For the first time in history due to last year's rule changes the Red Sox will face a divisional rival in the ALDS. The AL East champs will face the Tampa Bay Rays in the best of five beginning at Fenway Park tomorrow at 3:00. Here are a few random thoughts and a prediction for the series.
Starting Pitching- This is where everyone and anyone who thinks the Rays will win this series base their predictions. It is taken a a conventional baseball wisdom: the Rays pitching is better than any other team. But how much better than Boston's or is it better at all? No question that the prospect of facing Matt Moore and/or David Price three times in five games could be tough. But the Rays ERA for the year is 3.74, Boston's is 3.79. Quality Starts can sometime be a misleading stat, but the Red Sox lead Tampa Bay for the year by 95 to 80. This brings me to something I call Starting Pitching Differential. Moore and Price might be ( OK, probably are) better than Lester and Lackey, BUT More and Price have to face the Red Sox who led MLB in run differential with 197. Lester and Lackey ( and the other Sox starters) get to face the anemic Rays lineup. This is a much closer match than might be expected.
Evan Longoria- To me the assignment for the Sox is simple, do not let Longoria beat you. No one else in that lineup is the threat Longoria is. A couple of other decent hitters Zobrist, De Jesus ( maybe), and a post season Delmon Young can be concerning. Do not let Longoria burn you!
Home Field Advantage and Road Field Advantage, too- The Red Sox hold the home field advantage in this series and also had the best home record in the league at 53-28. The first game is very important for the Sox to maintain this edge. In addition, the Sox were 7-3 versus the Rays( who were 41-41 on the road) at Fenway. But besides dominating the Rays and everyone else at home, the Red Sox were also tied with the A's for the best road record as well, 44-37. And the Sox made three trips to the Trop this year and each time took two of three for a 6-3 record there in 2013.
Help Wanted- Only Experienced Need Apply- This must have been the ad Ben Cherington posted to the free agent world last winter. Not only did Ben bring in the tough, winning, team-centric players we have all come to love, but check out these post season resumes:
Mike Napoli - Nap has appeared in every postseason since 2007 except 2010. He has played 32 games with 110 Plate Appearances. His offensive line( HR-RBI-BA-OBP) is 5-19-.272-.373.
Shane Victorino- The Flyin' Hawaiian has appeared in every postseason since 2007 except last year. Shane has played 46 games with 198PA. His line is 6-30-.269-.338. He also is 8 for 9 in Stolen Base attempts.
Stephen Drew- He has appeared in two different postseasons, including last year. He has 12 games and 53 PA's with a line of 2-5-.320.358.
Other newcomers with postseason experience include Koji Uehara, who has appeared in each of the last two postseasons, Jonny Gomes also has two postseasons ( although to be fully truthful he is 0 for 7). Even David Ross had been on four clubs to play in October, although with only 8 plate appearances, Ross did hit a 2 run home run in last years. NL wild card game.
Add this to the lines of the returning core players:
Papi 66 games, 289 PA, 12-47-.283-.388
Pedroia 28 games, 132 PA 5-18-.252-.344
Ellsbury 22 games, 77 PA 0-11-.261-.316
And on the mound Clay Buchholz has one game started and Jake Peavy has two. But at the front of the rotation, Jon Lester and John Lackey have 22 games of post season experience combined with 18 starts. ( 6 starts for Lester and a dozen for Lackey.). Lester has an ERA of 2.57 and Lackey 3.12 inn those games.
This extensive post season experience along with the general grittiness of this team, which went through the year with no 4 games losing streaks ( and only two three games if you exclude one bad 12 day stretch in early May.) will bode well for here on in.
Prediction- The Sox in 4. After splitting at Fenway, the Sox take care of Cobb and Archer in the Trop to win.