AL Division Series capsules
Red Sox have pitching edge; Yankees look to Joba
Posted: Tuesday October 2, 2007 11:50AM; Updated: Wednesday October 3, 2007 12:44PM
First the Red Sox broke an 86-year drought in 2004. Then the White Sox (88 years) finally earned a championship. And then the Cardinals (24 years) won their first title in almost a quarter of a century. Who's next? The possibilities are numerous. Half the teams in this baseball postseason have an entire generation -- or two, or three -- of fans who have been waiting to see their team win a World Series: the Rockies (their entire 14-year history), Phillies (27 years), Indians (59 years) and, most infamously of all, the Cubs (99 years).
The quest begins this week with the Division Series, which are previewed below. For one of the eight teams, whether it's been 99 years or three years, this postseason promises to be one worth waiting for.
Click here for my NL Division Series previews.
Boston vs. Los Angeles
This is a series that will be decided by starting pitching, which means the Red Sox are in good shape. They open with 20-game winner Josh Beckett, who pitched two gems against the Angels this year (1-0, 1.38). Then they give the ball to Daisuke Matsuzaka rather than Curt Schilling. Why? Schilling is 27-8 in Fenway as a Boston starter and, with his 8-2 postseason record, would have been a logical choice to start a Game 5. Instead, he'll pitch in Anaheim in Game 3 on 11 days of rest. Hmm. Could it be the Sox already are looking ahead to the Yankees? Or do the Sox simply believe Matsuzaka is better equipped to make that second start in this series?
Matsuzaka is getting a second wind after hitting a wall due to the grind of the longer major-league season, fewer days of recovery between starts and deeper lineups. He will get the ball with seven days of rest. Why is that important? After typically pitching with six days of rest last year in Japan, the more rest he gets the better he pitches: 5.29 ERA on four days, 3.83 ERA on five days, and 3.66 with six days or more.
The way to hold down the Boston offense is to pitch aggressively in the strike zone while keeping the ball in the park, which is exactly the M.O. of Angels ace John Lackey. He allowed only 11 walks and five home runs in his last 11 starts. Great. But there's a big problem here for Los Angeles: Its ace can't pitch in Boston. His numbers are so bad at Fenway (1-4, 7.46 in seven starts) that they can't be dismissed.
Key player: Garret Anderson, Angels. The Red Sox won't let Vladimir Guerrero beat them, so it's left to Anderson to prove he can provide the big hit against an all-right-handed Boston rotation. We'll see. Anderson hit worse as situations grew tighter: .315 without runners in scoring position, .262 with RISP and .194 with RISP and two outs.
Bottom line: Red Sox, with pitching and defense, in four.
Cleveland vs. New York
Rarely are stats as misleading as C.C. Sabathia's career numbers against the Yankees: 1-7 with a 7.13 ERA. But the Yankees haven't seen him since 2004. And while Derek Jeter (.545) and Alex Rodriguez (.412) rake against Sabathia, the rest of the team is hitting a combined .175 against him. Odds are that Sabathia starts the series with a gem and the Yankees need Andy Pettitte (three Game 2 wins in the 2003 postseason) to rescue them again. Game 3 starter Roger Clemens is a complete mystery, having thrown just 10 innings in the 37 days leading up to that start. Phil Hughes and Mike Mussina will be standing by in case of emergency.
Yankee fans may be glad to have avoided the Angels in the first round, but the club knows the Indians present big-time problems because they can score in different ways from all spots in the lineup and setup relievers Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt are nasty.
The key for New York is getting any kind of length from its starting pitchers, because Joba Chamberlain, who is a shutdown force, and Mariano Rivera can eat up the last nine outs -- perhaps more in a possible clincher. And the Yankees can thank the television networks, with this new postseason schedule chock full of off days, for making it possible for Chamberlain and Rivera to be available whenever they're needed.
Key player: Chamberlain, Yankees. Please, save all the talk about how he's a rookie with only 24 innings and who knows how he'll respond to postseason pressure. When you can throw 98 mph with an 88 power slider, talent trumps inexperience. Just ask Bobby Jenks, Francisco Rodriguez and Adam Wainwright.
Bottom line: This series is a coin flip. Give the Yankees the edge in five games because their offense is too deep to hold down a fourth time through the lineup.