Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, October 29, 2007

SOX WIN!!

I went to bed last night feeling Rocky Mountain high. And I woke up this morning feeling the same way. Many thanks to the Red Sox.

No, this wasn't the awe and euphoria of 2004 -- nothing will ever match that again. My father had never seen a Red Sox World Series Championship until then, and neither had my maternal grandfather. My paternal grandfather was just five in 1918 -- the last time the Sox had won -- and was since deceased. I don't know if he even remembered it as an adult.

With all that in mind, the 2004 Championship was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The bad mojo was gone, and with it the sense of pessimism, anguish and despair were also gone. Coming back from being down three-games-to-none to the dreaded Yankees in the ALCS, and then sweeping he Cardinals in the World Series, made all things seem possible forever more. Hope lived.

The Red Sox swept the Rockies for their second World Series in four years and captured their seventh World Championship in franchise history -- the third most all-time. Including their 2004 triumph, the Red Sox have now won eight straight World Series games, a new club record.

After trailing Cleveland 3 games to 1, the Sox reeled off seven straight wins and looked like an unstoppable force in doing so. Yes, 2004 makes everything seem possible for now.

The Sox hit .333 in the World Series - second best in Series history. In fact, every Red Sox regular in the lineup hit over .300 in the Series except Manny Ramirez. That's just plain weird. The Sox also finished with 18 doubles, one shy of the Series record. Throughout the lineup, hitters responded with key hits in crucial situations. And they didn't do it with bases-clearing bleacher rockets either.

The club with a history as a power-hitting goliath hit just three homers in the four-game Series, two in the clinching finale. They earned their runs by getting on base and then moving runners with steals, bunts, sacrifice flys, and timely hitting. And they often did it with two strikes, and even two outs.

The Sox outscored their opponents 99-46 in the post-season, the largest run differential in playoff history. And they absolutely drubbed the Rockies in just about every imaginable way during the Fall Classic; they outscored them 29-10, out-hit them 47-29, and had 21 extra bases to the Rockies mere 10.

These weren't the "Idiots" of 2004 but, just the same, this team was able to "Cowboy Up", or man up, or just plain step up when it counted in the post-season. Like their predecessor, this team had heart, mettle, and conviction. They had an unshakable faith in themselves and a burning desire to win and live up to all the expectations placed upon them.

Those expectations were created by ownership, management. media, a rabid fanbase, and the players themselves. Management made it clear during Spring Training; nothing short of a World Series title would do.

The biggest difference between this club and the 2004 Red Sox is that this version is youthful. Key components will be around for a years to come.

Get used to names like Beckett (27), Matsuzaka (27), Lester (23), Papelbon (27), Pedroia (24), Youkilis (28) and Ellsbury (24); they are young and they are the heart of a burgeoning dynasty. And Clay Buccholz (23) wasn't even on the playoff roster this year. It just gets better, doesn't it? Yes, they are the future -- as well as the present -- and they are going to be around for quite some time.

Of that group, only Youkilis was a member of the 2004 team, and he wasn't on the post-season roster that year. This is a new band of merry men. It is younger and has a future the other never had. It is a very different, but still very professional, team.

No doubt, the youth movement was on parade in this World Series. Jon Lester became just the third pitcher to win a World Series clincher in his first post-season start. And the world witnessed Jacoby Ellsbury, who began the year in Double-A, become a star-in-the-making before our very eyes. Note to Sox fans; this is your starting center fielder for the next decade, or so. Enjoy, folks.

The Red Sox had the best record in the game for the first time since 1946, and won the AL East for the first time in 12 years. They led the AL East nearly wire to wire, from April 18 to season's end. They were the picture of consistency in 2007, never losing more than four straight games or winning more than five straight. And they were led by just the right man to return them to the promised land.

Manager Terry Francona is now 8-0 in World Series play, and became the first manager ever to win his first eight World Series games. The unflappable and steady skipper has the perfect temperament to effectively manage his perfect blend of veterans and youth; he never panics, he never over-reacts, and he always remains positive. Francona has consistently displayed faith in his team, as well as an unyielding loyalty to each of his players -- no matter how much they've struggled.

And the front office did its part too -- signing key free agents, trading for players like Coco Crisp, Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell, acquiring role players like Bobby Kielty on waivers, and drafting quite well. This last element is especially important to the team's long-term success; it's allowed them to build from within, assuring enough young, homegrown talent to be competitive for years to come.

And for all of this, Red Sox fans have rewarded management with 388 consecutive regular season sell-outs. And it won't stop there; on the 68th homegame of next season, the Red Sox and their fans will break the Cleveland Indians consecutive sellout record of 455 games, established between 1995-2001. That's brand loyalty, and the surest sign that your customers like your product.

The Sox brass decided to take a step back after 2004 to take a giant leap ahead this year. An aged, out of shape David Wells and Matt Clement - together - weren't enough to replace Pedro Martinez. But patience and perseverance prevailed.

The Red Sox had to break up the 2004 team, to the disappointment of many Sox fans. It was time to bid farewell to players in decline -- such as Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon, Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar, and Trot Nixon -- as well as those who were never that good to begin with, such as Mark Belhorn and Mike Meyers. We are forever grateful for their contributions, but it was time to move on.

New, younger, better talent had to be infused with key veterans such as Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Mike Timlin, Jason Varitek, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz -- the heart of the team.

The Red Sox are in better shape as organization than they were in 2004. And yes, we could be witnessing the birth of a dynasty; two World Series titles in four years, with only seven players remaining from the 2004 team, make that evident.

This is a great time to be a Red Sox fan, isn't it? We are truly living in a Golden Era.

But be forewarned, Red Sox Nation; enjoy this while it lasts. Like all good things, it will eventually come to an end. At some point, every dynasty crumbles.

In the meantime, bask in the glory of this high. And let's hope it lasts a while. A few more years would be nice, wouldn't it?

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

SCHILLING'S START HAS IMPORTANT RAMIFICATIONS

The Red Sox made it look so easy last night. Why? Two reasons; 1.) Josh Beckett 2.) Every batter in the starting lineup had at least one hit, and every one of them -- with the exception of Mike Lowell -- had at least one RBI. In fact, the Red Sox scored more runs than any team in the first game of a World Series. In short, it was a complete team effort.

Firing on all cylinders, the Red Sox derailed the Rockies playoff juggernaut. Colorado had been undefeated in the playoffs, sweeping two consecutive series. Seven games, seven wins. Only the '76 Reds had ever started the post-season with such a streak.

But how good are the Rockies? They won 90 games this season -- most in team history -- yet squeaked into the playoffs simply because the Padres lost their final two games of the season. San Diego choked. Colorado got a second chance. And they capitalized on it. The Rocks beat San Diego in the 13th inning of a one-game playoff -- on a bad call at the plate -- to win the Wild Card. And let's not forget that with two weeks left in the season, they were in fourth place in the wild-card race.

Sure, coming into Game 1 the Rockies had won 21 of their last 22 games. They had won 10 in row overall, and had lost just once since September 16. Like all successful playoff teams, they got hot -- really hot -- at the right time. And clearly luck had been on their side. But luck and ridiculous winning streaks always run out eventually. No one envisioned the Rockies being in the World Series this year -- probably not even the Rockies themselves. They were an after-thought.

So the Red Sox once again turn to Curt Schilling tonight, for the fourth time this post-season, hoping for more of that old October magic.

"I've spent almost 15 years putting together a résumé in October, and that's become one of the things I've become known by. That's on the line again," Schilling said at the start of the playoffs.

But these days, a Schilling start is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get. His season had as many ups and downs as a roller coaster. There was the opening day shellacking he took in Kansas City to the lowly Royals. That immediately raised a red flag; all was not well. But he returned to form and came within one out of a no-hitter in Oakland on June 7. Then came his next start, against the Rockies.

Colorado went 2-1 against the Red Sox this season, outscoring them 20-5 in a June series at Fenway Park. Schilling pitched against them on June 13 and took the loss in a 12-2 beatdown. He lasted just five-plus innings, giving up six runs (five earned) on nine hits. The joy and euphoria of the one-hitter in Oakland was quickly washed away. And it got worse. The 40-year-old righty's next start, on June 18 in Atlanta, was a disaster in which he was roughed up yet again. Even the Braves' hitters knew something was wrong. They weren't facing the dominating Curt Schilling they were used to.

The next day he was on the DL, his season in tatters, his career in jeopardy. Diagnosed with shoulder tendinitis, Schilling remained on the DL from June 19 to August 6. At that point his season appeared over. It was nearly impossible to imagine him pitching in October -- if ever again. Perhaps his illustrious career had finally, unceremoniously, reached its end. How many 40-year-old pitchers bounce back from an injury to their pitching shoulder?

But he managed to return, and finished the season with a less than impressive 9-8 record in 24 starts. Yet he had a very respectable 3.87 ERA. What kind of pitcher was he at this point? Sure the fastball had lost much of its zing, but he could still command his pitches, issuing just 23 walks to his 101 strikeouts this year.

If we've learned anything about Schilling it's this; no one should ever doubt his competitive fire. He is driven to succeed, and to prove himself over and over again -- especially in the post-season.

"I've always been a guy, October wasn't enough. I always had to add a little piece to it," said Schilling. ""I look at October as a way to enhance everything you've ever done."

October is where he's earned his salary, and his reputation as a big game pitcher. Since 1993 he's been consistently great. But now he's nearing 41, and his starts can be erratic. In Game 2 of the ALCS against Cleveland, he was lit up for five runs on nine hits in just 4 2/3 innings. It was ugly.

This is an important game for the Red Sox, as it is for the Rockies. If the Sox win, they can go into Colorado knowing they can close it out at Coors Field. Even if they win just one of three games there, they'll be in the driver's seat and will have to win just one of the final two games at Fenway. Schilling can set up an eventual World Series title with another big performance tonight.

Schilling's start is also important because Daisuke Matsuzaka, who will be going for the Sox in Game 3, has a 7.62 ERA in September and October. He, too, is unpredictable. But if you had to place a bet, at this point you wouldn't count on him to be solid or reliable.

And then there's the fact that Tim Wakefield was left off the World Series roster due to an ailing shoulder. He's been dealing with the problem since the end of the season and was also kept off the roster for the first-round series against the Angels. But one has to wonder if the shoulder is really the issue, or if it's related to the fact that the knuckleball probably won't fare well in the cold, thin, October air at Denver's mile-high altitude? Wakefield had a 4.76 ERA this season. That could be crippling in Denver. And he's only pitched once since September 29, when he allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Indians in Game 4 of the ALCS.

As a result, the Red Sox have yet to announce their Game 4 starter. However, Jon Lester threw four simulated innings on Tuesday, likely in anticipation of making that start in Colorado. But you can't help but wonder if the Sox would start Beckett on three days rest in Game 4. It likely depends on how the first three games go. Even if Matsuzaka and Lester were to lose their starts in Colorado, Beckett would be slated to go in Game 5. That would set up Schilling to pitch yet another series-clinching game, this time at Fenway.

All of this illustrates why Schilling's start tonight is so important to the Red Sox. And, of course, this could be his final start in a Boston uniform. If it is, going out with a bang in front of the Fenway faithful, who've lionized him since he arrived four years ago, would be a fitting farewell. And a strong performance would only further cement his legend as one of the game's all-time greatest post-season pitchers.

One way or the other, the Red Sox are the superior team -- with the tougher schedule, in the tougher league, with the tougher lineups -- and should win this Series in six games.

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

Sunday, October 21, 2007

IT'S THE BIG TIME NOW

JOSH BECKETT STEPPED UP. CURT SCHILLING STEPPED UP. EVEN JD DREW STEPPED UP. NOW IT'S TIME FOR DICE-K TO DO THE SAME.

For a $70 million player to be benched in Games 1 and 5 of the ALCS -- in favor of a reserve player who'd been unconditionally released by the lowly Oakland A's late in the season -- was an indication of just how far JD Drew had fallen. Whatever meager shine was left on Drew's star had, by that point, completely faded. Simply put, the move indicated that Terry Francona had more faith in Bobby Kielty than in JD Drew.

To leave Drew sitting during two ever-so-crucial games made quite a statement. Francona had been Drew's biggest supporter all year long, standing by his right fielder through the worst of times, continuing to bat him fifth when everyone else knew that Mike Lowell was better suited for that role.

Drew was brought to Boston last winter -- along with other high-priced free agents Daisuke Matsuzaka and Julio Lugo -- not to finally supplant the Yankees and win the AL East, or even win the American League Championship Series, but to help the Red Sox win their seventh World Series in franchise history. Management had made it clear during Spring Training; nothing else would do.

But Drew struggled at the plate all year long and his dreadful season had seeped into the post-season. If not for the equally uninspired play of Coco Crisp, it may have cost him his place in the lineup for Game 6. But rookie sensation Jacoby Ellsbury took the place of Crisp instead, leaving Drew an opportunity for heroics. And with one swing of the bat Saturday night, in front of the fans who had desperately looked for a reason to love him all year long, Drew found redemption.

A homer would have been nice. A couple a RBI would have been nice. Anything to show that he had some grit, some desire, some passion -- that he had a pulse -- would have been great. But JD Drew went beyond all possible expectations and hit just the third Grand Slam in Red Sox post-season history.

Terry Francona's belief, encouragement, and patient support had finally paid off.

The grand moment gave Drew some respite from the heat and scrutiny he'd been facing all year long. And it also allowed him a moment of joy and recognition from the Fenway faithful; his first curtain call of the season.

Drew's emergence couldn't have come at a more opportune time for the Red Sox. He now has a five-game hitting streak in the post-season, and Saturday's 3-for-5 effort raised his average to .381 in the playoffs. The Red Sox will be better for it if his hot streak continues on Sunday night.

In Major League history, 65 teams have trailed a best-of-seven series three games to one; only ten have come back to win. The last was the 2004 Boston Red Sox. The 2007 Red Sox are hoping to become the 11th team to accomplish this improbable feat.

The Sox are vying for another World Series berth largely on the merits of Josh Beckett. Coming into Saturday night,, no other Sox starter had made it out of the fifth inning in the ALCS.

But Curt Schilling put an end to that with yet another masterful post-season performance that can be added to his illustrious resume. There is no better big-game pitcher in the modern era. Perhaps none ever. Schilling is now 10-2 in the post-season, and 4-0 in elimination games. In those do-or-die contests, the unflappable veteran has a paltry 1.37 ERA. When it's all on the line, Schilling performs as if he has ice water flowing through his veins. He should been nicknamed the "Iceman" long ago.

But pitching wasn't the Sox' only problem in the ALCS; other than the 2-5 hitters, no one else was producing and someone needed to step up. Drew responded by driving in five runs and scoring two himself. But he wasn't the only previously hibernating bottom of the order hitter to answer the call. Julio Lugo had two RBI and scored a run, and Jacoby Ellsbury also had an RBI and a run scored. The Sox desperately needed those contributions and got them in a critical game.

After hitting into three double plays in Game 2, the Red Sox hit into three more in Game 3. Things were so bad that the Sox had hit into a total of seven double plays in the first three games, the most ever by any team in the first three games of an LCS. And JD Drew had been part of that incompetence. But by the time they had rolled into an LCS-record 11th double play in Game 6, Drew had already put a dagger into the heart of the Indians and such a statistic became a footnote in history made irrelevant by victory.

So now the Red Sox put their fortunes in the hands of Daisuke Matsuzaka, which should raise some concern. In his last 10 starts, including two in the postseason, Matsuzaka is just 2-5 with a 7.07 ERA.

But Matsuzaka now has his own chance at redemption. Though his inaugural season in Boston went better than Drew's, it was still a mixed bag. His problem has been an inability to consistently throw strikes, which has lead to high pitch counts early in his starts.

Case in point; Matsuzaka lasted just 4 2/3 innings in his Game 3 start at Cleveland, yet threw 101 pitches. It was not an isolated event but, rather, part of a trend. The Japanese rookie threw an average of 108.8 pithes per start this season, the most in the Majors.

But throwing strikes shouldn't be too much to expect from a pitcher who had 201 strikeouts in 204 2/3 innings this year. Matsuzaka needs to discover a sense of economy now. He needs to command his pitches and control the strike zone. He cannot issue walks and allow the speedy Cleveland hitters additional opportunities to get on base and potentially score.

Moments like this -- Game 7 of the ALCS -- are exactly why the Red Sox outbid every other Major League team for Matsuzaka's services. He is a high school legend in his native Japan. He's pitched in the Olympics. And he also pitched the clinching game of the World Baseball Classic, where he earned the MVP.

But this is the big time, arguably the biggest game he has ever pitched in. Yes, this is indeed the biggest game of his young life. The heat is on, and it is time for Matsuzaka to rise to the occasion, just as Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, and now even JD Drew, have done before him.

And with that burden rides the Red Sox 2007 season. Their fate isn't entirely in one man's hands, however. The hitters must hit. The big guns always seem to show up, but the 6-9 hitters must continue to contribute tonight as they did in Game 6. And the fielders must play flawless defense in support of Matsuzaka.

That, in fact, may be the key to the game. Matsuzkaka needs to trust his defense and just throw strikes. Pound the strike zone and have faith that it will pay off with a trip to the World Series, Dice-K. That would silence your critics and be a fine way to conclude your first season in Boston, your first season in the Majors, your first season in the big time.

Good luck. We'll all be watching, and hoping, and rooting for you.


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

Monday, October 15, 2007

MATSUZAKA'S MELTDOWN

Just as he did in his ALDS start against Anaheim (in which gave up three runs on seven hits and three walks), Daisuke Matsuzaka once again lasted just 4 2/3 innings in a playoff start. This time, the Japanese righty allowed eight base runners (six hits and two walks) against the Indians, resulting in four earned runs.

This season Matsuzaka threw an average of 108.7 pitches per start -- the most in baseball. And on Monday night, a high pitch count did him in once again. Though he struck out six batters, Dice-K threw 101 pitches and only 59 were strikes. On numerous occasions he fell behind Cleveland hitters and had three-ball counts too often to be successful. That pushed up his pitch count and lead to his early exit.

Dice-K has a tendency to nibble at the corners too much and look for help from the umpire. He doesn't seem to trust his defense enough to simply throw strikes. Instead, he tries to get big league hitters to chase pitches outside the strike zone. That may have worked early in the season when batters were unfamiliar with him and there was a sense of awe surrounding the Japanese legend. That sense of awe is now gone as hitters have figured him out. Teams have scouting reports on Matsuzaka and know his tendencies. Rather than chase pitches and take the bait on the corners, batters now dare him to throw strikes. And too often he doesn't, or can't.

On the other hand, the overlooked, under-appreciated Jake Westbrook threw a nasty sinkerball for nearly seven innings and stymied the Red Sox. Westbrook got 14 of his 19 outs on groundballs and induced three double plays on soft infield rollers. Before exiting he'd allowed two runs on seven hits and three walks.

Considering the Red Sox' $103 million investment, Matsuzaka was no bargain this year and certainly failed to live up to the enormous hype that preceded his arrival. Perhaps it was inevitable. Before he threw a single pitch in the majors, the recently turned 27-year-old was billed as the "next big thing" -- another Pedro in the making. That's yet to be determined, but the early returns aren't great.

His 15 wins, while impressive for a rookie, were matched by 12 losses. And then there is the real concern; his 4.40 ERA. His season was marked by a series of contrasts, positives and negatives. On the one hand, he struck out 201 batters in 204 2/3 innings. On the other, he allowed 191 hits and 80 walks; that amounts to a staggering 271 baserunners in those 204 2/3 innings. No matter how you slice it, that's not good. It's a problem that needs fixin'.

Last year, Josh Beckett, now the bona fide staff ace, had a similarly disappointing season. In his first season in the AL, Beckett went 16-11 with a 5.01 ERA. Other than the bloated ERA, another concern was the 36 homers he allowed. But this year Beckett more than halved that number, while dropping his ERA to an impressive 3.27. As a further indication of his evolution as an elite AL pitcher, Beckett also cut his walks nearly in half from 74 to 40, and increased his strike out total from 158 to 194.

The moral of the story is that one season is too small a sample to gauge a young pitcher, especially one like Matsuzaka who is not just coming from another league, but another nation with a vastly different culture. Perhaps Dice-K can reinvent himself in the same way that Josh Beckett did this year.

But it would be nice if he found a way to do it before next season. The Red Sox don't have that long to wait. Now down two games to one to the Indians, the Sox need help fast and they need it now.

Matsuzaka may not be done yet. If the Sox are able to find a way to come back and beat Cleveland, it will take better pitching. And it will also mean another playoff start -- in fact a World Series start -- for Dice-K on an even bigger stage. But that's what he was brought to Boston for in the first place; he had a big game resume that said he could be counted on in the big games.

That's a lot of ifs and maybes, but Dice-K still has a chance to play the hero, earn his millions, and live up to all that ridiculous hype before the 2007 season is in the record books.

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

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.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

PICK THE SOX IN FOUR

The Red Sox will prevail in their five-game series against the Angels in the ALDS. Here's why:

The Angels were just 2-5 at Fenway this year. The Angels' best hitter, Chone Figgins (.330), ended the season 0-for-22 and may be dealing with a recurring wrist injury. Vladimir Guerrero is ailing from an elbow problem, and Gary Matthews has been left off the postseason roster due to an injured knee.

If that's not enough, Game 1 starter John Lackey's career numbers against the Red Sox should encourage Red Sox fans — 1-6 with a 6.24 ERA. This year he was 0-2 with an 8.38 ERA.

The 2007 regular season contests between the two teams broke down this way:

Reds Sox: 6 wins; 6.4 runs per game; .290 team batting average; 9 home runs.
Angels: 4 wins; 4.2 runs per game; .260 team batting average; 7 home runs.

The Angels are a strong hitting team, ranking fourth best in baseball. Only three teams struck out less than the Halos, and they also swiped the third most bases in the majors. And while the Angels scored the sixth-most runs in baseball, they were 28th (out of 30 teams) in homers.

The Sox and Angels were second and third in strikeouts-per-nine-innings. But while the Sox pen had the second best ERA in baseball at 3.14, the Angels pen ranked 20th in the majors at 4.22.

That's just one reason why the Red Sox are a better team than the Angels, who won 94 games.

Tying Cleveland for the best record in the majors, the Red Sox won 96 games en route to their 10th straight winning season. They were fourth in runs, sixth in batting, 15th in stolen bases and 18th in home runs.

Having the AL's best record gives the Sox home field advantage through the ALCS, should they advance that far. That should benefit them to some degree. The Angles were just 2-5 at Fenway this year. On the other hand, the Sox were 1-2 in Anaheim. However, throughout the history of baseball, the home team has won roughly 54 percent of the time, and it's been essentially the same in the playoffs.

Some key players to the Sox postseason success:

Mike Lowell had a career year. His career-best 120 RBI led the team. He also hit .324 and had 21 home runs. As usual, he was steady in the field and made difficult plays look routine. However, he did have a career-high 15 errors after finishing with just six last season.

Dustin Pedroia finished the season with 165 hits, including 39 doubles, and scored 86 runs. But perhaps most impressive was his .3173 batting average -- the highest average ever for a qualifying rookie second baseman. Pedroia just edged Pittsburgh's Jim Viox, who hit .3171 in 1913.

David Ortiz finished with career highs in batting average (.332), on-base percentage (a major-league best .446), doubles (52), and hits (182). He also hit 35 home runs and scored 116 runs.

Manny Ramirez will rise to the occasion in the postseason. Count on it. And if JD Drew and Coco Crisp make even decent contributions, the offense will flourish.

As for pitching, Josh Beckett and Jonathan Papelbon will inspire confidence in their teammates and frustrate opposing hitters. But they cannot do it alone. They will need help from Daisuke Matsuzaka, veteran Curt Schilling, the surprising Hideki Okajima, and a resurgence from Eric Gagne. Since his meltdown in Toronto on September 18th, the former All Star closer has pitched 3 2/3 innings of shutout relief, with six strikeouts and just two walks and three hits.

There is, however, one other important x-factor in the pen.

Manny Delcarmen was scored upon in just three of his last 26 appearances dating to July 31, and ended the season with 10 consecutive scoreless appearances. He held batters to a .179 average in that span, striking out 21 in 24 innings while allowing 10 walks and 15 hits. Of the 12 runners he inherited, just three scored. In his last nine appearances, spanning 8 1/3 innings, Delcarmen walked just one while striking out eight. If he rises to the occasion, and lives up to all the potential the Red Sox have been banking on, the Red Sox pen will be overwhelming.

The Angels had a grinding September, playing 28 games in 30 days and finishing the month at 14-14.

The Sox, on the other hand, played 27 games and went 16-11.

When it comes to momentum, offense, rotation, bullpen, and playing in Fenway, the Red Sox have the edge over the Angles and should prevail in four games.

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