Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Playoffs Kickoff Today! WWRD?

WWRD (What Would Rooster Do)? Okay, this series is going to be tough. The Angels are the top team in the American, which is hard to argue given their 100-62 record. The addition of Mark Teixeira to the lineup has given them more offense, but they are still a team that likes to be aggressive on the base paths and put pressure on opposing defenses with frequent displays of small ball. Their pitching across the board, and been very good, particularly in the bullpen. So, where do we go from here?

Okay, first of all, the Sox do not want to let the Angels take control of the game with small ball. To do that, they need to keep the Angels off the bases. Jon Lester is an excellent option for the first game. Being a lefty, he can also keep a sharper eye on runners at first base. So, I think the strategy to focus on is defense. The Sox need to give Lester all the support they can. Mike Lowell is the Red Sox' best option at third base, but he is still hobbled. Unless the medical staff indicates he is near 100%, I'd sit Mike and reserve him for pinch hitting duty. We all saw Lowell come up lame when he had to field a slow grounder barehanded and make the quick throw to first. The Angels saw that too. They know he is vulnerable to a bunt. We do not want to open that door for them, nor do we want Lowell to re-aggravate the injury on the first inning of the first game.

Instead, play Jed Lowrie at third, with Alex Cora at shortstop. That is their best defense on the left side of the infield right now. That also allows Kevin Youkilis to play first, where he is having a gold glove caliber year. First base will be important, and Sean Casey and Mark Kotsay are only adequate backups there. Of course, Dustin Pedroia and Jason Varitek round out the infield.

The question in the outfield is JD Drew. Drew claims he is 100% ready. The Sox definitely need some power in the batting order, and Drew is a very good outfielder, so I'd be inclined to use him in right. The only worry I have for Drew is his lack of playing time this September causing his timing to not be sharp yet. I am encouraged that he got two tune up games in before the season ended, but he did nothing special in those games. It is a bit of a chance, but we've seen the impact his bat can have in the post season.

So, obviously Jason Bay plays left field. Who is in center? That's easy, Jacoby Ellsbury. Coco Crisp went on a tear in early September, but has cooled off since then. From September 9th until the end of the season, Crisp only had 8 hits, batting .210 with 3 doubles, but no triples or home runs, and he also had no stolen bases. Contrast that with Ellsbury who ended the season with a 16 game hitting streak going back to September 10th. In that time, Ellsbury had 28 hits batting .389 with 2 home runs, 1 triple, 7 doubles, and 5 stolen bases. They are reasonably close defensively, so clearly the nod goes to Ellsbury.

Then, you manage the game situations. Crisp is now available to pinch run in late game situations, or to take over for Drew if Drew's back flares up. Sean Casey and Mark Kotsay are available to pinch hit in late innings with the game on the line, as well as Mike Lowell. If we are ahead in the game, keep the solid defense all the way. If we are tied or trailing, try firing those bigger guns to get the late inning lead.

Lastly, what about John Lackey, the Angels starter? I just can't get to worried about that somehow. Lackey has had a good year, but not a great year. This season he went 12-5 with a 3.75 ERA. That is good, but last year he had a 19-9 record with a 3.01 record. That is better. Last year the Sox rolled over Lackey in the playoffs. But, this year Lackey beat Boston twice in two starts. At home he went 7 innings and gave up 3 runs, and in Boston he went 9 innings giving up only 2 late game runs. And yet, in his last regular season start, he got destroyed by Texas giving up 10 earned runs in less than 3 innings.

So, which Lackey are we going to see? Who knows. But, I would be surprised if the Sox do not get to Lackey at least by the 6th inning. But, if you are concerned about Lackey, I'll support your concern with this tidbit. In 2008, only three Red Sox batters have gotten a hit off of Lackey, and one of those three is Manny Ramirez (who went 2 for 5). That's right. Dustin Pedroia is 3 for 6, and Kevin Youkilis is 2 for 7. No other Red Sox batter has a single hit against Lackey in 2008. Granted, Jason Bay, Jed Lowrie, and Coco Crisp have yet to face Lackey this year, so perhaps there is a surprise coming from one of them?

So, you are armed and ready. Nothing left for us to do but watch, cheer, and be fascinated by the unfolding events. The Red Sox have historically been part of some incredibly exciting and memorable playoff moments. The 1975 World Series. The 1986 comeback against the Angels in the ALCS, and the dramatic World Series loss to the Mets. The 1999 ALDS battle with Cleveland, the 2003 dramatic loss to the Yankees, and the 2004 incredible comeback for revenge. Even last year, we watched as the Sox, behind Josh Beckett, erased a 3-1 game deficit to the Indians to go on to win a second 21st century World Series. I don't necessarily expect another World Series this year, but I do expect some excitement.

Let the games begin!


Matt said...

I really hate the small ball crap that the Angels always do, I drives me crazy to watch, especailly when the Sox have trouble at the plate. A three run first for the Sox would be most helpful for my viewing pleasure.

Rooster said...

I am with you. I enjoyed it last year when the Sox jumped out ahead, and also kept LA off the bases, forcing them away from their small ball strategy. I don't mind them having the strategy, but I love seeing the strategy get defeated.

Late night tonight (for us east coasters).

Suldog said...

The Angels are the one team I fear. I honestly think they'll beat us this year. I'm rooting for the opposite, of course, but I have fear. Yes, I do.

Rooster said...

You just never know in the playoffs, but this year's Sox are not the obvious powerhouse that they were last year. They are certainly vulnerable to losing to the Angels this year, but you never know!