The ALCS So Far

beckett

It’s pretty simple: Beckett is not healthy. I don’t know if it’s his elbow, his oblique, or something else, but the man is not right. To argue anything else is to insult our collective intelligence, because the available evidence supports no other conclusion. It’s not that he’s surrendering runs; even the best postseason pitcher of this generation will do that, from time to time, and this Rays club is solid one through nine. It is, rather, the manner in which he’s going about his business. You’ve probably read by now that over the course of 93 pitches, Beckett got precisely one fastball by a Ray. One. Also, that his velocity is significantly reduced; he’s reportedly operating from 90-93 at this point.

It’s far from impossible to make the transition from power pitcher to finesse pitcher; that’s effectively what we’ve seen Schilling do the last few seasons here. But I seriously doubt that can be done – or at least done effectively – in playoff games. The stakes are simply too high, and the hitting that much better. Given that Beckett’s not likely to become Jamie Moyer in time for a potential Game 6 start, I hope our manager and the front office are asking themselves the heretical if necessary question: is Beckett our best option as a starter at this point? Or might we get more out of Byrd?

All of that would occur privately, of course. I expect none of Francona, Farrell or Beckett to claim anything other than that the pitcher is fine, because as much as it’s obvious to you, me and the Rays’ hitters that that is demonstrably false, it gains them nothing to allow that the pitcher’s injured. The media in general, I think, has been less inclined to question the official word than one might expect in the days leading up to yesterday’s start, but that’s all over in the wake of a second subpar outing.

The question at this point is what happens next? The good news is that we emerge from Tampa with a split. If you’d told me in advance that we’d get one in spite of a less than five inning start from Beckett, I would have called you a liar. The bad news is that without Beckett, our chances of taking the series are compromised.

Tomorrow’s Lester outing is, as anticipated, a must win game. If we can take that, we would then have to win two out four games started by Wake, Matsuzaka, Beckett and Lester – though it’s possible that Beckett could be bumped in favor of the young lefty if we were facing elimination. Certainly possible – particularly if Matsuzaka pitches as he did in Game 1, but we must win tomorrow. If we don’t, we’re in serious trouble, I think.

In other news, not that I doubted he’d turn things around, but it was nice to see Petey unload yesterday. If we can sustain some of the offense that we got in the early going yesterday – tough to do, since it principally came off a pitcher with a diminished arsenal – I like our chances going forward. The starters, with the exception of Beckett for the reasons noted above, are doing their job, and the pen has greatly exceeded my pessimistic expectations. But to take this series, we’re going to need runs. Quite a few of them, I think. And a fair number of them are going to have to come from Petey, since the Large Father – like Beckett – isn’t the Large Father at the moment.

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.

In Case You Haven't Been Keeping Up With Current Events

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a $9 seat at hadlock, originally uploaded by sogrady.

I haven’t. Well, actually, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been keeping up, I just haven’t been writing here to keep all of you up to date with said current events. But anyway, we’re back. And c’mon, three posts in two days? That has to count for something.

While I can’t promise that we won’t have similar outages in future, I’d be surprised if we see another one of similar duration any time in the near future. Unless I’ll be moving half way across the country the week before JavaOne again and no one’s yet informed me.

Anyhow, if all of the above has the ring of a half assed apology for the downtime, well, that’s just your imagination. I’m ready to get to the news on the heels of a much needed Sox sweep – bye, Brew Crew (especially you, Ryan Braun) – which followed a brutal four game depantsing at the hands of the Twins and O’s.

So with no further delay, this week’s ICYHBKUWCE:

April Homers Down

This will doubtless come too late to stave off claims in some quarters – I’m looking at you, self-righteous sportswriters, pundits and analysts – that power is down because of the testing program, but this piece I found via Neyer is fascinating. I’ve always taken the “bats warm up with the weather” arguments with several liberal helpings of salt, but the correlation between weather and extra base power is difficult to refute. Food for thought, or ammunition the next time some ignorant talking head pops off.

Buchholz’ Vacation

I’m with Chad: count me among those that is of the opinion that Bucky’s trip to the DL is little more than this year’s equivalent of Beckett’s downtime for the “avulsion.” Disabling him serves two purposes besides healing his wounded paw: first, it’s a mental health break for the starter followin two outings in which he didn’t make it into the fifth (both losses). Second, and more importantly, it’s an enforced period of rest during which he will not be accumulating innings. Rest worked for Beckett last year, and could and probably should work for Bucky this year.

What will be interesting will be what role he comes back to: I’m increasingly convinced that he may be – Earl Weaver style (Keith Law would undoubtedly approve) – shunted back to the bullpen until Colon proves ineffective.

One interesting bit of trivia: who’s got the second highest K/9 on the club? You guessed it: everyone’s favorite slim righthander. At 9.14, he’s behind only Pap, and ahead of Aardsma, Beckett, Delcarmen, Lester, Matsuzaka, Okakima, Hansen, Wake, and, well, you get the picture. That’s the good news. The bad? Righties are killing him to the tune of a .908 OPS.

Masterson on Tap

As the Boston Globe was kind enough to inform us, Portland’s own Justin Masterson will be getting his second big league start this Tuesday. Which is curious, because as previously noted in this space, Masterson hasn’t exactly been lighting it up. It’s not every day that you give up 7 earned in a start and earn a promotion to the big club. But desperate times and all, he’s the guy. And I suppose it’s worth noting that he did pitch very effectively in his previous outing against a talented Angels club (which featured another impossible Okajima outing: bases loaded, no one out).

If you’re looking for an explanation for why we’re comfortable starting the kid in this spot, the Providence Journal Bulletin actually saw fit to relay some of Tito’s comments on the matter:

Manager Terry Francona, acknowledging that Masterson has been cuffed around in his last few starts for Double A Portland, said the pitcher’s mistake has been leaving balls up in the zone late in games.

I’m not entirely convinced this is a good move, as I’m not sure the majors are where a pitcher learns to get the ball down, but then I don’t have to be convinced, because no one cares what I think.

More on Run Differentials

In the earlier piece on Tampa, I mentioned Run Differentials, and I’m sure that you’re dying for more information on the subject. So here’s Neyer with more:

Not only are the Rays in first place, they’re in first place on merit, as their +25 run differential is slightly better than that of the Red Sox (+23). Everybody else in the division — Orioles (-7), Blue Jays (-1) and Yankees (-6) — is bunched up around .500, exactly where they should be.

I wonder what our run differential might be if our bullpen wasn’t 27th in the league…

Youk’s Start

That Youk is tearing the cover off of the ball at the moment, you probably knew. That he leads all Sox regulars in OBP, SLG, doubles, total bases and lags Papi in home runs by 1, you might have known. What you probably didn’t was why. Fortunately, Inside Edge has you covered.

First, Youk is flat out destroying lefties (.444/.538/.889 for an absurd 1.427 OPS). Against lefties, he’s effectively Barry Bonds circa 2004. Which makes a difference.

Also important, however, and significantly less obvious, is his ability to hit off speed pitches. According to Inside Edge, his average and slugging numbers against off-speed offerings the last three years look as follows:
2006 .235 .340
2007 .263 .382
2008 .333 .563The scouting service believes the above augurs well for his ability to sustain some level of the performance we’ve seen to date going forward. I hope they’re right.

Wait on Crisp?

As for the obligatory Crisp rumors, comes the following, via MLB Trade Rumors via Ken Rosenthal: it may make more sense to hang on to Crisp. Apparently the free agent center field class for ’09 – unlike this past offseason – is weak, meaning that retaining him for the duration might be the preferred approach. While I still would entertain trade offers if it might improve the bullpen, particularly with Moss on the mend, his speed and defense do look good on the roster. Particularly the bench.

Last, But Far From Least

Courtesy of the aforementioned Chad Finn, did you know that Tito was one of Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd?” Me neither.

Four More Years

I like Stephen King. He’s no Gabriel García Márquez, obviously, but then who is? King, in my view, takes his craft seriously and does have legitimate strengths as a writer (besides the obvious productivity) that his fellow Hudson News bestsellers lack. More even than his absurd commercial success, however, I have a great deal of respect for the way that King has never forgotten the economically challenged state he hails from. That kind of loyalty is as admirable as it is rare in this day and age.

But one area where I break with America’s bestselling author is on the subject of one Terry Tito Francona. As has been documented, King and his co-author Stewart O’Nan spent much of the very readable Faithful slagging the Red Sox manager, much as an average fan might be expected to do.

Today, however, with the benefit of a second world series under his belt, the man King and O’Nan came to call Francoma received a contract that values him as the upper echelon manager his record proclaims him to be. Where value equates to $12 million, guaranteed, over a three year period.

Not that I’ve been a fan of Francona’s from day one. While I can’t dig up the actual text – and certainly I wasn’t writing here at the time, my recollection of my reaction to the signing within an email to a few friends can be summarized in one word: skeptical. Much like all of the Patriots fans in the audience probably were after Robert Kraft brought on Bill Belichick who had been fired in Cleveland. As Francona had been fired in Philly.

Nor am I convinced that the one-time Philly outcast is the perfect manager. I have frequent issues with his bullpen usage, occasional questions about his loyalty to certain players, and infrequent problems with his in-game tactics.

But for all that, I’m aware that Francona has forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know, and has access to information – quantitative, injury, personality, morale and otherwise – that I lack. Which is important, and can – at times – trump the numbers.

Francona was hired in part because of his acceptance of the numbers – the data wrangled by the front office into meaningful, actionable information. The front office makes a point of employing both traditional scouting techniques and modern statistical analysis side by side, rather than excessively favoring one over the other. It’s clear that Tito, for his part, augments his decision making process with the information fed to him by the front office. Whom he clearly trusts, and has forged an excellent working relationship with. Tito listens.

Where Little before him was content to leave the reams of statistical data provided him by the front office collecting dust on his manager’s desk, Francona seems to honestly and genuinely appreciate the additional data. He seems to uniquely understand that more data is generally a good, rather than a threatening, thing.

Off the field, Francona also seems to have the singularly unique yet utterly necessary talent for putting Red Sox nation in its place – without offending.

The fans, media and wicked clevah alike jump to the conclusion that Crisp is out in favor of my Navajo brother? Francona tells us that while it’s ok if we forget, it’s his responsibility to remember what Crisp brings to the table (which is, not coincidentally, almost perfectly aligned with the GM’s view). The fanbase is bitter after a mere 101 wins? Francona has no problem calling us on it, but does it so deftly we don’t even remember to be offended.

No, I’m not prepared to make the argument that Francona is the perfect manager. But I could certainly build and defend the case that he’s the perfect manager for this town, and this team.

All of which is a long winded way of saying that I’m very pleased the front office and ownership saw things the same way.