Well well well. Baseball’s second season is finally here and now it’s time for the best teams to come to the forefront and emerge with one winner around Halloween to claim the World Series title. The defending World Series champions, Boston Red Sox are more than ready and prepared to defend their title. If it weren’t for a magical season from the Tampa Bay Rays, the Sox would be opening the playoffs at home rather than on the road. But if there is one opponent the Red Sox are confident in facing, it is the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Both times the Sox won the World Series, (2004 and 2007 in case you forgot) it was through the LAA.
However, in 2004, the entire staff was healthy, including a 20 game winner in Curt Schilling and a still very good Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe. The team in 2007 had a 20 game winner in Josh Beckett, the greatest post season pitcher of all time in Curt Schilling, and help from a good enough Daisuke Matsuzaka and Mr. Red Sox Tim Wakefield. This year’s staff, however is not off to the best starts. Ace Josh Beckett was scratched from his Game 1 ALDS start with a pulled oblique and as of now, is scheduled to start Game 3, which is more important than Game 1 because it is at his home mound and it could wind up being a very important game. Also, Beckett seems as though he never really got on track at all this year. After a dominating postseason last year, including a complete game shutout in Game 1 of the ALDS against none other than the Angels, Beckett was on the DL to start the year. He had a few Beckett like dominating starts but for the most part was like the 2006 Beckett than the Cy Young runner up 2007 Josh Beckett. Good thing for Beckett is he has about a week off before his start, and it is not his arm that is the problem. His 95+ MPH fastball should be more than good and his 2 seamer at 90-93 should lock up the inside corner. If his fastball is on, his curve will make people look silly and should make his start an easy W. Usually that is the Josh Beckett us Bostonians know. Beckett had a terrible two-month stretch in July and August where nothing went right. Both ERA’s for the month were closer to 6 than to 5. One thing in Beckett’s favor from this year is in his one start against the Angels this year, he pitched 8 innings while giving up 4 runs and 9 hits. HOWEVER, if you take away the 7th inning, he only gave up 5 hits and 0 runs. I can’t say this enough, if the Red Sox don’t have a 2007 Beckett in the postseason, it will be that much tougher to repeat.
A very good positive from this 2008 season was the emergence of young Jon Lester. The 24-year old in his first full season back from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, went 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA. We all knew Lester had potential, but not after his first year back from cancer. Lester is a strong, tall, and lean left-hander who throws around 92-93 with a cutter that tops out around 90. He had a rough start to the season with a 4.31 ERA after the season’s first month. But after that, Lester was unreal. If it weren’t for Cliff Lee, Lester would have been the best lefty in the AL. Some people, me included, even say that Lester is the best lefty in the AL and has the potential to one day pass that guy in the NL whose team just choked again for the second straight year. Oh yeah, Johan Santana. I digress, including Lester’s last stay in April until the end of the season; he was 15-4 with a 2.82 ERA, while probable Cy Young Winner, Cliff Lee, was only 18-3 with a 2.91 ERA. If it wasn’t for a crappy April, Lester might have had 20+ wins and be in the Cy Young Vote. Lester has had his issues on the road, with only a 5-5 record and a 4.09 ERA. He too had a rough start against the Angels this year. He only went 5 innings while giving up 9 hits, 4 runs and 4 ER. Also, giving up 2 HR’s, 2 BB, and only 1 K. That was one of a few bad outing by Lester. He should be in prime form for Game 1 of the ALDS and this is the best choice for the Sox. He has been the Ace this year, he will be well rested, and he was pitcher of the month for September going 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA. As long as Lester KISS (keeps it simple stupid) like he has all year, he will be golden. He is the one certain the Sox have on the staff not named Papelbon.
Alas, the other talented youngster on the Sox staff. Daisuke Matsuzaka had a good year, record wise that is. Winning a career high 18 games while only losing 3. His ERA was also was very impressive at 2.90 which was in the top 5 in the AL. However, that ERA is misleading. As talented as Dice-K is, he has awful command. His strikeouts are very good, almost a strikeout per inning, but his walks are way to high. His WHIP of 1.32 only looks good because he doesn’t give up any hits. In about 168 innings pitched this year, he only gave up 125 hits. That is really good but the walk total is scary. Since the walk total is so scary, he throws a lot of extra pitches. Thus, leading to quick outings. He only went 6 or more innings in 15 of his 29 starts. So if you really think about it, those 18 wins should be more credited to the Sox bullpen and the Sox offense for giving him such good pitching and good run support. Don’t get me wrong, Dice-K is a very good pitcher and someone the Sox really need to step up, especially with Beckett an iffy, but in order for him to become an elite pitcher in the AL, the walks have to come down. He has very dominating stuff and could even win 25 games with how good his stuff is. The weird thing is, as baserunners get on, he is better, record wise, if that makes sense? Dice-K was 7-2 in 12 starts with less than 2 walks, while being 11-1 with more than 2 walks. I can’t figure that out. With the bases empty, his ERA is 0.95. With runners in scoring position it is 7.77 and with 2 outs with runners in scoring position it is an awful 16.11. How does he do it? Either way he is pitching Game 2 of the ALDS. Which is very good because this year he is 9-0 with a 2.37 ERA. This guy has some ugly stats, but somehow puts zeros on the board and gets “W”. That is what the Sox need, especially from Dice-K.
Lester is a sure thing and even an OK Beckett is still better than the Angels. If Dice-K does his job, the Sox should win this in 4. After those three though, who knows what the Sox got….