After beating the Angels, the Red Sox have established that they are certainly capable of beating any team in the postseason. Now they face the Tampa Bay Rays, the team that devastated the Red Sox in three-straight series’ after the All-Star break, keeping them in second place in the A.L. East. If the Sox want to take the ALCS, they are going to have to pull out all the stops.
Pitching will be HUGE in the ALCS. Jon Lester has been dominant this season, and Daisuke has done more that enough to make up for his sleeper debut season in ’07, but let's face it: Josh Beckett will not be the playoff monster he's been in the past. Unless he pulls a “bloody sock,” he will be hittable in Game Two.
In contrast, the Rays seem to have no holes at all. Kazmir, Shields, Garza, and Sonnanstine provide a solid rotation. The Rays’ numbers weren’t perfect against the Sox this season, but they certainly produced wins. It's not a matter of talent but of depth. Each man in the rotation has an ERA under 4.0, excluding Sonnanstine’s 4.38 ERA. These starters are capable of eating up a lot of innings.
Then there’s that bullpen. If it weren’t for guys like Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell, and Chad Bradford, Tampa might have sunk with Troy Percival’s back injury. Their performance has been crucial to Tampa’s season.
Boston still has a lot going for them. Epstein hit it big when he picked up Mark Kotsay. His numbers at the plate have been subpar, but his versatility as a fielder has had a tremendous impact. He’s shown great athleticism at first, allowing Gold-Glover Youkilis to handle third base in Mike Lowell’s absence. If J.D. Drew continues to be healthy in right field, the Sox will continue to be solid defensively.
Speaking of Drew, he sure made up for the flak he took from the press while he sat on the bench all September. His ninth inning homer in Game Two made sure that Frankie Rodriquez wouldn’t be dancing on any mound this October. Drew, Bay, Ellsbury, Lowrie, and Pedroia have all had big hits this postseason. They will need to be consistent in the upcoming series if they plan to succeed.
The Rays can put up runs, too. They didn’t have a problem with it this season against Boston, and judging by their performance against Chicago, the postseason hasn’t changed that. “Offensively, they have gotten contributions from everybody,” said Terry Francona in a press conference on Wednesday. “They have a good thing going. Our job will be to derail that.”
Derailing the Rays will be easier said than done. If there is one team that can send the Red Sox home early, it’s Tampa Bay. Whatever the Sox put out on the field, the Rays can match it. They have a lot of heart and a talented, confident manager in Joe Maddon. On top of all this, the Trop is no longer a home away from home for the Red Sox. Tampa is a hard place to win at on the road.
The Sox have heart too, though. With Jon Lester as their ace—and he most certainly is their ace this October—the Red Sox ride a huge wave of momentum into Tampa Bay Friday night.
I said it already: There is no team in baseball that the Sox can’t beat.