As the Sox look forward to the first round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, there are a few things that we DO know:
1) According to the NY Daily News, the Red Sox and Angels will play in ALDS Series B, meaning they’ll play on Thursday and Friday nights in Los Angeles at 9:37 PM EST, followed by games here in Boston on Sunday and Monday…the fifth game in LA will be played on Wednesday, if necessary. No surprise here.
2) A pair of backs will keep two key contributors from the ‘09 season off the ALDS roster. Both Nick Green and Tim Wakefield are doing better in their recovery from back woes, but neither is prepared to play and, thus, will be off the ALDS roster. Whether they will be available for the ALCS, assuming the Sox make it to the second round remains to be seen.
3) The ALDS rotation will be Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka. While Francona has not absolutely committed to Dice-K in Game Four, leaving open the possibility he could call on Lester to pitch on Monday at Fenway park, it doesn’t seem likely they would bring back Lester on three days rest after a pair of cross-country flights inside of a week. For all of his struggles throughout the season, the one thing we know for sure about Matsuzaka is he is fresh—he pitched only 59 1/3 innings in the major leagues all year. Since returning to the rotation in mid-September, he has compiled a 3-1 record, with a 2.22 ERA.
There are also a couple of things we DON’T know:
A) Can Jed Lowrie provide meaningful innings in case of an injury at shortstop or third base? According to Green, he’s doing better but he’s not ready to play—thus Lowrie’s health becomes more critical. I’m sorry, but I really don’t want Chris Woodward in the lineup against a Triple-A pitcher, let alone one of the members of the Angels pitching staff.
B) Will the Sox go with 10 or 11 pitchers in the shortened Division Series? Green’s status means the Sox may have to carry both Lowrie and Woodward (in case Lowrie can’t play on back-to-back days). The odd man out may be Manny Delcarmen. Of course, the J-P native surrendered runs in six of his final ten outings and finished September with a 14.14 ERA for the month…so it’s not like Tito would have much faith in him in the post-season. Still, it would be nice to have that extra arm in case a starter needs to be pulled early.
With all of that in mind, here is your likely 2009 ALDS Red Sox roster:
Starting pitchers: Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka
Lester has had a fantastic season, but after him the rotation is an unknown quantity. Beckett won 17 games, but was not the pitcher he has been in past seasons. After that horrific stretch in late August in September—when he surrendered 14 HR in a five-game span—he came back to provide five solid outings; but, the truth is that none of those final five outings was spectacular. He has typically been spectacular in the post-season. Buchholz had a brilliant stretch of outings from early-August through late-September, but his last two outings were brutal. Matsuzaka is strong physically (he has only pitched 59.1 innings this season) and could be primed for a huge post-season—one that will make all of Red Sox Nation forget about April-August.
Relievers: Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima, Jonathan Papelbon, Ramon Ramirez, Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner
The keys here will be Bard and Wagner. Bard was cuffed around a little bit towards the end of the season…in both August and September, he had stretches where he was hit hard. Additionally, his strikeout rate was down considerably after September 1st. But we all know what he can do when he's on.
Designated Hitter: Big Papi
In May, eighty percent of Red Sox Nation was complaining that the big fella needed to be replaced. A staunch few supporters—myself included—decried such a notion as heretical.
LOTS of ballplayers have gone through slumps, but that doesn’t mean you cast them aside. Papi had his eyesight checked and got new eye drops. The Red Sox front office stuck with its slugger and he rewarded us all with four outstanding months.
Long live the Papi!
Catchers: Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek
The acquisition of Martinez was crucial to the revival of the offense. I am CONVINCED he was Plan D (after Halladay, King Felix and Adrian Gonzalez) and settled upon only as a fallback option. But it is often said that sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.
Theo & Company held firm on not trading the farm for Roy-Boy or A-Gon… instead they acquired V-Mart and another A-Gon (SS Alex) and awaited the return of Dice-K. In the process, they fixed the offense, improved the defense, and may have found a critical component to the post-season rotation on their own roster. While the final results of those maneuvers are yet to be revealed, the Sox are one of the last eight standing…and anything can happen in October.
Plus, they are in a position where they still have the horses to trade for a big arm in the off-season (where the cost of acquisition will be MUCH lower).
Infielders: Alex Gonzalez, Casey Kotchman, Mike Lowell, Jed Lowrie, Dustin Pedroia, Chris Woodward and Kevin Youkilis.
I don’t care about all the attention the Yankees infield gets from the national media, the fact of the matter is that ALL of their stats are inflated because they played 81 games in the New Yankee Softball Field. Jeter aside, NONE of them are a proven commodity in the post-season. For all of his regular season offensive prowess, A-Rod has been a consummate choke artist in the post-season...and no one knows how their new first baseman will perform in the bright lights of NYC on the big stage of the post-season.
I’ll take the Red Sox infield over any other playoff infield—in a heartbeat. Youkilis has been a monster in the post-season. Lowell has been a series MVP (a WORLD Series MVP, at that!). Pedroia has proven to be Mr. Clutch in the playoffs. And even A-Gon has hit a walk-off homer in the World Series.
And the acquisition of Gonzalez immediately turned things around (defensively) in the infield.
Lots of players put up outstanding numbers in the regular season…few have proven they can do it when it REALLY counts. The Sox have three guys in their infield who have done it consistently. ‘Nuff said.
Outfielders: Rocco Baldelli, Jason Bay, J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury and Joey Gathright
A nice mix of power and speed, not to mention some clutch performances (has anyone forgotten Drew’s first-inning grand slam in Game 6 of the ‘07 ALCS that proved to be the beginning of the end for the Cleveland Indians?)
I still say the Sox made an expensive mistake not signing J-Bay last off-season, but the truth is he has had an outstanding season and has added to the size of his next contract...with a big post-season, he has the chance to add an extra year or two to the length of it.
Bring on The Halos. I LIVE FOR THIS!!!