American League Championship Series Preview
It’s bye week in Nashville, so we thought we’d talk a little baseball in the meantime. We’ve got no dogs in this race (the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves were both equally painful at times), but will be watching intently nonetheless. Their is something about playoff baseball that makes it completely different than any other sport. We have already seen the top two teams during the regular season eliminated (the Anaheim Angels and Chicago Cubs) which just goes to show, that records don’t matter come October. So, without further ado, here is our ALCS preview.
Rays vs. Red Sox
These two teams have drastically different recent histories (that’s about all the history the Rays have period), but that will matter little when these AL East rivals meet to decide the pennant. The Sox and Rays met a total of 18 times in division play this year, with the Rays winning the series 10-8, but that too is thrown out the window now, as the talented young Rays will face the reigning world champion Red Sox for the chance to represent the American League in the World Series. On paper, these two teams are fairly evenly matched. Both have great offenses with guys at the top of the lineup that can get on base and run if needed (Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia for the Sox and B.J Upton and Carl Crawford for the Rays) and a lot of pop in the middle that to drive those guys in (David Ortiz, Kevin Youklis and Jason Bay for the Sox and Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria for the Rays).
Defensively, the Rays and Red Sox are both above average-this is perhaps the one on-field improvement the Red Sox made with the Manny Ramirez trade. Throughout the infield the Rays are solid with Pena, Iwamura, Bartlett, Longoria and Navarro. The Red Sox will take a little bit of a hit in this department with the loss of third baseman Mike Lowell, but are still very good with Youkilis, Pedroia and Cora. Boston’s outfield is improved with Jason Bay manning left field, and Ellsbury is a very good defensive center fielder. It will be interesting to see how J.D. Drew’s back limits his outfield play (if at all) assuming that Drew gets the majority of the starts in right field.
As do most series in baseball, this year’s ALCS might very well be decided by pitching. Tampa Bay comes into this series with the 3rd best team era in baseball, at 3.82. Both teams feature starting staffs that have performed very well this season. Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Paul Byrd comprise a Red Sox team with much more playoff experience than that of the Rays. Beckett, in his career has established himself as one of the most clutch postseason pitchers in baseball, and Lester is pitching as well as anyone in the game. Tampa Bay is relying on a group of starters with less experience, who were just as effective this season. Scott Kazmir, Andy Sonnanstine, James Shields and Matt Garza are as good a young group of starters as exists in the league, who haven’t seemed to be rattled at any point this season.
The bullpens for these two teams have been strong as well this season. The Rays will come into the ALCS without their closer for much of the season, Troy Percival, but their middle relievers (Grant Balfour, J.P. Howell and Titans Sized favorite David Price who was added to the roster in place of the injured Percival) have been as good as any in the league this year. The Red Sox will counter with one of the top pens in baseball, led by standout closer (and great jig dancer) Jonathan Papplebon. He’s as good as it gets, and if the Sox know that if they hold a lead going into the eighth or ninth inning, Pappelbon will most likely nail it down.
Given the comparable nature of these two teams, this series will come down to who steps up with the game on the line. The Rays will need to score runs like they did in their series with the Chicago White Sox to keep up with the high-powered Red Sox offense. If their pitching can limit the damage in the beginning of games, and the Rays offense, led by standout rookie Evan Longoria, can get to the Red Sox starters early, they will have a very good chance of stealing this series. Everything that has gotten both of these teams this far is now irrelevant. Playoff baseball in October is about who comes up with the big hit and who can get that big out when the game is on the line. This is where stars are born and legends are made. This should be an incredibly closely contested series.
Prediction: The Red Sox are by far the most experienced playoff team left, and have shown in past playoffs to also be the most clutch. They may indeed have the best all around team in the bigs. The Rays on the other hand, are new to this whole playoff thing. They are young and inexperienced, but they proved over the course of the season that this run has been no fluke by winning the ultra-competitive AL East in the regular season and by beating the AL Central champs in the ALDS. Simply put, they seem to be a team on a mission. If we could embolden the word “prediction” any more we would. That’s right, Rays in 6.
- GM 1: RED SOX @ RAYS 10/10, 8:37 PM ET
- GM 2: RED SOX @ RAYS 10/11, 8:07 PM ET
- GM 3: RAYS @ RED SOX 10/13, 4:37 PM ET
- GM 4: RAYS @ RED SOX 10/14, 8:07 PM ET
- GM 5: RAYS @ RED SOX 10/16, 8:07 PM ET (if necessary)
- GM 6: RED SOX @ RAYS 10/18, 4:37 PM ET (if necessary)
- GM 7: RED SOX @ RAYS 10/19, 8:07 PM ET (if necessary)
NLCS preview tomorrow…