ALDS Playoffs Preview and Predictions – Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Games, History, Management, Players, Playoffs

Boston Red Sox (97-65) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (92-71)

Keys for the Red Sox: Score a lot of runs; don’t rely on their starting pitching; get the Rays’ starters pitch counts up and get into the bullpen; don’t let Farrell’s mistakes burn them.

The Red Sox led the American League in on-base percentage and runs scored. Much has been made of their “top-to-bottom” lineup, but a lot of their success was based on circumstance. Yes, they have guys who hit the ball out of the park and work the count in David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino. Yes, they have grinders and fiery players like Dustin Pedroia, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp. Yes, Jarrod Saltalamacchia had a big power year.

That said, the Red Sox took great advantage of teams with bad pitching. When they ran into teams with good pitching – teams that weren’t going to walk them and give up homers – they had trouble. The Rays aren’t going to walk them and give up homers.

The Red Sox starting pitching has been serviceable, but not superior. They have a starting rotation of a lot of impressive names who have also benefited from the Red Sox run-scoring lineup and solid defense.

The Rays’ starters have a tendency to run up high pitch counts. Manager Joe Maddon showed that he was willing to push his starters in the post-season with David Price’s complete game in the wild card tiebreaker. The Rays bullpen has been shaky and I certainly don’t trust Fernando Rodney. If the Red Sox can have a lead or keep the game close late, they’ll score on the Rays’ bullpen.

Farrell deserves immense credit for the Red Sox turnaround. It can’t be forgotten, though, that everything worked out right for them this year. Farrell still has his strategic missteps and in the post-season, they’re magnified.

Keys for the Rays: Get depth from their starters; keep the Red Sox off the bases and in the park; rely on Evan Longoria.

Maddon is deft at handling his bullpen, but it’s always better to not have to put the game in the hands of Rodney, Joel Peralta and the rest of the mix-and-match crew he has out there. Price pitched a complete game dancing through the proverbial raindrops against the Rangers. Matt Moore racks up high pitch counts by the middle-innings. Maddon will push them, but he won’t abuse them. If he has to remove them, then a bullpen-based game is to his disadvantage.

The Red Sox look for walks and pitches they can hit out of the park. If you don’t walk them and get the breaking ball over, they’re not going to be able to hit their homers with runners on base.

Longoria lives for the spotlight. He wants people to be talking about him on social media and over coffee the next morning. If he hits and the Rays pitch, they’re tough to beat.

What will happen:

As incredible as Koji Uehara has been as the Red Sox closer, his longball tendency concerns me. He’s never faced this kind of pressure before and all the strikeouts in the world aren’t going to help him if the home run ball bites him at an inopportune moment.

I don’t trust the Red Sox bullpen; I don’t trust their starting pitchers; and I don’t think they’re going to hit with the authority they did during the regular season, nor are they going to have the runners on base to put up crooked numbers.

The Rays are playing with a freewheeling abandon that comes from the top. Maddon is a superior strategic manager to Farrell and has greater experience in post-season games. Farrell will make a game-costing gaffe at some point in this series.

There’s a strange love-fest going on with the Red Sox outside their fanbase and I’m not sure why. There’s an idea that because they had a collapse in 2011 and a rotten year in 2012, that they’ve “earned” this season and it’s going to end in a championship.

The playoffs have a tendency to provide an electroshock rude awakening. Sort of like a sting from a ray.

PREDICTION: RAYS IN FIVE




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The Truth About The Yankees’ Home Runs

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The simple stupidity of the Yankees being criticized for relying on the home run ball speaks for itself. Are they supposed to stop trying to hit home runs to prove they can win without it? What’s the difference how they score their runs? Are they sacrificing other aspects of their game chasing homers?

The answer to the above questions is no.

They have players who hit a lot of home runs. If they lose games in which they haven’t homered, it’s a safe bet that they ran into a pretty good pitcher.

The out-of-context stat argument is more complicated. Picking and choosing a convenient stat to bolster an argument is not the true intent of using statistics to begin with. They’re designed to promote a factual understanding and not to fool readers into seeing things the way the writer wants.

Is it a bad thing that the Yankees score via the home run? No.

Is it indicative that they’ll continue that trend once the playoffs start and do they need to be prepared to find other ways to score runs when they’re in games against better teams with better pitchers? They’ll hit their homers, but it won’t be like it is now.

The truly important factor to examine isn’t whether or not they’re hitting home runs, but who they’re hitting the home runs against.

During the regular season there aren’t the top-tier pitchers they’re going to face in the playoffs. The better the pitcher is, the better his stuff is; the better his command is; the better his control is. He’s not going to make the same mistakes as the mediocre and worse pitchers they’re fattening up their power numbers against.

I looked at all the pitchers the Yankees have homered against this season.

The list follows:

Russell Martin: Clay Buchholz, Justin Verlander, Jose Mijares, Homer Bailey, James Shields, J.P. Howell, Jonathon Niese, Jon Rauch

Mark Teixeira: Anthony Swarzak, Felix Doubront, Matt Albers, Bruce Chen, Luis Ayala, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Graham Godfrey, Hisanori Takahashi, Alex Cobb, Dillon Gee, Mike Minor

Robinson Cano: Jason Marquis, Luke Hochevar (2), David Price, Bronson Arroyo, Tyson Ross, Bartolo Colon, Ervin Santana, Alex Cobb, Johan Santana (2), Tom Gorzelanny, Anthony Varvaro, Tommy Hanson, Miguel Batista (2)

Alex Rodriguez: Ervin Santana, Clay Buchholz, Derek Holland, Justin Verlander (2) Tommy Hottovy, Will Smith (2), Octavio Dotel, Jonny Venters, Tommy Hanson, Jon Niese

Derek Jeter: Wei-Yin Chen, Hisanori Takahashi, Carl Pavano, Matt Capps, Bruce Chen, Justin Verlander, Tommy Hanson

Raul Ibanez: James Shields (2), Jason Isringhausen, Neftali Feliz, Burke Badenhop, Felix Hernandez, Hector Noesi, Bronson Arroyo, Jonny Cueto, Randall Delgado, Chris Young

Curtis Garnderson: Jake Arrieta, Ervin Santana (2), Carl Pavano, Anthony Swarzak (2), Jeff Gray, Phil Coke, Max Scherzer, Brian Matusz, James Shields, David Price, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Will Smith, Bobby Cassevah, Casey Crosby, Bobby Parnell, Tim Hudson, Tom Gorzelanny, Edwin Jackson

Nick Swisher: Joel Peralta, Kevin Gregg, Clay Buchholz, Vicente Padilla, Drew Smyly, Jose Valverde, Luke Hochevar, Tyson Ross, Johan Santana, Cory Gearrin, R.A. Dickey

Eric Chavez: Clay Buchholz (2), Jason Hammel, Tommy Hanson, Jon Rauch

Andruw Jones: Darren O’Day, Matt Maloney, Collin Balester, Steve Delabar, Tommy Milone, Johan Santana, Jon Niese

There are some names above that the Yankees might be facing in the post-season. Shields, Price, Verlander, Hanson and a few others. But they’re not going to be able to use Hochevar, Pavano or most of the other mediocrities to beat on.

I don’t see the names Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez or Yu Darvish in there.

If the Yankees don’t hit homers, then what?

Understanding the value of their homers is not the brainless bully strategy of, “Me swing hard; me hit home runs; team win.”

What was the score when the home runs were hit? What where the weather conditions? Did the pitcher make a mistake or did the hitter hit a good pitch? Was the game a blowout and the pitcher just trying to get the ball over the plate to get the game over with in either club’s favor?

These questions, among many other things, have to be accounted for.

Those who are complaining about the club needing to “manufacture” runs don’t know any more about baseball than those who are blindly defending the use of the home run without the full story.

Of course it’s a good thing that the Yankees hit a lot of home runs, but those home runs can’t be relied upon as the determinative factor of whether they’re going to win in the post-season because they’ll be facing better pitching and teams that will be able to use the homer-friendly Yankee Stadium themselves mitigating any advantage the Yankees might have. Teams that are more versatile, play good defense, steal bases and run with smart aggression and have strong pitching will be able to deal with the Yankees’ power.

Teams like the Mets are unable to do that.

The Yankees’ home runs are only an issue if they stop hitting them. Then they’ll have to find alternative ways to score when the balls aren’t flying over the fences. This is why it’s not a problem that they don’t have Brett Gardner now. In fact, it seems like the fans and media has forgotten about him. But they’re going to need him in the playoffs because he gives them something they barely have with this current configuration: he can run and wreak havoc on the bases and is an excellent defensive left fielder.

As much as Joe Morgan was savaged for his silly statements blaming the Oakland A’s inability to manufacture runs in their playoff losses during the Moneyball years, he wasn’t fundamentally inaccurate. It wasn’t about squeezing and hitting and running capriciously as Morgan wanted them to do and altering the strategy that got them to the playoffs; but it was about being able to win when not hitting home runs; when not facing a pitching staff that is going to walk you; when a team actually has relievers who can pitch and not a bunch of names they accumulated and found on the scrapheap.

The A’s couldn’t win when they didn’t get solid starting pitching or hit home runs.

Can the Yankees?

That’s going to be the key to their season. Then the true value of their homer-happy offense will come to light.

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How Does Pine Tar Help A Pitcher?

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When a pitcher throws a baseball, he gets his velocity from arm speed. Arm speed is enhanced by the use of his body. The legs, butt, hips and trunk generate the force to the arm and the arm delivers the baseball.

But what about the hands?

Pitchers with large hands are able to throw harder than pitchers with smaller hands and they don’t need as much arm speed to do so. If you watch a pitcher with a somewhat strange motion, little leg drive and pedestrian noticeable arm speed and they’re putting up a radar gun reading of 95 mph, there’s a great chance that they have larger than normal hands and long fingers. Jose Valverde of the Tigers regularly pops the gun at 94 mph+ without the powerful motion of a Tom Seaver or the clear leverage of Randy Johnson. He must have enormous hands to do it.

How does pine tar come into the equation to help a pitcher?

Pitchers sweat and their hands grow moist. No amount of wiping and resin is going to eliminate the underlying moisture that might compromise their grip on the ball. Pine tar is an inherently sticky substance that batters use to reinforce their grip on the bat, but it works for pitchers as well. The problem for pitchers is that it’s illegal.

Arm speed creates velocity, but the seams on the ball are where a pitcher makes the ball move. The more secure a pitcher’s fingers are on the seams, the greater rotation he’s going to get when he releases the ball. Because of this the movement is increased.

The seams are what’s responsible for the rise in a rising fastball; the cut in a cutter; the slide in a slider; and the break in a curveball. If a pitcher doesn’t have the seams, no amount of arm/wrist break is going to give him the movement he’ll get from the seams.

Pine tar increases the adhesion of finger to ball and with that, the spin.

As we saw this week with Joel Peralta of the Rays and in the past with Jay Howell when he was pitching for the Dodgers in 1988—both called out by manager Davey Johnson—pitchers place pine tar in their glove or somewhere on their body to use at their leisure. Other pitchers have been accused of doing it as well as we saw with Tigers’ pitcher Kenny Rogers in the 2006 post-season. It’s not a remote occurrence and while certain pitchers are brazen enough to stick it in their gloves where it can be easily found, others are more canny about it and place it surreptitiously on their neck; in their dip can; in some secret place that is easily hidden but accessible when they need it.

Any hitter can catch up to any fastball if it’s straight. If a pitch is moving, it’s harder to hit. Pine tar helps the movement on a pitch.

It’s a customary practice. Johnson found out about Peralta doing it and used that information to his advantage. But it happens all the time. Peralta just got caught.

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Justice MLB Style

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Due to lingering bad blood following his departure from the Rockies, Ubaldo Jimenez—a starting pitcher for the Indians—threw at former teammate Troy Tulowitzki intentionally in his last spring training start before the regular season. He hit him on the elbow; the act incited a near brawl and an increase in the rhetoric between the sides with each blaming the other.

Jimenez was suspended for 5 games to start the season which meant he’d miss one start.

On Tuesday Tampa Bay Rays’ reliever Joel Peralta got caught with pine tar in his glove during their game in Washington against the Nationals. Peralta is a former Nats’ pitcher and there was obviously some inside information in hand. Peralta was ejected from the game and yesterday MLB suspended him for 8 games—Washington Post Story.

Peralta, a reliever, could conceivably pitch in 5 of those 8 games he’ll be suspended for.

Is this fair? Is it equitable? Should their roles as starter or reliever be taken into account?

This is like a person being arrested for assault and given probation while a person arrested for possession of marijuana is sentenced to six months in jail.

The punishment doesn’t fit the crime and Peralta’s appeal should include the comparative nature and short-term given to Jimenez, whose actions were far worse than what Peralta did. Jimenez could’ve hurt Tulowitzi; all Peralta was doing was trying to get a better grip on the ball.

One was retaliation; the other was competitive.

This entire episode has degenerated into comedy and bewilderment.

Nats’ manager Davey Johnson called Rays’ manager Joe Maddon a “weird wuss” (I think you can translate that into street vernacular and it’s a major insult to another man). Maddon replied by calling Johnson “bush (league)” and “cowardly”.

The rules are the rules and if Peralta was cheating, Johnson is well within his rights to call it to the attention of the umpires. What I don’t understand is why he did it now. This was a card to hold for the post-season. The Nats and the Rays could conceivably meet in the World Series and if Johnson wanted to catch Peralta, that would’ve been a better time to do it.

As for Maddon, I don’t know if he’s a wuss, but he is a bit weird in terms of baseball managers with his lack of rules and new age, kindergarten-style “theme” road trips. Old school managers like Johnson—who doesn’t have many rules himself—do think Maddon’s something of an odd duck. Mostly because he is odd.

Personalities aside, a suspension of 8 games is too much. When taking into consideration that Peralta is a reliever and what he did wasn’t of a violent nature as was the case with Jimenez, 3 games is more than sufficient.

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