Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

PREDICTION: SOX IN SIX

Well, I was wrong and I admit it. In fact, I was wrong on two counts.

First, I said the Red Sox would beat the Angels in four games. Second, I said the Yankees were the best team in the American League. I'm especially glad to have been wrong abut this last proclamation.

Now the Sox and Indians will vie for the AL Pennant, the distinction as the league's best team, and the privilege of playing for a World Series title.

What do the Red Sox have going for them as the ALCS begins? Their big guns are all firing at the same time; Josh Becket, Curt Schilling, Jonathan Papelbon, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz all look as fearsome as they do fearless. What's more, the Sox will be be more rested than the Indians. Beckett will have had eight days of rest by the time the AL championship series opens on Friday night.

But let's discuss Schilling for a moment, shall we?

This man has been written off numerous times over the last three seasons -- and for good reason. Since 2005, he has a record of 31-23 -- an average of 10-8 each year -- and a 4.54 ERA during that span.

This season he went a lackluster 9-8, but had a respectable 3.87 ERA. Of greater concern were the 165 hits and 23 walks he allowed in just 151 innings, amounting to a WHIP of 1.25. That's not Schilling-esque. Of equal concern; he only struck out 101 batters in those 165 innings. That's not Schilling-esque either. His Opening Day meltdown was an omen of the struggles he would endure throughout the regular season. And for most of 2007 he clearly looked like a pitcher in decline, one whose best days were long behind him.

Yet, one month shy of his 41st birthday, during the pressure-packed environment of the playoffs, Schilling has once again risen to the occasion, reinventing himself from an imposing power pitcher into a craftsman.

The veteran righty is no longer able to consistently hit 97 mph on the radar gun. Whereas, by his own admission, he once had a fastball that "had seven or eight more miles an hour" on it, he now must paint the corners. And on Sunday, he painted with precision, throwing seven shutout innings in a masterpiece.

Schilling threw 100 pitches, 76 for strikes. Now I'm no mathematician, but I do know that adds up to 76%. The former flamethrower now finds success not by blowing hitters away, but by picking his spots and consistently hitting them. Schilling says he has a "recognition of what I have," meaning he also recognizes what he no longer has. In essence, the diminished velocity may have made him a smarter pitcher.

With Sunday's win, Schilling's postseason record now stands at 9-2 -- the highest winning percentage in playoff history. And his ERA is a mind-blowing 1.93. That's big-time. That's money.

His performance was so good that he will get the Game 2 start in Round 2 with five days of rest. Simply put, he was better than Daisuke Matsuzaka and gives the Red Sox a better chance to win when matched up against the inexperienced Fausto Carmona.

The Sox pitchers held the Angels to just four runs in the ALDS. As unbelievable as it may seem, the Angels scored in just two of the 27 innings. And due to Beckett's complete-game and Schilling's seven strong innings, the bullpen will be well-rested in the ALCS. In fact, the entire team should be well-rested, having four full days off by the time they take the field at Fenway on Friday night.

A perfect example is Papelbon, who's thrown just 1 1/3 innings this postseason. The 26-year-old closer had another outstanding season and is the first Sox reliever to have back-to-back seasons of 28 or more saves. He finished 2006 with 35 saves and had 37 this year. Mentally tough and possessing a composure beyond his years, Papelbon strikes fear in opposing hitters. No batter wants to see Papelbon's fierce scowl looking back at him from atop the mound just sixty feet, six inches away.

Then there's Boston's Dynamic Duo of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, who have clicked at just the right time. The pair accounted for four of the five series homers (Kevin Youkilis had the other).

In the three-game ALDS, Ortiz walked six times while hitting .714 (5-for-7) with two home runs and three RBIs. Ramirez hit .375 (3-for-8), with 2 homers, 3 runs, four RBI, and five walks.

Ortiz now has 10 postseason homers, the most in Red Sox history. Ramirez's 22 postseason home runs put him in a tie with Bernie Williams for the most in Major League history. These two are white hot right now. In fact, to opposing pitchers they're lethal.

Ramirez loves to hit against his former team. Since leaving after the 2000 season, Ramirez has hit .357 against Cleveland, with 15 home runs in 49 regular-season games. This year he hit .417 (10-for-24) with three homers. This will be his first playoff matchup against the Tribe. One thing I was right about; I said he'd get hot in the playoffs and I'm glad to say I was right about that part.

A perfect mix of seasoned veterans and spirited young players, the Red Sox appear highly determined and focused on their mission; winning another World Series title. Timing is everything in baseball, and the Sox have gotten hot at the right time. Fueled by great pitching and solid hitting, the Sox outscored the Indians 19-4 in the ALDS. In simple terms, this team looks scary good right now.

The Sox and Indians shared the league's best record of 96-66, but the Sox won the regular-season series 5-2. This will be the first time they've met in an ALCS.

The Red Sox took the AL East lead on April 18 and never relinquished it, winning their first division title since 1995. They were the picture of consistency in 2007, never losing more than four straight games or winning more than five in a row. That consistency, driven by a steady veteran presence and leadership, will lead them into the World Series for the second time in four years.

Prediction; Sox in six against the Indians.

Copyright © 2007 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

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