Sunday, October 19, 2008

ALCS Reactions (Games 4-7)

Well, I really have no words. The Rays deserved to win this series. They outplayed the Red Sox in every single part of the game. They proved to me that they deserve to be where they are. They overcame a horrendous blown lead in game five, and losing in game six, to win the series.

BJ Upton, Carlos Pena (why cant the Sox get guys like him? Oh wait....), and Evan Longoria carried their offense, but one player that shouldn't be overlooked is Willy Aybar. His home run in the 7th inning tonight ended Boston's hope of a come back.

I must say Matt Garza exceeded any expectations I had of him tonight. I expected him to not be able to kleep his emotions under control and crack under the pressure, but he did the complete opposite, hats off to him.

Jon Lester pitched good, not great. Pena should have been out at home if Pedroia makes a better throw to Varitek. The hit he gave up to Baldelli that scored Aybar was more of Varitek making a bad pitch selection than Lester making a bad pitch. Lester had made Baldelli look foolish all night and series long, especially on breaking pitches. So why Varitek called an 0-2 fastball inside is beyond me. The homerun he gave up to Aybar was on a cutter that didn't do anything, and is exactly why Lester got shelled in game 3.

The Sox looked lost at the plate all night long, and Tampa certainly did not help their cause by throwing strikes all night long.

I must say the umpire's strikezone was certainly awkward tonight, but that was for both teams. Although not appealing to the 1st/3rd base umpire on JD Drew's check swing in the 8th with the bases loaded is unforgivable. He checked his swing by the way.

I will say this however. I am happy for Tampa Bay as a franchise, and I am happy for those fans who have been there since the beginning, rooting for an absolutely awful team every year. For them, along with the players, but especially people like Carl Crawford, and Rocco Baldelli, who have been there for a longtime, congratulations to them.

However, for the so called "fans" that have been populating their games as of late, fuck you. You don't deserve this at all. I bet most of you didn't even know you had a baseball team, let alone a good one until last month. I cannot root for a team that has fans like that. Hell it's sad even the Red Sox are starting to turn into that. "Fans" going to the game because it's hip and cool, then leaving in the 5th inning with the Sox down a run.

Again, congratualtions to the Tampa Bay Rays you deserved it. Fuck you to most of your fans, you know the ones with cowbells, and all that junk. They are worthless, bandwagoner wastes, and don't deserve squat. You have not "been waiting my whole life for this", you probably have been waiting 3 weeks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

ALCS Reactions (Games 1-3)

So raise your hand if you thought the Red Sox would be down 2-1 to the Rays, with Dice-K winning their only game so far? No one? That's what I figured. One of the biggest things going into this series was the question of postseason experience. In game one, it really showed. Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon gave rookie Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena the green light on 3-0 counts to try to make something happen. I did not agree with either call, especially in the situation of Longoria. However since losing game one, the Rays have shown an incredible amount of resilience.

Game two was a telling game in this series. The Sox were up 1-0 at Tampa Bay, and had Josh Beckett pitching game two followed by Jon Lester, at home, in game three. The Rays were dead in the water and doomed to go down 3-0 at Fenway Park right? Wrong. Beckett was absolutely awful, as was Kazmir for Tampa just like I thought he'd be, but Francona was even worse, trotting Beckett out there for the beginning of the 5th after the Sox had taken a 6-5 lead on three solo homers in the top of the 5th. Beckett gave up three runs and left with one of the worst starts I've ever seen him pitch. Yet the Red Sox still had a chance to win the game, tying it 8-8 on a wild pitch in the 8th. The Sox went on to lose in the bottom of the 11th when Mike Timlin loaded the bases on walks (one intentional) and the Rays scored on a shallow sac fly in right.

The Rays showed me they belong there with that win, battling back three times to take the lead and then eventually winning it, granted beating Mike Timlin these days isn't exactly that much of an accomplishment. Regardless the Sox lost a chance to take a commanding lead in the series, and effectively break the psyche of the Rays at the same time.

Game three was the real killer though. The Sox had Lester pitching, at home, where he hadn't lost a start since the first week of April. The Rays had Matt Garza pitching for them, who is a strong pitcher, can absolutely lose control of his emotions at times and just be downright terrible. Obviously this is a game I absolutely expected the Red Sox to win hands down. Wrong.

Lester looked great in the first inning, mowing down the Rays on four pitches. However, in the third he ran into trouble by putting the lead off man on and ended up giving up two long home runs to BJ Upton, and Evan Longoria. Those runs, couple with the way Garza was pitching pretty much ended the game in the third. The Sox were able to get men on base, but weren't able to drive them in. Jon Lester managed to get through 5.2 innings, saving the bullpen and turning the game over to Paul Byrd who pitched the rest of the game.

The one feel good story from game three was Rhode Island's Rocco Baldelli hitting a garbage time 3-run HR. Baldelli was at one time a great prospect for the rays, but his career has been derailed by a serious medical condition that makes the muscles in his extremities feel weak after too much activity.

It's nice to see Pedroia finally getting it going. He's been on fire in the ALCS. On the flip side, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz need to really start to get it going. They've been atrocious this whole series, and for Ortiz the entire playoffs. Ellsbury also really needs to start putting the ball on the ground again and not trying to drive everything like he has been. He reminds me of Willie Mays Hayes from major Leagues and how he tried to hit a home run everytime he came to bat in Major Leagues 2, when he was a fast leadoff hitter who had no power in the first movie. Ellsbury needs to start putting the ball on the ground and force the defense to get him out.

That being said, Francona needs to sit Ellsbury down tonight, and possibly for game five as well.

My lineup for game four is as follows:
1. Coco Crisp - CF
2. Dustin Pedroia - 2B
3. JD Drew - RF
4. Kevin Youkilis - 3B
5. Jason Bay - LF
David Ortiz - DH
7. Mark Kotsay - 1B
8. Jed Lowrie - SS
9. Kevin Cash - C

The Red Sox desperately need a win tonight to avoid falling down 3-1 for the second consecutive year. I fully expect the Sox to hammer Andy Sonnenstine tonight, as he throws a lot of offspeed stuff and doesn't really have a good fastball.

Tim Wakefield, Red Sox Nation (god I hate that term) turns our lonely eyes to you.

Friday, October 10, 2008

2008-09 Boston Bruins (Part 1)

With all the hooplah about baseball going on right now, I completely forgot to mention the Bruins. The Bruins won their season opener last night in Colorado 5-4. I truely expect the Bruins to be very good this year, not the best in the Eastern Conference by any means, but certainly they should, and will improve over last year where they snuck into the playoffs and took number 1 seeded Montreal to 7-games in the first round.

I'll have a breakdown and preview of their season coming soon, but for now it's back to baseball.

Championship Series Preview -- Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox

So the ALCS has the two teams I thought it would have. The Rays and Sox both defeated their opponents in 4 games, which allowed them to set up their rotations to their liking.

The Rays need to get quality starts and INNINGS from Scott Kazmir in his starts, especially in game 2. Kazmir hasn't pitched more than 6 innings since July 21st. If Kazmir is out of the game early, the Rays bullpen is going to suffer. Matt Garza is also a big question mark for me. Garza has been great at times, but has also been awful as well. The Rays desperately need Garza to step up in this series.

The Rays biggest weapon is their bullpen as I mentioned in the divisional round preview. Grant Balfour especially has been a shutdown go to guy for Rays Manager Joe Maddon. One wild card in their pen is rookie David Price. Since being called up in September, he's been pretty lights out.

As for the Sox, they just need to do what they've been doing. If they can win either game one or two at the Trop they return to Fenway for 3 games with a chance to clinch.

I actually like what Francona did with his rotation by slotting Josh Beckett and Jon Lester in games 2 and 3. That allows them to return for games 6 and 7 if needed, and who would you rather have pitching in those games right now? No one.

Manny Delcarmen really stepped up in the ALDS when Masterson started to struggle. I expect Francona to reverse their roles a bit in this series. Dice-K really needs to be on top of him game, especially in the opener. If he puts men on base, the Rays will capitalize, and put him in a hole, and deep pitch count early on.

On the offensive side of things, Dustin Pedroia really needs to get it going, as does David Ortiz. Mark Kotsay has been a nice surprise at the plate (and in the field), and Jed Lowrie has been doing some nice things as well. The Red Sox need to get on base and be aggressive on the base paths, especially Ellsbury and Pedroia.

Red Sox in 6. The Rays have a good team, but the question marks surrounding Kazmir and his effectiveness and ability to go deep into the game saving the bullpen will really come into play here, as will Matt Garza. If the good Garza shows up the Rays will have a chance to steal this series, if the bad Garza shows up however, they have no shot.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Championship Series Preview -- Philapelphia Phillies vs. Los Angelas Dodgers

So count me among the people who were absolutely stunned that the Dodgers took out the Cubs in 3 games. I thought it would be a competitive series and that people were overlooking the fact that the Dodgers had very good pitching and a pretty good offense, but a sweep? Wow. The Phillies did exactly what I thought they'd do by beating the Brewers in 4 games.

My heart is hoping for a Phillies/Sox World Series so I can taunt my stepfather and his family who are Philly fans, but the thought of a Dodgers/Sox World Series (granted the Sox make it) is really starting to pique my interest.

Anyways, here's the breakdown. I'll be doing the format a bit differently for this series since I've already gone over all the stats previously. Anyways, here we go.

The Phillies need to control Manny Ramirez and have the other pieces of the Dodgers lineup beat them. That's not saying that players like Matt Kemp, Andre Either, Russell Martin, and company aren't good, but Ramirez is the key of that lineup, he makes them better, see better pitches, etc. With the way Ramirez has played since August 1st, I don't see how you can pitch to Manny with runners on base, and a base open. The Phillies must control Ramirez and get the people they need to get out, out. It sounds simple enough but nothing is ever that easy.

The Phillies starters, especially after Cole Hamels, really need to step up and control the Dodgers and not allow big innings. Brett Myers pitched a lot better in the Division Series than I thought he would, and Jamie Moyer did exactly what I thought he would. Joe Blanton is the key for the Phillies. If he puts together a respectable start in game 4, then the Phillies will have a slight advantage in my mind. As for the offense, obviously Ryan Howard and Chase Utley need to get going, but Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are the keys. If they cannot get on base then it won't really matter. Pat Burrell and Jason Werth also need to start producing a bit more as well.

The Dodgers need to pitch like they have all year. Their bullpen is very good, and their starters are very good as well. Derek Lowe has been on fire lately and I expect him to pitch very well. Chad Billingsly and Hiroki Kuroda were both very good in their postseason starts as well.

On the offensive side of things for the Dodgers, as I stated above,
Matt Kemp, Andre Either, Russell Martin, and James Loney really all need to have a nice series. I really expect Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to pitch around and walk Ramirez when the opportunity arises, leaving the duty of run producing to this core group of up and coming stars. If those four players can consistently get on base and score, I just don't see how the Phillies can compete.

Phillies in 7. This is a truely tough series to call. The Dodgers could win this as could the Phillies. I expect this series to be the best series of the postseason so far (and possibly the whole thing), with the Phillies coming out on top in the end due to Rollins, Utley, and Howard all getting on track. I expect no blow outs in this series, with all the games being very close.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sox/Angels Game 4 Reactions

The Red Sox beat the Angels 3-2 on a walkoff single by Jed Lowrie in the bottom of the 9th. Manny Delcarmen gets the win, and Scott Shields takes the loss. Because of the win, the Red Sox take the series 3-1 and will face the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS.

This was one of the most exciting games of the postseason thus far.

*Jon Lester pitched another great game (7IP 4H 0ER 0R 2BB 4K's), and has been absolutely incredible this postseason so far (14IP 10H 0ER 1R 3BB 11K). With Josh Beckett injured to start the postseason, and then being pretty mediocre in his game 3 start, the Red Sox really needed Lester to step up big and play the role Beckett did last year. He's accomplished that so far.

*Dustin Pedroia finally got a hit, and boy was it a big one. Pedroia doubled off the wall to drive in the Sox second run. And sorry Lackey Pedroia's hit was not a "fly ball anywhere else in America [except in Fenway Park]." It would have been a homerun. Regardless to what Lackey actually believes the Monster helps both teams. I did not see the Angels use that to their advantage.

*Speaking of John Lackey, he really showed me he is on the verge of becoming a big game pitcher this series. He was mowing through the Sox in game 1 when he stupidly threw a fastball to Jason Bay (who looked AWFUL against his curveball), and Bay hit it for a 2-run HR. In game 4, Lackey was pitching very well and was victimized by a bobble by Howie Kendrick at second which scored the first run. Clearly frustrated however, Lackey then proceeded to throw a meatball to Pedroia (who was 0-for the series at the time) who took the ball off the monster. Lackey is a good pitcher, but lets his emotions get the better off him too often. Regardless, he was the only reason the Angels were even in that game.

*The Angels managed to tie the game at 2-2 in the top of the 8th with a 2-out single from Torii Hunter. Masterson made an awful pitch and Hunter hammered it. In the top of the 9th, pinch hitter Kendry Morales lead off with a double, was pinch ran for by Reggie Willits, who got to 3rd on the next out. So the Angels have a runner at 3rd base with one out. Mike Scioscia stupidly puts the suicide squeeze play on, and Aybar misses the bunt and Jason Varitek tags out Willits before he got back to 3rd base. However, the ball popped loose after the tag. After and argument from Scioscia, the call stood and Aybar proceeded to fly out. My question is this. What is Scioscia thinking there? I understand the Angels are a scrappy team that manufactures runs and all that, but just put the ball into the outfield and you take the lead. If you don't think Aybar can do it, then pinch hit for him with Matthews Jr, or someone who can. Putting the squeeze on there is dangerous and it backfired on them, and really lost them the series. Oh, the "out" call was the correct call as well. Varitek tagged Willits, not once but twice before falling to the ground and having the ground knock the ball out. In this case the runner did not cause the ball to pop loose, like what happens at home plate. Therefore, I believe it was the correct call, contrary to whatever the Angels want to believe.

*I really do feel bad for Torii Hunter. He was the only player hitting with runners in scoring position (Hunter was 5-11, with the rest of the team going 3-29), and now has been eliminated from the postseason in the first round four straight times. Hunter has always been a player I enjoyed watching and rooting for.

The Angels did not play like they were capable of, and regardless if they were "the better team" as John Lackey so eloquently stated, they lost the series. The Angels have pending free agents this offseason in Mark Texieria and Francisco Rodriguez, and have some series decisions to make. That being said, I do expect them to win the AL West again even if those two players leave because it's such an awful division.

Regardless, still a fun series to watch, and I feel was the most competitive of the four Divisional Series that were played. I'll have full analysis and previews of the League Championship Series by Thursday.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mike Lowell

As expected, Mike Lowell has been removed from the ALDS roster. Honestly, unless Lowell can somehow play through enough pain and be effective at the same time, he just needs to sit down, and heal for next year.

I appreciate all he does for the Red Sox, and as I stated before, he clearly makes the Red Sox a much better team when he is in the line, but I haven't considered the hurt guy that's in the lineup Mike Lowell.

Sox/Angels Game 3 Reactions

Well the Sox finally lost to the Angels in the postseason for the first time in 22 years last night, so it was bound to happen eventually. Jered Weaver got the win while Javier Lopez took the loss in 12-innings, in one of the longest games I've ever been to.

*Let me start off by saying the umpiring was absolutely atrocious last night, for both the Sox and the Angels. The strikezone morphed from inning to inning, and the check swing on Lowell was just awful, granted he did get strike 3 called ball 4 in his next at bat.

*Josh Beckett was not in typical posteason form last night. His velocity was good, so the oblique couldn't have been bothering him that much. His command however was awful, partly due to bad umpiring, but 4 walks in 5 innings is a bit more than just bad umpiring.

*Dustin Pedroia is 0-for the series and really is starting to hurt the Sox with his lack of production. If he got on base in the 11th the game would have been over then and there. Granted he at least hit the ball well towards the end of the game and it took a great diving play from Figgins to save the game winning hit.

*Mike Lowell needs to sit down for the rest of the series and possibly even the postseason. He's looked terrible in the two games he's played both at the plate, and in the field. He let a few balls by last night that he normally makes plays on, and a few of them ended up scoring.

*Not subbing in JD Drew for Coco Crisp after Joe Saunders was out of the game in the bottom of the 5th was just terrible managing from Francona.

*On a lighter note, the bullpen looked very good last night. Even though Lopez let in a run it was on a bloop single.

*K-Rod really is overrated, I'll leave it at that.

The hits just weren't falling for the Sox last night. They got a huge break on a bloop bases load clearing single by Ellsbury in the second inning, and after that they were basically shut down for the rest of the night.

John Lackey goes against Jon Lester tonight. Lackey has been pretty bad at Fenway in his career, and Jon Lester aside from being a beast this year, was absolutely unbeatable at Fenway this season, going 11-1 with a 2.59 ERA. He hasn't lost a game at Fenway since April 9th, and the Red Sox haven't lost a game he started at Fenway since April 23rd.

I expect the Sox to finish off the Angels tonight.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Angels/Sox Game 2 Reactions

The Red Sox take game 2 of the series 7-5. Jonathan Papelbon gets the win, while Francisco Rodriquez takes the lose.

Reactions & Thoughts
*Ervin Santana did exactly what I thought he would in the first inning of the game. Santana is one of those guys who, even though they sport a nice ERA and strikeouts per 9, they never really scare you when they pitch (see Dice-K). The Red Sox were patient to see a few pitches before putting the ball in play, and ended up scoring 4 runs on a JD Drew double and a Jason Bay 3-Run HR. The Angels had a similar aggressive approach against Dice-K in the top on the inning and score a run on a Torii Hunter single.

*The biggest concern of the game for me was Dice-K. Coming in, I thought that game 2 was going to be the game that the Sox lost because I simply don't have faith in him (how many pitchers who are 18-3 can you say THAT for?). Dice-K was spotted a 5-1 lead, and yet barely managed to make it through 5 innings. He ended up giving up 3 runs and walked 3. Dice-K nibbled away through the game and almost got burned for it, I'm somewhat glad he didn't get the win because he really didn't deserve it. If John Farrell is still the pitching coach next year, he really needs to sit down with Dice-K about his approach.

*Jason Bay has been incredible in his first postseason of his career. He has 5 hits in 9 at-bats with 2 HR's and 5 RBI's. He jump started the Sox when they needed it in game 1, and he really deflated the Angels in the top of the 1st in game 2 with his 3-run blast.

*Jonathan Papelbon still hasn't allowed a run in 17.2 innings in his postseason career. Call me biased but aside from Mariano Rivera, Papelbon is the best closer in the AL, hands down (although Joe Nathan is close).

*...speaking of closers, K-Rod is really showing why his league record for saves this year, is truly an anomaly. Two years in a row with the Angels down a game against the Sox, they needed K-Rod to step in and shut down the Red Sox for an inning or two, and whats he do? Last year he gives up a walk-off 3-run HR to Manny Ramirez (8-5 win). This year he gives up a 5-5 tie breaking 2-run HR to JD Drew, not 10 minutes after the Angels had battled back to tie the game. Do whatever you want in the regular season, but the real stars come to play in the postseason.

*Mike Lowell did not play due to his hip. We all know how Lowell has a partially torn labrium in his hip and plans to get offseason surgery to fix it. The Red Sox are obviously a much better team with Lowell in the lineup, but Kotsay has been filling in at first base nicely so far. If Mike Lowell plays even half of the postseason I'd be surprised.

*The Angels have to be happy about the trade for Mark Texieria. He has been the only person in that lineup that I've dreaded seeing at the plate. He was 3-3 with 3 runs score, a walk, and an RBI in game 2, to go along with a 2-4 in game 1. I would be incredibly surprised if they didn't resign him.

This was the best game of the postseason as a whole so far. Again, I'm glad the Sox won. I'll be at the game tonight to watch Josh Beckett and the Sox (hopefully) close out the Angels again.

On a side note, boy was I, and basically everybody else, wrong about the Cubs/Dodgers series. Poor Cubs.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Divisional Round Previews -- Tampa Bay vs. Chicago (AL)

Tampa Bay Rays (97-65) vs. Chicago White Sox (90-72)

I'm going to come out and say it now, who really thought the Rays would hang on to the AL East until the end of the season? I was in the boat of people that figured they would tire down the stretch and the Red Sox would over take them. It almost happened, but they hung on and won some huge games against the Sox at Fenway and at the Trop in September, and frankly they deserve to be where they are. That being said, here is my analysis.

I've been saying it for a few years, that with the offense the Rays have, if they ever got any pitching help whatsoever (mainly bullpen), that they'd be a very good team that could finally start to make some noise. Did I see them winning the division this year? Not even close, but that's why baseball is so great. Anyways onto my point. This season the Rays offense wasn't where it used to be with their speed on the bases and style of play that manufactured runs (not neccessarily small ball). This year they dealt with an injury to who I've always felt is their best player, Carl Crawford. Crawford always seems to improve every year of his career and frankly he would be a guy I would have loved to have on the Sox. He still put up respectable numbers but the offense as a whole really contributed to the Rays winning this year. Guys like Gabe Gross, Eric Hinske, and Rocco Baldelli really stepped up for the Rays when Crawford went down.

Their big hitter obviously is Carlos Pena (.247, 31 HR, 101 RBI), but rookie of the year candidate (and most likely winner) Evan Longoria was truely the reason the Rays were great. You might be high on a player as an organization, but do you really expect someone to start everyday in their rookie year and manage to hit .272 with 27 HR and 85 RBI? Did I mention he missed about a month with an injury? Evan Longoria is the best player on that team and it really shows, they are a much better team with him playing than without.

This year the Rays really slacked on offense as a whole ranking near the bottom in most offensive categories except stolen bases, which they were first in as usual. BJ Upton stole 44 bases while being caught 16 times. While Carl Crawford and Jason Bartlett stole 25 and 20 respectively. The Rays have been a running team for a while now and it really shows.

In their series against the White Sox expect Manager Joe Maddon to be agressive on the basepaths and not just sit around and wait for Longoria and Pena to hit a home run. Expect Crawford and Upton to be agresive, and maybe even play a little hit and run if the bottom of the order gets on for Iwamura. The Rays biggest x-factor however is catcher Dioneer Navarro. I was never high on Navarro when he was a Yankee prospect and even up to last year when he batted a dismal .227. He's really put it together this year however, batting .295 in 427 at bats with good gap power. If Navarro can continue what he's done all season long, then the Rays will have a very solid, multi-dimensional lineup.

Look for Longoria and Crawford to be the difference on offense for the Rays.

The real strength of this team is it's pitching. Their starter's have been mediocre for the most part, but their bullpen has been very good. Scott Kazmir and James Shields have been their aces, although Kazmir hasn't been nearly as good this year as he usually is. Shields however has been their ace all season long. Matt Garza who was aquired from the Twins for Delmon Young in the offseason (man I bet the Twins wish they didn't make that deal) has been pretty good as well. Andy Sonnanstine has been mediocre, and really given more credit than he should get.

The bullpen however features Grant Balfour (1.54 ERA, 82 K's in 58.1 IP), JP Howell (2.22 ERA, 14 Hlds), and Chad Bradford (1.42 ERA in 21 games with TB) who all bridge the gap nicely to closer Dan Wheeler (3.12 ERA, 13 Svs, 5 BS) who has filled in for the injured and somewhat ineffective Troy Percival.

I feel like the Rays biggest strength is their bullpen, and it will make the difference in this series. When have you ever been able to say that before?

White Sox
The White Sox live and die by the homerun. They hit the most homeruns in league this year, but because of that, have trouble manufacturing runs when they need to. Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye can still hit, and newcomer Alexi Ramirez has had a fine rookie season. The White Sox lineup took a huge hit when Carlos Quienten stupidly injured his wrist punching a bat. Paul Konerko could make a huge impact on this series if he starts to hit again. The White Sox also have Nick Swisher on the bench to provide some nice pop. The big x-factor for the White Sox this series is Orlando Cabrera from the leadoff spot. If he can get on base consistently, that'll allow the Sox big bats to see better pitches. Also if Ken Griffey Jr can somehow get hot, then that is a pretty dangerous and powerful lineup. Don't expect that though.

In 2005 when th White Sox won the World Series, they did it with good hitting and good pitching. This year however, their pitching is mediocre at best. John Danks, and Gavin Floyd have had nice seasons, but Mark Buehr
le hasn't been his usual self, and Javier Vazquez (your game one starter folks!) has been less than stellar. Ozzie Guillen has decided to go with a 4-man rotation in the ALDS.

However, the White Sox bullpen has been mediocre this year. Bobby Jenks has been pretty good in the closer role as usual, and Matt Thornton has been very good, but the rest of the bullpen has been underperforming. Scot Linebrink has been okay but nothing special and Octavio Dotel has been incrdibly inconsistent although has been striking out batters (92 K's in 67.0 IP).

If Chicago has to go to it's bullpen early, expect Tampa to take control of this series

Rays in 4. I just don't see how the White Sox matchup well against the Rays. The White Sox are a big, slow team playing on the fast turf at the Trop, and really just don't have the pitching to slow the Rays down enough. Not to mention their best pitcher (Danks) is slated to pitch game 2 or 3 (most likely 3) after pitching in the division tiebreaker on Tuesday night.

Angels/Sox Game 1 Reactions

The Red Sox take game one in Anaheim by a score of 4-1. Jon Lester gets the win, John Lackey takes the loss, and Jonathan Papelbon gets the save.

Reactions & Thoughts
*John Lackey pitched his ass off tonight and threw one bad pitch to Bay for a 2-Run HR that the Red Sox never gave back. Lackey proved once again that he is the ace of the Angels staff, and just got no run support.

*How good has Jon Lester been? Kid was throwing 96 mph in the 7th inning. He pitched one heck of a ball game, and the one run he gave up was an unearned run due to a Jed Lowrie error (his first in 50 games at SS). Final line: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K, 117 pitches.

*Jason Bay looked awful in his first two at-bats against John Lackey tonight, striking out on two curveballs way out of the zone. However, that all changed in the 6th inning with a 2-run HR to give the Sox the lead. Kudos to Bay.

*Jacoby Ellsbury played his ass off tonight. He lead off the game with a double to deep right center that almost cleared the wall for a home run. He ended up 3/5 with 2 SB's, and made a spectacular catch in center field to rob Mark Texieria of a lead off single in the bottom of the 8th (which ended up being a huge play).

*The player of the game I feel is Justin Masterson. Terry Francona put him in a huge spot in this game. Francona brought Masterson in to pitch the 8th inning with Texieria, Vlad Guerrero, Torii Hunter, and Howie Kendrick coming up, in a 2-1 game. Masterson got through the inning unscathed and the Sox proceeded to score 2 more runs in the top of the 9th. Some of his outs were due to luck (Ellsbury's catch, Youk throwing Vlad out at 3rd), and the at-bat Kendrick put on was admirable, but in the end, the kid got the job done. Which leads me to my next point.

*What on earth was Vlad Guerrero thinking trying to get to 3rd base on that bloop hit by Hunter in the 8th? Not only was he too far off 1st base to begin with considering Youkilis almost made the play, but there was no way he could have made it to 3rd base. Granted Youkilis did make one hell of a throw, but that's just boneheaded baseball in a tight game.

All in all, a very fun, exciting, entertaining game to watch. Deffinately the best game of the day. Both teams had a few opportunities to score some runs and the opposing teams pitching bailed them out. I'm glad the Sox won, and I cannot wait for Friday.

Check back tomorrow for my final preview of the divisional round, which is the series between the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Chicago White Sox.

Goodnight everyone.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Divisional Round Previews -- Los Angeles of Anaheim vs. Boston

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (100-62) vs. Boston Red Sox (95-67)

This is the hardest matchup to predict out of all four Divisional round series. This is due to a few things, the first most obvious factor is that I am a Sox fan, born and raised directly south of Boston. However, I write this blog without trying to be a huge homer, so don't worry about that. The other main reason that this is the toughest matchup to pick is because these teams are the most evenly matched between all 8 playoff teams. Sure the Angels cruised through the regular season, but they also played in the AL West which is a pretty pathetic division in itself these days.

During the regular season, the Angels absolutely demolished the Red Sox, going 8-1 against them and outscoring them something like 64-33. You know what though? Throw that shit out the window, this is the playoffs, and I expect both teams to be their asses off.

Let's start with the Angels.

Man the difference a year can make. Last year against the Sox, the Angels offense was completely non existent. Vlad Guerrero looked lost at the plate, Garrett Anderson had pink eye and could hardly see the ball, Gary Matthews Jr was hurt, and the team as a whole was just atrocious, batting under .200 in their lose to the Red Sox. In the offseason the Angels signed Torii Hunter and traded for Mark Texieria in July to really give their offense a whole new look, and the protection Vlad Guerrero needed. Chone Figgins, while still a force on the basepaths, isn't really the same dynamic player he was a few years ago. That being said, he still steals bases and can be a pitchers nightmare. They rank in the middle of most offensive categories, but believe me when I say then can score runs now.

The Angels finally have a legitimate offense and it could be what carries them to victory against the Red Sox.

The Angels are often regarded as having the best pitching in the league, but I find this to be a huge exaggeration. John Lackey (12-5, 3.75 ERA) is a bonafide ace, and he has been for a few years. After him you have Ervin Santana (16-7, 3.49 ERA, 214 k's) Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41 ERA), Jered Weaver and Jon Garland. Weaver and Garland have been awful since August, so the Angels rotation is Lackey-Santana-Saunders. Lackey scares me, but after him, not so much. Santana has the stuff to be great. When he was younger I always heard him compared to Pedro Martinez in his prime, but he's never really figured it out to that extent. Now that being said, Santana is a good pitcher but is wildly inconsistent with his command at times, and that gets him into trouble. Joe Saunders is exactly like Jamie Moyer as a junkballer, and we all know what I said about that.

Their bullpen is still good with Scot Shields and K-Rod and his major league record 62 saves (which isn't as impressive as it sounds). K-Rod is a good closer but he is hittable, and can get incredibly wild sometimes. Not to be homer here, but I'd rather have Papelbon than K-Rod closing games anyday of the week. One surprise in their bullpen this year has been the effectiveness of Darren Oliver (2.88 ERA, 12 Holds), and the emergence of rookie Jose Arredondo (1.62 ERA, 16 Hlds, 55 K's in 61 IP). The Angels bullpen, while it isn't what it used to be, is still strong.

Red Sox
The Sox rank in the top two of most offensive categories. Even without Manny Ramirez this team can still hit. Jason Bay has filled in admirably as his replacement (.293/9/37 as a Sox), and Dustin Pedroia (this year's AL MVP in my opinion) and Kevin Youkilis have been amazing. Jacoby Ellsbury has finally started to show why he was so highly regarded by hitting again, and even when he was toiling in the summer in his slump, he still managed to steal 50 bases this year. His platooning with Coco Crisp has actually worked out pretty well.

The biggest question marks on offense for the Red Sox this postseason is the health of JD Drew and Mike Lowell. Drew has been injured since mid August, and really it hasn't hurt the team all that much. However a healthy Drew in the lineup makes it a much more dynamic lineup. Mike Lowell is a different story however. Taking Lowell out of the lineup forces Red Sox Manager Terry Francona to shift Youkilis to 3rd base and slot either Mark Kotsay or Sean Casey at 1st base, or move Lowrie to 3rd and play Alex Cora at shortstop. No disrespect to Alex Cora, but I don't want him starting a game for the Red Sox in the regular season, let alone the postseason. On top of all that you lose Mike Lowell's bat and defense.

Expect the Sox to play some hit and run with Ellsbury and Pedroia to try and create offense. We all know Ortiz can hit bombs, and Youkilis fell one HR shy of 30 HR's this season. The bottom of the order isn't too bad either with Jason Varitek being the weak link in the batting order.

I don't think the Sox will have trouble scoring runs, just don't expect some of those crazy outbursts they are prone to every now and then.

The Red Sox pitching staff has been near the top of the league all season long. After the 2007 postseason when Josh Beckett was unhittable, we all came into 2008 believing he would do the same thing. However, that was not the case. Beckett has dealt with a few injuries this season and because of that, his numbers aren't around their usual norms. Beckett also strained his oblique just before the playoffs started and had to be pushed back for game 3 of the ALDS, which is a potentially huge development since he'd most likely only throw one game instead of two. Not to worry though as Jon Lester has really blossomed into his own this season, and really picked up the slack for Beckett's subpar season. Dice-K however has been a statistical anomaly this season. He is somehow 18-3, but walks entirely way too many people and thus did not pitch a lot of innings. Dice-K makes me nervous but he's shown time and time again that he is able to wiggle out of jams (he didn't give up a base hit all season with the basesloaded). On top of those three, the Red Sox have the ageless Tim Wakefield, and a revjuvinated Paul Byrd heading for their bullpen.

In July the Red Sox bullpen was a mess. Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima were having miserable seasons and the only real solid player in there was Jonathan Papelbon. However, that all changed once Justin Masterson was moved from his starter role into the bullpen. Since that time, Delcarmen has been almost unhittable, and Okajima has started to resemble his form from last year, although he is still terrible with inherited runners. The biggest surprise of the year has been Javier Lopez. He has been very good in his loogey role, and Francona has started to lean on him a bit more.

Overall, this bullpen is starting to resemble to dominate, shut down pen the Sox had last year in the postseason, and we all know what good pitching does for a teams chances.

I'm going out on a limb here and saying Red Sox in 4. The Sox will win game 1 or 2 in Anaheim and bring the series back to Fenway, where they are always good, tied up. If the Angels can somehow manage to win a game at Fenway with a junk ball pitcher and John Lackey in game 4, who's career numbers at Fenways are just terrible, then I will be surprised. Regardless though I am just looking forward to some good ball between the two best clubs in the postseason right now.

Divisional Round Previews -- Chicago vs. Los Angeles

Chicago Cubs (97-65) vs. Los Angeles Dodgers (84-78)

This matchup is just not all that appealing to me. I dislike the Dodgers, and more importantly Manny Ramirez (I'll touch on that in another post later on). Joe Torre is a great manager and I never really minded him when he was managing the Yankees, but there's just something about the Dodgers that irks me. Not to mention the fact that the Dodgers haven't exactly been the model of consistency all year. The Cubs on the other hand have been consistent all year, and it shows (97 wins, best team in the NL). They've done it with great pitching and a great offense as well, and I must say, have a legitimate shot at winning their first world series in 100 years!

Anyways, here's the breakdown of the series.

The Cubs offense is the best in the National League. They scored 855 runs witha balanced attack of home runs and small ball. They are first in every major offensive category (OBP, SLG, OPS) and are second in batting average (.278). They are 5th in the league in home runs with 184 and 8th in steals with 87.

Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano, and Rookie of the Year candidate Giovaney Soto lead the way in home runs and RBI's, and Derrek Lee and Mark DeRosa have put together some pretty solid seasons as well. Ryan Theriot has been productive from the 2nd slot batting .307 and posting an OBP of .383. He also has stolen 22 bases, although he has been caught 13 times, for a pretty awful ratio.

There's not much to really say about strategy here. Get on base and let the runs come. This offense is too good to be shut down multiple times.

So who would have thoguht that Ryan Dempster would be the Cubs best starter raise your hands! No one? That's what I thought. Last years ago Ryan Dempster was the closer of the Cubs, and was doing a pretty good job at it, then at the start of the year, Lou Pinella decides to make him a starter, and he flourishes. He leads the team in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. Color me impressed. Following Dempster is Carlos Zambrano. We all know Zambrano, he's fuckin crazy, but he's also really good. He pitched a no-hitter this year as well. At the moment, Dempster and Zambrano are about as god as you can get with a 1-2 punch. Add Rich Harden and Ted Lilly into the mix as your number 3 starter, and I just dont see anyone being able to beat the Cubs in a 5-game series, maybe not even a 7.

As for the bullpen, Kerry Wood has returned from multiple injuries, and solidified the closer role. Along with rookie Jeff Samardzija and Michael Wuertz, the Cubs look to be a force to be reckoned with, and by far the best team in the NL this year.

Oh Manny, oh Manny, oh Manny. Those is basically the only words that need to be mentioned when talking about the Dodgers offense. Since the July 31st trade for Ramirez, the Dodgers have gone from a sub .500 team, to winning the NL West. Ramirez has been an absolute beast in that time, batting .396/17/53 in 53 games. If that's not production, I don't know what is. Ramirez solidified a lineup that underproduced vastly, largely in part because of Andruw Jones, who in 75 games put up this awful numbers (.158/3/14). Man what happened to the guy who hit 92 HR's and drove in 257 runs between '05-'06? Aside from Jones the lineup featured the ghost of Nomar Garciappara, Jeff Kent, Juan Pierre...yeah you're starting to get my picture. THe trade for Ramirez changed all that. Andre Either has played much better since Manny arrived and to a lesser extent the mid season trade for Casey Blake wasn't bad either. However, the Dodgers still rank in the bottom 5 spots in most offensive categories in the NL. Look for teams to try and work around Ramirez when possible, which will put pressure on the likes of Either, James Loney and Matt Kemp to bear a lot of the offensive load.

After a very nice season last year, Brad Penny has been awful this year (6-9. 6.7 ERA) due to injuries. However, if the Dodgers have anything it is pitching. Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.24 ERA), Chad Billingsley (16-11, 3.14 ERA) and Japenses import Hiroki Kuroda (9-10, 3.73 ERA) have all pitched well for the Dodgers, who lead the NL in most of the important pitching categories. I have to say I am happy for Lowe, as he was always one of my favorite players when he played for the Red Sox.

The Dodgers bullpen has been even better. Closers Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito have gotten the job done, and Joe Beimel, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Cory Wade have all been great.

Cubs in 5. The Cubs are a much better team, but the Dodgers will hang in there. Their pitching is good enough to keep games close, and if the younger kids on the Dodgers can make the Cubs pay for pitching around Ramirez, then the Cubs will be in for a long series.

Divisional Round Previews -- Phillies vs. Milwaukee

So the MLB playoffs are finally upon us. After a regular season filled with the usual amount of excitement and a few surprises (Tampa Bay anyone?), it all comes down to this next month of baseball.

The divisional round of playoff baseball is starting today, and the following teams have qualified for postseason play:

For the American League, the AL East Champion Tampa Bay Rays (I have to admit, it still feels odd saying that), AL Central Champion Chicago White Sox, AL West Champion Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the AL Wild Card Champion Boston Red Sox.

For the National League, the NL East Champion Philadelphia Phillies, the NL Central Champion Chicago Cubs, the NL West Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, and the NL Wild Card Champion Milwaukee Brewers.

I'll start my analysis and predictions with the Phillies/Brewers series.

Philadelphia Phillies (92-70) vs. Milwaukee Brewers (90-72)

Before we proceed I have to admit I do follow the Phillies pretty closely. I have family in south Jersey who are avid Philadelphia sports fans. That being said, I intend to write with zero bias towards them, and later on the Red Sox as well.

This matchup is between two teams that for whatever reason really were never consistent during the regular season. This Phillies should have won more than 92 games, and the Brewers, after a great August that saw the team go 20-7, were just atrocious in September, seeing them make the playoffs on the final day of the season, mainly because for the second year in a row, the Mets proved they suck.

Regardless, I do find this matchup as the better of the two National League matchups mainly because the teams are more equally matched. I'll start with the Phillies:

The Phillies can hit, plain and simple. They lead the NL in home runs with 214, mainly due to Ryan Howard (48 HR's), Chase Utley (33 HR's), and Pat Burrell (33 HR's). They also were tied for 2nd in the league with the Mets in runs scored with 799. They were 10th in the league in batting average, with a .255 team average, 3rd in OBP (On Base Percentage) which was at .332, 2nd in Slugging at .438, and 3rd in OPS (On Base plus Slugging) at .770. They also steal plenty of bases, which they were 3rd in the league in with 136.

The keys for the Phillies offense in this series, is for Jimmy Rollins to do what he does and get on base, steal bases and score. Rollins is a very good baserunner and hardly ever gets thrown out attempting to steal (47 SB to 3 CS). Jayson Werth, Utley, Howard, and Burrell all can hit the ball and drive in runs, but Werth, Howard and Burrell all strike out a ton, Howard especially (199 K's on the season, which is good for 2nd in the league).

Look for the bottom of the order to try and cause some problems for Milwaukee as well. Shane Victorino lead the team in batting with a .293 average, and Pedro Feliz can still hit every now and then.

I do not see scoring runs as being a problem for Philadelphia in this series.

This Phillies pitching is actually a lot better than I thought it was. Cole Hamels has been their ace all year long, and after a couple of miserable years in Houston, Brad Lidge has solidified the closer role, converting 41 of 41 save opportunities. He also won the comeback player of the year for the National League.

Their starting rotation is somewhat suspect, but their bullpen has been hands down the best bullpen in the National League. Cole Hamels as previously mentioned is their ace, and even after being mediocre in the their 1st round loss to the Rockies last year, I still expect him to step up this year. After him their rotation for this series will consist of Brett Myers, who's had a pretty mediocre season (10-13, 4.55 ERA) and Jamie Moyer (16-7, 3.71 ERA) who even at age 45 is still pitching effectively in the majors. However, that brings me to my next point. Jamie Moyer is still pitching because he does not throw hard. He gets batters out as a junkballer and is still effective. But as history has shown, junkballing pitchers have never really had success in the postseason for whatever reason.

The Phillies staters need to pitching somewhat effectively and at least keep the team in the game, because once they are out of the game, especially with a lead, the bullpen can take over and keep doing the same thing that made them the best all season.

Milwaukee's offense doesn't jump out at me as being anything special. Prince Fielder (34 HR's) and Ryan Braun (37 HR's) can kill the ball, and JJ Hardy and Corey Hart have put together pretty solid seasons, but the rest of the team just seems so...mediocre. Mike Cameron did his usual .250/35/75 thing, but Rickie Weekes has been wildly inconsistent, and was eventually benched for Ray Durham who put together respectable numbers (.289/6/45). That beind said, I just don't see Milwaukee's offense matching up all that well against Philadelphia, especially their bullpen. Although I must say, the Brewers have had a knack for getting huge hits late in games to win lately (Braun, Fielder).

This is where Milwaukee actually stands a chance. C.C. Sabbathia has been absolutely incredible since being traded to the Brewers in mid July (11-2, 1.65 ERA) but the two stats that jump out at me are the following. 7 Complete games (17 starts), and a 5.12 K/BB ratio. CC has pretty much put the Brewers pitching staff on his back and carried them into the postseason. However, after Sabbathia their starting staff is less than stellar. Ben Sheets will not pitch in the playoffs because of arm problems, so the Brewers are relying on a guy who's made 4 starts this year (granted they were good) before being DL'ed with an injury. They are expecting this young man, Yovani Gallardo to pitch the opening game of the series and game 4 if there is one. That is a tough task to ask of a 22 year old (who by the way is a day younger than me). I expect Sabbathia to win game 2, and then it's up to Dave Bush (9-10, 4.18 ERA) to at least pitch decently. I just don't see that happening.

On top of their starting rotation, their bullpen has just been awful, and no one has been worse than Eric Gagne. How this man got a $10 million dollar contract after he was absolutely awful for the Red Sox last year is beyond me. Salomon Torres has been respectable in the closer role, but nothing special. If the Phillies get to the Milwaukee bullpen early in the game, I really cannot see how the Brewers can win.

Phillies in 4. I expect Gallardo to pitch decently in the opening game of the series, but not well enough. Sabbathia is out to prove last year's postseason meltdown is not a regular thing, and should win game 2. I don't expect the Phillies to lose to Dave Bush in game 3, and then close it out in Milwaukee for game 4.

However, if Gallardo somehow can pull a win out of his ass, especially in game 1, this series will be a whole lot more interesting