 1-2 of Lackey/Santana is about as good as you’ll find, the rest of the rotation is serviceable, and the pen has potentially dominant setup men in front of the record setting K-Rod. Together, the unit put up a 4.02 ERA, 1092K, 457BB, 6.81 K/9 line in 1442.1 IP. Not bad.

The better news, for Angels fans, is that they’re even better that against the Sox. In the 9 games and 80 innings they threw against us this year, their numbers look like this: 3.60 ERA, 50K, 30BB, 5.62 K/9. Not great strikeout or walk numbers, but 33 runs in 9 games is pretty good against our lineup, generally.

Here’s how their top three did against us:

PLAYER STARTS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Lackey 2 .132 .207 .321 .528
Santana DNP
Saunders 3 .254 .346 .437 .782

Credible. Lackey, in particular, after years of getting beaten like the redheaded stepchild by our lineup, owned us in his two starts. If he throws like he did in the regular season against us – rather than his disastrous last start – it’ll be a long day.

The lone strike against the Angels staff is that they faltered in September, albeit while striking more guys out: 4.91 ERA, 225.1 IP, 194K, 75BB, 7.75 K/9. That could easily be attributable, however, to their massive lead in the division.

Anyway, time for a look at our lineup.

The Sox Lineup

Another good news/bad news deal here. The good news is that our lineup was good. As Law put it in his scouting report:

The Red Sox had the best offense in the American League this year, finishing second in runs scored to Texas (who play in a much better hitters’ park) and third in slugging percentage, while leading the league in OBP. They traded their best hitter in Manny Ramirez and got back an equivalent hitter in Jason Bay.

At full strength, they have six strong hitters who are tough outs, usually running 1-6 in their lineup. Dustin Pedroia murders fastballs from up and in to out over the plate, and can foul off a lot of pitches away that he can’t hit fair; his biggest weakness is in under his hands, but few pitchers pitch him there. David Ortiz is weak against lefties, especially lower-slot lefties, who work him soft away, but he hits almost everything else, with good power from left-center all the way to deep right. Bay and Kevin Youkilis are extremely patient hitters. Both let the ball travel well, have good power and will try to pull stuff on the outer half; Bay shows more power, especially when he gets his arms extended. Mike Lowell, when his hip isn’t causing him trouble, has lost a touch of bat speed but still has no trouble with average fastballs; he shows good plate coverage with doubles power. Rookie shortstop Jed Lowrie hasn’t had great results against right-handers since he Wally Pipped Julio Lugo, but takes extremely good at-bats and has murdered left-handed pitching.

The bad news, well, there’s a bunch of it. In order of importance:

  1. Health:
    Note that the above scouting report discusses the lineup using the qualifier “at full strength.” While we might reasonably dispute the predictions of who will play and what percent they’ll be playing at if they do appear, no one’s going to claim that we’re at full strength. If Lowell can’t go, we lose defensively and offensively whoever plays – Casey at 1B, Cora at SS – whomever. If Drew can’t go, it’s the same deal. Kotsay’s a valuable pickup, but he’s not Drew. But then Drew hasn’t been Drew in, oh, a month or two. So health, clearly, is an issue.
  2. Ramirez:
    I’m on the record as being for the Ramirez trade, and I’m not going to backtrack now. But I did say that the Angels in particular probably weren’t that upset:

    “Is it ideal? No. Ask Anaheim, or LA of Anaheim, or whatever they’re called now, if they’re happy to see Manny gone after they couldn’t get him out during last year’s postseason.”

    What were his postseason numbers against the Angels, you ask? .375/.615/1.125. That’s AVG/OPS/SLG. No OPS in there at all. Seriously. In the regular season, Manny’s not quite as inhuman, putting up a mere .298/.414/.569/.983. So losing him hurts. But as we know, Bay’s a good player. What are his numbers? Well, that’s actually the next problem.

  3. Bay:
    To begin with, Bay’s never played in the postseason, so it’s unclear how he’ll perform there. But neither had he played in a big market like Boston, and he’s done just fine so I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt there. What’s he done against the Angels, though? This season, nothing. But the lifetime numbers aren’t inspiring: .133/.188/.333/.521. It’s literally a handful of ABs – 15 – so it means very little. Still, it’s not encouraging.

Those are the biggies. There are a host of smaller ones about each player, but I’ll skip that. Here’s what each or our starters did against the Angels this year.

POS NAME AVG OBP SLG OPS
C Varitek .154 .389 .231 .620
1B Casey .231 .231 .385 .615
2B Pedroia .385 .405 .538 .943
3B Youk .241 .333 .690 1.023
SS Lowrie .227 .261 .273 .534
LF Bay DNP
CF Crisp .286 .333 .643 .976
RF Ellsbury .200 .222 .371 .594
DH Ortiz .318 .444 .682 1.126

The Sox Pitching

As a staff, the Sox pitched relatively well. Our staff ERA was a tick lower than the Angels’ at 4.01, and over the 1427.1 IP our guys threw we K’d hitters at a higher rate than the Angels – 7.36 K/9 to 6.81.

Much has been made – and rightly so – of our starting pitching in this series. The injury to Beckett complicates that case, of course, but Lester and Matsuzaka have both turned in solid seasons. Lester, for example, was just named the AL Pitcher of the Month for the second time this season, and while I’m seriously concerned about his innings jump (Hacks with Haggs was the first media blog I saw discuss this), he’s been a horse. Matsuzaka, for his part, won 18 games for the club. Yes, it was in maddening fashion, as he’s clearly averse to pitching to contact, and would prefer to walk man after man, but he struck guys out, was hard to hit, and won games. Beckett, meanwhile, had a more up and down season, but appeared to be rounding into postseason form prior to his oblique strain. Which would have given us a front three that matched up well with most anyone.

And then, the injury. There, we’ll just have to wait and see. As close to the vest as the Sox play things, we’ll know he’s starting when he’s actually out on the mound Sunday. And not until then.

In the meantime, however, it’s worth noting that none of our front three pitched particularly well against the club they’re going to face. Our entire staff, in fact, pitched poorly. As a club, we threw up a 6.23 ERA in 78 IP. Our K rate also dipped to 5.88/9.

You might be thinking at this point that that’s all the bullpen; that the starters fared well, only to be undone. Not so. All three of Beckett, Lester, and Matsuzaka threw against the Angels. none fared well. Here are the numbers:

PLAYER STARTS AVG OBP SLG OPS
Beckett 2 .345 .367 .552 .918
Lester 1 .429 .478 .857 1.335
Matsuzaka 1 .350 .391 .700 1.091

Again, we’re talking about four starts between them, so it’s important not to read too much into the numbers. But I’d still much rather have the Angels’ staff’s than ours.

As for the bullpen, well, you probably know how I feel on that subject. Here’s Law’s take:

The Red Sox’s bullpen has been up and down this season, with even closer Jonathan Papelbon showing some cracks in the foundation. Papelbon has become a fastball-centric pitcher, leaving his outpitch splitter in his back pocket in many outings, even favoring his average slider over the splitter when he does want to go to a second pitch. To be his usual dominant self, he needs to use a second pitch to change hitters’ eye levels and prevent them from cheating on his fastball, which, while hard, is somewhat straight.

Behind Papelbon, the Red Sox have, at least on paper, a strong setup corps. Justin Masterson has stepped into the right-handed setup role, throwing 90-mph sinkers with the occasional 94-95-mph four-seamer and enough mid-80s sliders to keep hitters honest; he generates a ridiculous number of ground balls while also avoiding the free pass. Manny Delcarmen has recovered from a rough patch in early July, when he briefly lost command of his fastball, and is back to pumping 94-96 mph four-seamers with good downhill plane and a plus-plus changeup, throwing both pitches and the occasional curveball for strikes. And Hideki Okajima, who slumped midseason around the time Delcarmen did, has recovered his form as a lefty reliever who can get righties out with his split-change “okie-dokie” pitch and quick, short-breaking curveball. If David Aardsma is healthy enough to pitch, he provides Boston with another power arm — he throws a fastball up to 99 mph and has an average splitter but below-average command — that it can use to keep a close game from getting out of hand.

Aardsma, we know, is out. As for Masterson, MDC, and Oki, the operative phrase to me seems to me “on any given day.” They certainly have the ability to bridge a tight game; they each also have the ability to turn a game around by putting people on base and giving up the ill timed hit. Several people have expressed concern about Papelbon, but I’m inclined to trust him come the postseason until he gives me a reason not to. He pitched poorly on Sunday, but that’s a meaningless appearance.

Do I trust the pen, then? Nope. But can they get it done? No question.

The Prediction

There is no prediction; I don’t do predictions. If you go in for that kind of thing, only four out of ten of ESPN’s “experts” picked the good guys. The good news is that the two smartest – Law and Neyer – see the Sox taking the series. The bad is that the dumbest – Phillips – did as well.

Net net, we’re in for a tough sled. Even at full strength, the Angels could have handled us. Depleted as we are, we can still win, but our margin for error will be very slight. The key, as Francona observed, is playing with a lead. We cannot afford to get into their bullpen down, as Arredondo, K-Rod, Shields and the gang are terrifying.

Whatever happens, I’m proud of our guys for getting here, and I’m planning my schedule around them. Here’s hoping they’re playing for a while yet.