Remember this? I'm betting that we see some fireworks in this series - let's not forget that these two teams hate each other. Emotions are already going to be running high because it's playoff time. If someone gets hit, well, watch out. I can totally see Coco now, throwing haymakers, tossing up gang signs and shouting out THUG LIFE! just before Dioner Navarro knocks him into next week.
Onto the 2nd part of the ALCS preview. Hope everyone enjoyed part 1 - the pitching section is going to be a bit expanded here with four starters going in this series as opposed to three. Let's get it.
Kevin Cash, David Ross, Sean Casey,
You'll probably be seeing Kotsay and Gabe Disgusting in the lineup more often than on the bench, rotating with Cora and Baldelli respectively. And I must ask...WHAT ABOUT THE HINSKE DRAMA? He comes back after being abandoned by his team, replaced with a younger, whiter player. Will he be greeted by his teammates? Booed by the faithful? I think this is potentially the biggest former-Sox-player matchup that Boston could face in the playoffs....
Well, I see the benches as about even, although if Willy Aybar can throw a hissy fit like Erick Aybar, well then that changes everything.
STARTERS - GAME 1
Daisuke Matsuzaka vs. James Shields
Who else is nervous about Dice-BB in this series? He of the 2.20 WHIP and .348 BAA in his start against the Angels. I know, I know...small sample size, but isn't that what we've come to expect from Daisuke anyway? If it's any consolation, he is 1-0 in three starts against the Rays this year with a .228 BAA and a 1.60 WHIP (which includes 11 walks in 17 innings). Like in most situations, his numbers are better on the road, where his WHIP is a more respectable 1.20. Meanwhile, Mr. Shields is, shall we say, NASTY. Not only did he handle the White Sox pretty easily (less one bad pitch - three-run homer), but his numbers against the Sox of Red this year are pretty scary. He's 2-0 against them at the Trop this year, with a nifty complete-game shutout mixed in. He misses bats better than he misses haymakers to Coco's dome.
STARTERS - GAME 2
Josh Beckett vs. Scott Kazmir
The last time I remember Scott Kazmir pitching against the Sox, he was walking dudes and giving up homers and throwing 9 straight balls and walking dudes and sucking and walking dudes. And as I recall, that was a pretty important game for the Rays. I don't know if this means anything, but it certainly gives me confidence going into this showdown. The Kaz-manian Devil does have some pretty solid numbers at home though, posting a 1.29 WHIP and a .197 BAA. Meanwhile...Josh Beckett. What can I say? His last outing vs the Angels blew harder than some people might remember. So what can we expect? Well, as long as he can healthy, I think we'll see the playoff Josh Beckett show up for Game 2. His numbers against the Rays this year have been absolutely SICK. He's holding down a 0.91 WHIP and a .209 BAA against them this year, including a 0.60 WHIP and a .137 BAA (!!!!) at the Trop. I'm hoping with regular rest, the Beckett of old will be back in the saddle again. If not, it's totally up in the air.
Edge: RED SOX
STARTERS - GAME 3
Jon Lester vs. Matt Garza
Did you guys hear? Jon Lester beat cancer! Look, in all seriousness, this guy is a straight up ace. 14 innings, 1 run in his first two postseason starts so far? I know Garza has been pretty good this year, but come on. Not even Sh!tShow is dumb enough to bet against Jon Lester right now.
Edge: RED SOX
STARTERS - GAME 4
Tim Wakefield vs. Andy Sonnanstine
Projecting a Tim Wakefield start is like trying to predict the weather. I mean, not even he knows where is pitch is going to go when he throws it. So how can one ever have high expectations for him? Oh, also, he's 0-2 with a 5.87 ERA, a 1.63 WHIP, and a .279 BAA against the Rays this year. In other words, terrible. I know some Hysterics and other Sox fans are probably going to rip on me for this, but I could really do without Wakefield on this team. He's bad for my blood pressure. At least I know what I'm going to get from virtually every other pitcher on this team. With Timmeh, it could be 8 innings 2 runs, or it could easily be 2 innings 8 runs. But here's one thing I can tell you for sure: Sonnanstine is 2-0 vs. the Sox this year, he has pitched 13 innings and not allowed a run, and he's holding down a 0.69 WHIP and a .152 BAA. Thank God he's only starting one game.
Jonathan Papelbon vs. Dan Wheeler
Is Dan Wheeler even the Rays closer anymore? Or is it still Percival? I have no idea, everywhere I read I get conflicting reports. I can tell you this for certain though...DAN WHEELER IS FROM RHODE ISLAND! If the Rays win, I want to see Baldelli and Wheeler spraying each other with coffee milk. That will ease the sting of a loss a little. In the meantime, yeah, Papelbon is better.
Edge: RED SOX
Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson, Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin, Javier Lopez and Paul Byrd vs. Grant Balfour, Chad Bradford, J.P. Howell, Trever Miller and David Price
The Rays bullpen, outside of their closer question mark, is actually pretty nasty. Balfour is an insanely intense guy on the mound, and David Price is a big-time wild card. Look for him in the rotation next year, guy is a stud. A diaper dandy, baby! Meanwhile, the Sox bullpen was up-and-down in the first series - they had moments of awesomeness, but also moments of oh-shit-ness. As a side note, Dick Vitale is a huge Tampa Bay fan. I'm takin' the Rays, baby!
Terry Francona vs. Joe Maddon
Let me just say that I have a ton of respect for Joe Maddon. Talk about a guy that has been instrumental in turning this franchise around - with the help of some better players, of course. I loves me some Tito, but Maddon is right there with him. Unanimous Manager of the Year, methinks.
(image courtesy of The Ejected Fan)
This is closer than you may think - the Rays did hit more home runs than the Sox this year, but Boston held the edge in OBP, SLG, and of course OPS. The issue of course now is injuries. How much will Lowell's loss hurt the Sox? How much better are the Rays now with a healthy Longoria and a healthy Crawford? I don't know, something about the Sox lineup doesn't scare me the way last year's did, and if I were a Rays fan, I'd be feeling pretty good about it.
Let's face it - this series is going to come down to pitching. Will the playoff Josh Beckett show up? Will the Sox be able to rock Kazmir the way they did in September? Will Daisuke set new base-on-balls records? The rotation top-to-bottom seems pretty even on paper, while the Rays have an overall bullpen edge. But the Rays also do not have Papelbon, or anyone like him. Right now, this looks like anyone's ballgame.
I'm going to save my final predictions for tomorrow, where we'll hopefully have some other Hysterics chiming in! What say you?