Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Josh Beckett Watch - Game 1 Starter?

I mentioned, buried deep in yesterday's post, what I am watching for regarding Josh Beckett. According to the Red Sox, Josh's health is fine, and his recent oblique strain had nothing to do with his sub-par performance in the ALDS. Apparently, we are simply dealing with some rust.

So, here's the deal on how to see through this. Aside from the fact that Jon Lester is the heir apparent, Josh Beckett is still the "ace" of the Red Sox staff. You want to start your ace in game 1, that is a no-brainer. In this case, we don't need to debate whether or not our ace is really Jon Lester, because starting Lester on Friday in game 1 would be using him on short rest, which is unnecessary at this point, and foolish.

So, the answer is easy. You start Josh Beckett in game 1, unless he is hurting. For Josh, he'd be going on normal 4 days of rest, and if rust is the only concern, getting him out there sooner is better than giving him extra rest. So, if Beckett starts Game 1, the team believes he is fine. If he gets pushed off, maybe he is hurting.

But, we have to consider one more thing, namely Daisuke Matsuzaka. We need Dice-K in the ALCS, and he last pitched on Friday. Starting Dice-K in Game 1 would put him on 6 days rest, which is roughly the norm in Japan. Starting him in Game 2 extends that to 7 days rest, and Game 3 pushes him out to 9 days rest. That is simply too much; it is important to stay sharp. So, I think Dice-K has to pitch game 1 or 2.

There you have it. Josh Beckett and Dice-K are your Game 1 and Game 2 starters. Who goes first? I would guess Dice-K first and then Beckett. That serves two purposes. First, Beckett (who none of us believes is truly fine physically) gets the benefit of one extra day of rest. Second, Dice-K gets to start on 6 days rest, and not 7.

Now, you must be screaming, "what about Lester, the hero of the ALDS?". Don't worry, we've got that covered. Lester starts Game 3, in Boston. That works out quite well, with the only possible drawback being that he will be on 6 days rest. Lester has pitched a lot of innings this year, and I think that the extra rest would be good, he sure is not rusty. But there is more.

Jon Lester has had more success at home compared to on the road (11-1 at home with a 2.49 ERA compared to 5-5 with a 4.09 ERA on the road). So, starting him out at home is a good idea. Also, Lester is 3-0 against the Rays this year in 3 starts, and all three of those starts have come in Fenway Park. That's right, Lester has yet to pitch in Tampa Bay this year. That all should make you feel good about starting him at home in Game 3.

Finally, this allows Lester to be available to pitch in Game 6 on normal rest, or Game 7 on 5 days rest.

So, here is what I would do:

Game 1: Dice-K
Game 2: Beckett
Game 3: Lester
Game 4: Wakefield/Byrd

Game 4 I'd start Wakefield on a short leash. He has stymied the Rays in the past, and he's gotten beaten as well. Start him off, and see how his stuff looks. If he looks sharp, ride him, if not, send Byrd in before the roof collapses.

Now, what about Game 5, 6, and 7? You know, that completely depends on how things have turned out up to now. Is Beckett healthy with no issues? Is he pitching sharp? How about Dice-K? Also, what is the situation? Is the series even 2-2, or are we on the brink of elimination, or the brink of clinching? Is this an emergency or not? Because of all that, I'd wait until after Game 4 to write Game 5's starter in pen. But, for fun, let's say, hypothetically, that the series is even 2-2, and everyone is pitching well and healthy. Based on that, here's what we do...

Game 5: Beckett

Remember, the assumption is he's healthy and pitching well. That puts Beckett on normal rest, and hopefully gets the Sox a win and puts them up 3-2, on the brink of clinching. Now, if Beckett were hurting, this start would go to Dice-K.

But, Game 6 might depend on how Game 5 went. If the Sox won Game 5, pitch Dice-K in Game 6. Why? That puts Dice-K on 7 days rest, and if he is pitching well, he'll be strong and need the work. He also fared better this season on the road, and Game 6 would be in Tampa. Holding him until Game 7 would put him on 8 days rest - too much? Also, if Dice-K can win Game 6, the Sox clinch, and Lester is set up to pitch Game 1 of the World Series in Fenway. Gotta like that! If not, Lester is your guy on the mound in the final Game 7 showdown.

Now, if they lose Game 5 and are down 2-3 and on the brink of being eliminated, I might think differently, but maybe not. If Dice-K was very effective in Game 1, I might want to stick with the strategy, knowing I'd have Lester in Game 7. However, loser goes home, so you might put Lester in Game 6 on normal 4 days of rest to help ensure there will be a Game 7. Then, Game 7 has to go to Dice-K; you just roll the Dice! Of course, in Game 7, it would be all hands on deck, so if Dice-K gets in trouble, you bring in everybody you can.

So, you can see, beyond Game 4, you really have to wait and see how things have gone. Remember in 2004? Derek Lowe was not in the starting rotation, he was relegated to the bullpen for the playoffs. But, guess who started Game 7 of the ALCS? Yes, Derek Lowe. That wasn't the plan, but plans change as the series progresses.

So, a final recap:

Game 1: Dice-K
Game 2: Beckett
Game 3: Lester
Game 4: Wakefield/Byrd
Game 5: Beckett (if Beckett were hurting, it would be Dice-K)
Game 6: Lester (if this is a Sox elimination game) / Dice-K (if this is a Sox clinching game)
Game 7: Lester/Dice-K (depending who went in Game 6)

You can picture how this all changes if there is an injury. Then you are looking at Byrd or Wake taking one of those slots, like Lowe did in 2004.

More to come, including an introduction of a much loved Fenway character.


Peter N said...

Rooster, this was a great analysis! I like the way Tito has set it up, but in October, ANYTHING can happen, and probably will. Lester in game three makes SO much sense...he's almost unbeatable at Fenway. We'll see. I'm also rooting for LA to upset the Phillies...I love Joe Torre, and the "Manny reception" at the Fens will be one for the ages. First things first, though. BEAT TAMPA!
Thanks, Roost.

Rooster said...

Thanks Peter!

It would be fun to have the Dodgers in the WS. We have a lot more connections to them than to the Phillies.

Anything can happen, indeed! Key thing is putting your best shot at winning each game out there. No matter what, Tito has the opportunity to use his top 3 pitchers twice if it goes all 7.