It’s all about the pitching

Jonathan Papelbon“Momentum is always as strong as your starting pitcher is the next day.”
– Joe Maddon

Leave it to the well-read Rays manger to come up with such a profound statement. Chances are this saying is nailed up in his teams’ clubhouse alongside others from the likes of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Maddon’s right, and he’s used this pitching-first philosophy to propel his team into the ALCS.

If there’s one quality that ties each of the remaining four teams together, it’s that each of them can hit. They each have at least two big bats, lead-off men that can hit for average, and a bottom of the order that can consistently do some damage. When teams are this evenly matched at the plate, it’s often a single blunder on the part of a pitcher that can decide a game. As we’ve seen in the Division Series between the Angels and Red Sox, it comes down to the pitching. Both teams boasted fabulous rotations and excellent hitting, but it was the Red Sox middle relief and closer that really won the games.

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Angels finally figure out Red Sox in postseason

It took the L.A. Angels 11 tries, but they finally beat the Boston Red Sox in the postseason. The Halos pushed a Game 4 and staved off elimination in the ALDS by beating the BoSox 5-4 in 12 innings on Sunday night.

Among several observations he made in the 12-inning affair, Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe notes that Josh Beckett is hittable in the postseason after all.

Josh BeckettOne of the evening’s big revelations was that Josh Beckett is not always going to be Superman in the postseason. The Sox starter’s mortality was evident from the first pitch of the game, which Chone Figgins ripped for a ground-rule double down the right-field line.

That was the beginning of a rocky five-inning stint in which Beckett was reached for nine hits and four earned runs while twice being taken deep by Angels catcher Mike Napoli (the first caroming off the light tower nearest the left-field foul pole and landing on Lansdowne Street). In addition, Beckett walked four, which doubled his entire 2007 postseason total.

He was never really comfortable, holding the ball for endless stretches between pitches, as if telling the world he really had little interest in throwing it. Catcher Jason Varitek added to the tedium with several visits to the mound, and thus it was still the fourth inning two hours into the game.

Beckett deserves credit for gutting it out knowing his team needs him. He wasn’t at his best Sunday night, but he’s hobbled and despite not showing it in the previous two games, the Angels have a great lineup. Boston will just have to tip their hats to L.A. and get ready to try and clinch again.

Red Sox own Angels in postseason Vol. II

As Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe writes, if it’s Red Sox-Angels in the postseason, the BoSox are going to win.

The Angels lost to their Boston Daddies at home again last night. This time it was Red Sox 7, Halos 5, in what was easily the best game of the postseason anywhere yet this year. J.D. Drew won it for the Sox with a ninth-inning, two-run homer off Francisco Rodriguez while most of New England slept (the game ended at 1:28 a.m. EDT).

The best-of-five series moves to Fenway tomorrow, and the Sox should be drenched in champagne well before midnight. There might even be a closer with a cardboard box on his head step-dancing on the Fenway lawn. Make sure the bases are bolted down.

Regarding Red Sox vs. Angels, we have moved well past the arena of standard athletic competition. We have wandered into Rod Serling’s space “between the pit of a man’s fear and the summit of his knowledge.”

Hmm. Boston columnist used to write about how the Red Sox would blow games, even if things were going the team’s way. Now they’re writing about how wins are already a given. How the times have changed.

Top 5 Hitters and Top 5 Pitchers in Division Series Play

It’s Division Series time in baseball, and for me it’s one of the most exciting times of the sports calendar, especially if the games go 4-5 games and into the weekend. And though division series play only began in 1995, there have been some great performances in history. Here is a list of the Top 5 in batting average and starting pitching ERA over the course of ALDS and NLDS games since 1995:

Batting Average

1. Cal Ripken (.441)—Ripken’s Orioles played in two ALDS, 1996 against Cleveland and 1997 against Seattle. He had zero homers and three RBI, but was a combined 15 for 34 in those series with five doubles. He’s known for being an iron man, but this dude could sure hit the ball.

2. Mark DeRosa—His 4 for 8 performance so far in the NLDS with the Cubs has let DeRosa creep up into this spot. But before this year and last year’s Cubbies, he was also hitting well for the Braves in two NLDS—in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

3. Fernando Vina (.404)—Fernando Vina hit .404 over the course of three NLDS with the Cardinals—2000 through 2002. He went 19 for 47 with 2 home runs and 6 runs batted in, but then had a .261 average in NLCS games.

4. Mike Stanley (.400)—Mike Stanley was a journeyman who hit .270 during his regular season career and .356 in the postseason with the Yankees and Red Sox. In four ALDS, Stanley hit .400 with three doubles, a triple, a homer and six RBI.

5. A.J. Pierzynski (.390)—He went 2 for 3 yesterday for the White Sox, lifting Pierzynski into the number 5 position on this list. He has also played in two ALDS with the Twins, as well as with the Sox team that won it all in 2005.

Starting Pitching ERA

1. Curt Schilling (0.93)—Schilling has started five division series games in his career, three with Arizona and two with Boston. Bloody sock or not, Schilling is a gamer who cranks it up a notch when it matters most. In addition to the ERA, Schilling is 4-0 with 33 strikeouts and just 6 walks in division series play.

2. Kevin Brown (0.98)—Kevin Brown was always a great pitcher, but he’s another guy who had a second gear in the playoffs. Brown pitched in three division series for three different teams—Florida (1997), San Diego (1998) and the Yankees (2004). He has a 2-0 record with 27 strikeouts in four starts.

3. Todd Stottlemyre (1.69)—Stottlemyre also pitched in three division series with three different teams—St. Louis in 1996, Texas in 1998 and Arizona in 1999. He went 2-1 in three starts with 21 strikeouts in 21 innings.

4. Orlando Hernandez (1.78)—“El Duque” pitched in five ALDS, four with the Yankees and one with the White Sox. Another pitcher who is money in the playoffs, El Duque has gone 3-1 with 25 strikeouts in division series play.

5. Kerry Wood (1.85)—Though he is a closer now and pitched only in relief in last year’s NLDS, Kerry Wood was a starter in his two other NLDS with the Cubs—1998 and 2003. And overall, he is 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 24 innings of work.

Source: Baseball Reference

Rays proving experience doesn’t mean everything in postseason

Tampa Bay RaysSome will be quick to point out that perhaps the most dangerous team in the American League this postseason is the Boston Red Sox – and with good reason given their playoff experience throughout the years. They’ve not only been here before, but they’ve also won.

But as the Tampa Bay Rays have proved so far, experience isn’t everything.

The Rays are the seventh youngest team in MLB, with an average age of 27.5. Before this season, they had never won their division, never reached the postseason and had never won a playoff game. Yet after their 6-2 win over the Chicago White Sox on Friday night, Tampa sits just one win away from reaching the ALCS.

It’s hard to downplay experience in the postseason and if the Red Sox go on to beat the Angels (arguably the most talented team in the AL this year) in their best of five series, they’ll once again provide an example of how important it is to have a veteran roster.

But the Rays have built a 2-0 lead in the ALDS despite most of their roster never appearing in a postseason game. And it’s because they not only believe that they can compete with anyone, but they’re also playing complete baseball. They can hit (see Evan Longoria’s 2 HRs in Game 1), they can pitch (see Grant Balfour’s excellent relief appearances in the series), they can run (see their three total stolen bases) and they can play defense (see zero errors). The veteran Sox, on the other hand, have shown to be one-dimensional and now are on the brink of elimination.

So it’ll be interesting to see if the Rays’ youth eventually catches up with them this postseason. Because of right now, experience isn’t holding this club back one bit.

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