— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Playoff Preview - American League Championship Series
One of the classic matchups in baseball takes place again.
Yankees, 10-9. This season series was about as close as it could be. Further, there wasn?t any real pattern to when each team has won. Every series was a dogfight, with neither team sweeping a series from the other. Boston?s last real shot at the Yankees came after they took two from the Bombers to close their July 25-27 series and pull within 1 ? games of the lead. One interesting and, perhaps, relevant item: this was a season series was series of blowouts. Only six of the nineteen games were decided by two runs or less.
Like the NLCS, this series is also a battle of similar teams to a great extent. Both teams have solid pitching staffs, with perhaps a bit of an edge to the Yanks. Both staffs walk fewer opponents than the average, with the Yankees being superb. Both teams strikeout a ton of batters and both teams give up very few home runs. Both teams get very few double plays despite being ground ball pitching staffs. The Yankees have the edge in starters, mostly because of Burkett?s problems this year, but the Red Sox have Pedro.
None of the Red Sox have had an answer for Mussina in their careers, while Soriano, Jeter and Bernie have handled Wakefield well. That said, Wakefield?s lifetime ERA in Yankee is 2.00 with a 2.25 ERA there this year.
If you are betting-inclined type of person, look for game two to be a run-scoring affair. Neither starter has been able to get out large chunks of the others lineup. Posada, Giambi and Matsui have done very well against Lowe, and Ramirez, Ortiz, Varitek and Garciappara have tended to beat Pettitte about the face and neck. Lowe has a 5.11 ERA at Yankee Stadium this year, and, while Pettitte pitches very well in the Stadium, he has a 5.00 ERA against Boston this year.
The matchups would seem to point toward Pedro in game three. Among NY hitters, only Nick Johnson has failed to be embarrassed by Pedro over the course of their careers. Several of the Red Sox have been able to handle The Rocket, however, with Nixon, Walker and Mueller all posting .800+ OPSs against him.
Anything can happen in a single game. We all know that. But if the Red Sox can win this game, they have really dodged a bullet. A big honkin? bullet. Burkett has been just horrible against these Yankee hitters in his career as demonstrated by his 369/411/577 composite line against them. Soriano, Matsui and Bernie all have 1.000+ OPSs against him, plus Jeter and Giambi post better than .900 OPSs against Burkett. David Delucci is a lifetime 7 for 12 (583/643/833) lifetime against Burkett but, as far as I can tell, he?s not on the ALCS roster. Wells has been solid against the Red Sox with the exception of Mueller and Varitek. Wells has held Damon, Ramirez and Nomar below their norms, but they have still be pretty good against him. Wells has been very, very good in Fenway Park in his career. He had a 2.19 ERA this year, despite giving up 16 hits in 12 innings, and sports a 2.59 ERA there over the last three seasons (31 innings).
If forced to choose I would side with the Red Sox bullpen in this series. Boston has been getting solid work of late from Timlin and Williamson. They?ve added Jeff Suppan to the roster, who was good against NY in limited innings this year. Sauerbeck is a good LOOGY, certainly better than Embree, if they have faith to use him in that role. I have very little faith in White, Nelson and Heredia?s abilities to get the game to Rivera. Nelson has been ineffective much of the time and neither White nor Heredia are particularly good at getting lefties out. It?s just my hunch, but the Yankees are going to need to get Ortiz or Nixon out in some crucial 7th inning situation and I wouldn?t feel comfortable having Heredia do that job. To their credit, the Yankees dumped Chris Hammond (or as I call him, Davis Weathers) from the roster, as Hammond was awful at getting lefties out too.
This series is a battle offensive powers. These teams were #1 and #3 in runs scored. Why? Because they were 1-2 in walks and OBP, of course. They were effectively 1-2 in home runs, when you take Texas?s park into account. Neither team steals much, but they are effective when they do. Neither team bunts. They differ in only two places really. Boston hit a lot more doubles, some of which can be attributed to the characteristics of their two parks. New York grounded into a buttload of double plays, leading the league, but Boston grounded into very, very few when we account for how many runners they had on base.
You know the numbers by now. The Red Sox posted the best team slugging percentage in history. They can clout. However, some of those numbers are a park illusion. At home they were an amazing 316/392/527, but the BoSox hit only 263/328/456 on the road. The loss of Damon to injury jumbles this lineup quite a bit. I would expect to see Mueller lead off and Kapler in center batting in the 8th spot. In the ALDS, #4-#8 spots in the lineup had three good at bats between them.
New York’s lineup:
The Yankees lineup is still very good. Even with Williams having an off year and Giambi?s injury and Matsui?s lack of power and Boone?s case of Whitson-itis. In my mind?s eye this is how I envision the old Stengel lineups of the 1940-50s. They are solid professional players, who draw walks, hit home runs and generally don?t make offensive mistakes. Torre has a tendency to put Johnson in the #2 hole and bump the rest of lineup down a slot. The Yankees did ground into a ton of double plays.
Neither of these teams is strong defensively. Far from it. Both teams do negate some of their defensive woes by striking out a ton of batters. The Red Sox are about average defensively at most positions, except at second base where Walker is horrible. The Yankees are a bad, bad defensive club. Their zone ratings were worst in the AL at first, second and center field and seriously below average at SS and LF. Boone is good. Both catchers, Varitek and Posada, were very good at throwing out runners this year.
Damian Jackson, David McCarty, Lou Merloni and Doug Mirabelli are about all that Boston has with Damon?s injury and Adrian Brown?s demotion in favor of relievers Suppan and Jones. Mirabelli has had some nice numbers against Yankee starters and McCarty could step in if necessary, but I wouldn?t expect to see much Boston?s bench except for Jackson as a defensive replacement. Ruben Sierra, Karim Garcia, Erick Almonte, Enrique Wilson and John Flaherty. At least they Yankees have some pop on the bench.
Torre is just a wizard. He?s solid tactically and seems to have a forged a remarkable bond of trust with his players. His nasty penchant for slipping relievers in and out and for managing four-hour playoff games might be alleviated to an extent by his lack of bullpen depth. Grady Little has joined in his team?s "Cowboy Up" party, getting his hair buzzed (along with GM Theo Epstein) by Sox players during the ALDS clinching locker room festivities. Little does not have nearly the post-season managerial experience of Torre, but it?s debatable as to how much that matters. Both these managers have veteran teams and handle them well.
The Yankees need to get their starters to go deep into games, alleviating some of their middle relief problems. The best control staff in the league, New York needs to keep the Red Sox from getting free passes. They seem impervious to pressure, but the Yanks really need to win one of the first two games and probably both of them. Starting 0-2 and then still be scheduled to face Pedro would be an almost impossible quest. Conversely, the Red Sox need to take one of the first two games in New York. If they start 0-2, they will get a bounce from Pedro but will still have to survive a near certain shelling of Burkett. The Red Sox bullpen will be the most tested part of this team. They need to have a strong series.
There?s a lot of talk about the "Curse" being lifted. About how this Red Sox team is different. About "Cowboying Up" and about the "Rally Millar." And I think that?s all pretty silly. Yet . . . there is something to this team of destiny thing. As they got older the great Yankee teams of the 1950s and early 1960s lost to several teams "on a mission," like the Braves, the Pirates and the Cardinals. I see no reason why this aging great Yankee team would be immune to losing to the likes of the Diamondbacks, Angels and Red Sox. Because other than destiny, the only thing that the Red Sox have that the Yankees can?t match is Pedro. And he?s the reason that Boston will win game seven.
RED SOX in 7.