To get a better gauge on the American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays, I decided to ask two hardcore, dedicated members of Bleacher Report what their thoughts were heading into the series. The following is a Q&A of 10 questions that should hopefully help you get a better idea of what to expect.
Red Sox Fan – RedSox Maniac
1- This series could easily hinge on Josh Beckett. What do you expect from
this big-time performer after his struggles in Game Three of the ALDS?
Maniac: There was a lot to take away from Beckett’s start; I think he still looked a little injury plagued. However, you can also look at other times he’s bounced back from long rest and injuries only to come up huge in big games.
I cannot say that Game Three of the ALDS foreshadows what he will do for the rest of the postseason. His fastball held up at around 91-93, he hit 95 only a couple of times, his location was spotty, and his lack of control led to four walks and two homers. I’m concerned about how he will come back after a very flat game.
He hasn’t pitched many innings this season and has confirmed no pain from the oblique injury.
Against the Rays this year, he is 2-1 with a 2.06 ERA and a .209 OBA. In his only loss against the Rays, he racked up 13 Ks and gave up only one earned run in seven innings. The Rays’ lineup has become more formidable as the season has progressed, and Beckett will have to muster up some quality innings.
I expect for him to come on stronger, but I do see bigger battles with a matured Rays lineup that has more confidence than earlier in the season.
2- Jason Bay has been huge for the Red Sox and really showed his value in
the ALDS. Are Red Sox fans over the Manny trade yet?
Maniac: I will never get over the Manny trade, but I thoroughly enjoyed being saved in this series by Jason Bay. His bat is quick—fastballs do not get by him—and he has picked up his team at the right time in nearly every game. With Pedroia’s struggles, Ortiz's lackluster series, and Lowell’s injury, I can happily call Jason Bay my savior.
As long as he stays off the breaking pitches and stays patient through his at-bats, look for him to keep producing at a Manny-esque pace. If the Rays are successful in keeping Drew and Youkilis off the basepaths, look for them to try Bay’s patience by pitching around him.
3- Big Papi, Jason Varitek, Youkilis, and Pedroia combined to go a putrid
12-for-66 (.181). This included a 1-for-17 performance from the probable A.L.
MVP Pedroia. Will these guys heat up in the ALCS?
Maniac: One thing that we all have to learn in the playoffs is that good pitching defeats good hitting. Lackey, Shields, Santana, and Saunders pitched amazing against the entire team, holding the Red Sox to around four runs per game (not to mention the two scored on the Kendrick/Hunter popup blunder).
The ALCS will present another starting rotation that has given the Red Sox
fits all year. Although Pedroia has hit well against the Rays, Ortiz and Youkilis have had
their struggles against Rays pitching. Due to the resurgence of Ellsbury and Kotsay, there will be more advantages to put pressure on these young pitchers and get some runs on the board.
Look for the ALDS performance from these four to be a distant memory.
Varitek! Boras is watching! Let’s get it together.
4- Mike Lowell did next to nothing in the ALDS and just didn’t look like his normal self. How does manager Terry Francona set his lineup in Game One of this series, and what role, if any, does Lowell play throughout?
Maniac: Mike Lowell has a hip injury that seems very severe. He won’t be playing in the ALCS, and it will be unlikely he will be healthy enough to play for the rest of the season.
5- Beckett, Lester, and Dice-K combined to go 6-1 against the Rays this
year. What can we expect from these guys in this series?
Maniac: Jon Lester amazes me every game. Not only does he keep dominating opposing hitters, but it seems as though his stuff is improving every time he takes the mound. In his most recent outing, his fastball was clocking in anywhere from 92-97 mph (which is rare for him to reach 97, let alone all game), and he tortured the Angels with his pin-point command.
His at-bat against Teixeira in the seventh inning only cemented his position as one of the top pitchers in baseball. Period.
In his last eight starts, he has given up one or no runs seven times! Expect him to lead this team all series, and expect him to dominate every game he pitches. Longoria, Crawford, Upton, and Pena don’t hit lefties real well, so their inability can be a huge plus for Lester’s game.
Their bats are potent, so he still can be hit hard if he makes enough mistakes. As for Beckett and Dice-K, if they can garner six good innings in their starts, the Red Sox should be in good shape to win this series.
The Red Sox hitting has been more erratic against good pitching and was pretty much saved in the ALDS by Jason Bay’s performances. The Rays, on the other hand, seem to be able to hit regardless of the pitcher or situation involved.
This type of clutch mentality, which can come from Jason Bartlett as well as Evan Longoria, makes it tough for Red Sox pitching to clamp down, and puts more pressure on our offense to score runs early. I have a prediction, but I’ll leave it until another day.
Tampa Bay Rays Community Leader – Devon Rogers
1- Upton and Longoria looked incredible in the ALDS, to what do you attribute these youngsters’ stellar performances in their first postseason experience?
DR: I think the veterans surrounding those two have been a huge factor in their success. In B.J.’s case, he has experience with major-league pitching and he has done well with it, producing a .300 average and 25 homers last year.
Part of his problem in the regular season was that he was playing with a torn labrum, which contributed to his lack of power. It looks like B.J. has found a way to hit well now, just in time.
Evan Longoria is really an enigma. He is only a rookie, but he looks like he has been in the league for 10 years. I expect them both to keep producing as the postseason rolls on thanks to the support from guys like Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske, and Joe Maddon, who have postseason experience. These guys will be able to help the young guys keep their emotions in check.
2- Manager Joe Maddon has experienced an ALCS and World Series with the Angels as a bench coach, but never as the manager. Going head-to-head against a seasoned Terry Francona, how does Maddon hold up?
DR: I think Maddon will hold up fine. Bench coaches have some of the same jobs as managers, just not on the same scale. The playoff experience with the Angels will help him out a lot when we get deeper into the postseason.
Maddon has a great group of coaches and players to help him through. He just needs to stick to his philosophies and remember all the quotes he’s put up in the clubhouse.
3- The Rays owned baseball’s best home record (57-24) this year. What factors contributed to this sterling mark, and what’s to be expected of fans at The Trop experiencing their first ALCS ever?
DR: The main factor in their home record has been the crowd. Being apart of the crowds at The Trop is amazing. In around the 30 games I have been to this year, I have yet to see a dull crowd. The noise from the cowbells has no place to go; it’s truly earsplitting.
I expect the crowds to be as pumped and loud as ever for the Rays during the ALCS. The Rays crowds can truly be called the 10th man. It makes opposing players lose focus.
4- In his last save opportunity against the Rays, Jonathan Papelbon surrendered two runs on three hits in an inning of work. Can the Rays really feel confident they can score off this guy in the ninth again?
DR: The Rays can definitely feel confident facing Papelbon now. Most of the team has experience against Pabelbon and know what he throws. The fact that that the Rays got to him last time should be a huge confidence boost for the batters. We just need to keep poking at him until he breaks like his last outing against us.
5- The Rays held a 10-8 record against the Red Sox this year in the regular season. Their inexperience didn’t seem to show, but do you think it might finally catch up to them on the biggest stage yet?
DR: Their experience hasn’t been a factor in the 166 games they’ve played so far, so it shouldn’t be a problem here. The Rays have played their share of big games this year, and it hasn’t seemed to phase them.
With the help of "Big Game" James Shields and "Mr. Clutch" Andy Sonnanstine, we should be able to prevail. We have been playing under scrutiny that we don’t draw enough fans, we will fade at the end, and we can’t make it in the playoffs. We’ve proved ourselves to some, but now we need to prove all the media (mostly the Red Sox and Yankee-biased ESPN) wrong.
There you have it, thoughts and opinions from two qualified Red Sox and Rays sources. With a Game One matchup scheduled for Friday, Oct. 10 in Tampa Bay, look for a heated, highly-contested series.
A special thank you to Devon Rogers and Red Sox Maniac for their contributions on this project.
Also, check out a 10 Question Q/A on the NLCS here.