Results tagged “Rays” from Who Made You Mirabelli?

Clay in Control

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Clay%20Buchholz%202.jpgForget the six game lead in the Wild Card -- well don't actually forget it, because that's pretty awesome too -- but last night's rubber match against the Tampa Bay Rays showed us something that might be more useful come October: the emergence of Clay Buccholz as a control starter.

This is a guy with a career 1.73 SO/BB average, never knotching a season over 2.20. However, within the last week, Big Play Clay has earned himself a 4.0 SO/BB average. How's that for control? Hitting the spots has always been his biggest problem. His stuff is evident, and it's clear that he knows how to use it. But nibbling at the corners is something that he doesn't have yet... and that's fine. Those are the type of skills acquired by nothing but time and practice.

This trend is not only good for the kid, who very well may be a head case (emotionally... not psychologically... and yes... there is a difference), but it's also good for the team. Things are starting to click all over the place at the exact right time -- which as we've seen with the Rockies in '07 and the Rays in '08, trumps virtually all other skill sets.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox don't have time to stop and think about how nice this is starting to feel. Tonight, the Rangers go up against the Orioles, and Chris Tillman is going to call Scott Feldman his "daddy," after all -- he's practically old enough to be.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have won seven straight -- although tonight's matchup against Halladay and Baby Joba should be one for the ages... or in Joba's case, up until the fourth inning.

Big Game - Big Numbers

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Tonight is sure to be nothing short of a number game. As the Red Sox prepare to start a three game series against the Rays at Tropicana Field, the focus once again turns to pitching - the one area where the Sox have a decided advantage.

Thankfully, the Sox are staring down the barrel of a Sonnanstine, Garza, Price match-up - and we're firing back with Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz. Lester has been nothing short of spectacular in his last seven starts, picking up the slack for mysteriously ill Josh Beckett (H1N1? We're not saying... but we're just saying...)

It seems like a few short days ago when people were taking to the streets, praying up and down for any form of a pitcher. But in a series when a 14-5 ace with a 3.8 ERA is your biggest question mark, it's not a bad position to be in, relatively speaking of course.

In fact the three that the Sox are putting up this week have a combined ERA of 11.78, while the Rays are working with a 15.19 ERA. Of course, ERA can be one of the most misleading statistics in baseball, but the team's 8.9 hits allowed per 9 innings seem to echo the hittability of their pitchers. Not that the Red Sox have had the loudest bats as of late, but these Rays pitchers could be the nice cup o' joe that we so desperately need.

Now, the Globe, as it has been known to do, is crying to the hilss over this week's series - but they might actually be on to something here. At this point, with a month left in the season, there is a lot of room for change. But against a fiesty AL East competitor, the playoff picture could be much clearer by weeks end. Although Chad Finn needs to temper his enthusiasm (no... the earth is not going to open up and swallow the loser of this series), this is going to be a big one... hopefully with some big numbers for the boys in Red.

Pitching Out Of Order

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images.jpgWith all of the roster moves surrounding the trade deadline, there has to be a slight degree of forgiveness if the casual fan hasn't quite memorized the new roster... never mind the line-up. But it's not everyday when the manager forgets who the closer(s) are.

Tuning into a tie game in the ninth against a division rival, one would expect to see... maybe Jonathan Papelbon... maybe Daniel Bard - clearly the closer of the future. No, no, dear friends. Ramon Ramirez. That is what we saw.

Now, for those unfortunate souls watching the game on the trusted MLB.tv, we actually didn't "see" this per se. Instead, we found ourselves cursing the webmaster and then cursing Takashi Saito via ESPN's gamecast... a lovely way to spend an evening indeed.

But back to the pitching. Daniel Bard is, almost unquestionably going to be the closer for the Boston Red Sox at some point in the future, barring injury or trade - although the Fangraph boys think his "untouchable" tag is a bit undeserved. He gave up a two-run jack to Evan Longoria, who despite his uncharacteristically low numbers this season, has a propensity for tattooing young pitchers with not a lot of ball movement when their velocity tails... he is after all a professional ball player. But despite Longoria's jolt to Bard's confidence, the kid looks like the real deal. But the only way to give him a go is to give him a go... in a close situation.

If the Sox management was looking to play tonight a little more conservatively and give Papelbon the green light in the ninth... all well and good. That's what the team pays him for. That is not, however, what they pay Ramon Ramirez for. Nothing against poor Ram Ram - who ended up pitching his way out of a serious tight spot, but what? Why? Huh? So confused... must lay down.

Sure, it was a punch to the gut. The Red Sox should have won Game 2. They should have won it more than once over. Still, losing 2-1 to Tampa Bay isn't the end of the world.

In fact, given the home form of both teams in this series against the other, winning one of the first two games in Tampa Bay was a huge factor. If you'd told Boston fans before the series that the Sox would win one of Games 1 and 2, it would be hard to argue that the Sox weren't right on track.

At the end of the day -- a particularly long and painful, at that -- that's exactly where Boston is: on track. The problem is that the track is a much more narrow and precarious one than they would have been on after a 2-0 series lead. Now the Sox have no room for error, and that's a dangerous position with a knuckleball pitcher taking the mound in Game 4 in chilly and occasionally drizzly Fenway Park.

Jon Lester's Game 3 start is now a must win. Tim Wakefield's Game 4 will have even more pressure sitting on it, and the Rays will certainly have their eyes trained on a win there, particularly if they can get another Andy Sonnanstine start like they got in Game 4 in Chicago.

More important to the series' complexion, however, was Josh Beckett's utter inability to compete in clutch situations. Boston got Beckett three leads, he lost all of them. Hideki Okajima, Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon were all impeccable -- not to mention Manny Delcarmen, who got clutch outs again -- but those outings would have been preserving a win if Beckett had done his job.

Clearly, Beckett isn't the same pitcher everyone saw in the regular season, let alone in the 2007 postseason. Instead of three aces, the Red Sox suddenly have two and a huge question mark, and Terry Francona has to decide what to do with the rotation going forward.

Despite all of those problems, the Sox really are still on track, if barely. Now, if they can augment Dustin Pedroia's offensive awakening with more steady contributions from Kevin Youkilis and Jason Bay and anything from the uber-slumping David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Sox could really be in business.

Will that happen? Time will tell. For the moment, the Sox have to think about an incredibly disappointing Game 2 for another 24 hours, hoping that the next time they get a lead, their starting pitcher will hold it.
We're up against the gun here at WMYM, so we're going to make things easy: Here's my ALCS series breakdown in terms of pitching, hitting and, finally, a flat out prediction. Here's hoping it's more accurate than Andy's stab at the ALDS.

ortizbay.JPGBig Papi and Jason Bay hope there's more to hug about in the games to come.

PITCHING:

Boston: Matsuzaka-Beckett-Lester-Wakefield-Matsuzaka-Beckett-Lester
Tampa Bay: Shields-Kazmir-Garza-Sonnanstine-Sheilds-Kazmir-Garza

It's hard to make a convincing argument that Tampa Bay has a rotation advantage, particularly with the recent form of Boston's burgeoning ace left hander Jon Lester. With Lester potentially getting the ball in both Games 3 and 7, Boston would seem to have him right in the clutch that he's been excelling at. Josh Beckett had his shakiest postseason outing ever in Boston's ALDS loss, but an extra day of rest -- as opposed to two starts in three weeks -- should have him a lot closer to being on point in this series. Daisuke Matsuzaka continue to be an enigma, wriggling out of jams throughout high pitch counts over just five innings. We still haven't seen him go deep in a postseason game. Could this be the series? And as for Wakefield ... he's Tim Wakefield. While WMYM has a shrine dedicated to him, he's utterly hit or miss at the best of times. He has, however, traditionally been dominant at the Trop, but he'll have to ply his pitches at chilly Fenway in Game 4 of this series.

As for the Rays, Shields has had rough outings against the Sox, Kazmir got drilled the last time Boston faced him in the Trop while Garza continues to seem like the scariest guy they throw out on the hill. Andy Sonnanstine was great closing out the White Sox. Great. Stay tuned. That Game 4 could look like a mismatch in the Rays' favor depending on how the series turns before it.

The bullpen, however, is another story. The Rays have a plethora of setup men without the closer they took and injury-riddled shot on in the offseason: Troy Percival. That hasn't slowed them, and it probably won't now, either. The Sox relievers looked much better in the ALDS than they did in much of the season, but there are still questions. Justin Masterson had one of his shakiest outings as a big leaguer to set the stage for Jed Lowrie's heroic walk-off. Then there's the fact that Mike Timlin earned the extra roster spot. We're longtime backers of Captain Camo, but he was almost a walking white surrender flag during the second half of this year. If he has to come in during clutch situations, watch out. The Rays teed off on him the last time he came in against Tampa. Of course, they did that against Jonathan Papelbon once, too, so you never know.

EDGE: Red Sox. The rotation should help make up for Tampa's bullpen buffer.

HITTING:

Boston: Ellsbury-Pedroia-Ortiz-Youkilis-Drew-Bay-Kotsay-Lowrie-Varitek
Tampa Bay: Iwamura-Upton-Pena-Longoria-Crawford-Floyd-Navarro-Gross-Bartlett

On paper, this is another mismatch. Unfortunately, that's paper that was drawn up over the bulk of the regular season, not a series of clutch matchups between the Red Sox and Rays and the two teams' subsequent ALDS wins. Jacoby Ellsbury seems to be waking up at just the right time for Boston, and if Ortiz can do more than he did in a miserable series against the Angels and if J.D. Drew can stay healthy, the Sox look plenty dangerous. If either of those factors don't come through ... or even don't come through the way Boston needs them to, the Jason Bay will have to be called on to hit at the blistering pace he put up against Anaheim.

Tampa Bay, on the other hand, bats a bunch of guys who many would need scorecards for. That's before you look at monstrous hot streaks for B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria, two hitters sandwiched by Boston area-native and crushing power hitter Carlos Pena. The 'los does strike out plenty, but Longoria has to be considered one of the most terrifying up and coming hitters in the majors. Navarro is another whose contributions can't be minimized. The catcher had a bushel of huge hits against Boston this year, including the ball that cost Jonathan Papelbon in the game that forever turned the AL East tide.

EDGE: Push

PREDICTION: They say great pitching wins championships, and both these teams have the potential to have it. Sure, Tampa Bay's rotation is as young as the rest of its roster, but it's got plenty of heat and talent. That being said, betting against Josh Beckett (despite his ALDS numbers) and what seems like the ghost of Sandy Koufax embodied by Jon Lester is a hard thing to do. That's before you add in hopes for Matsuzaka and the fact that the Red Sox's two most important hitters -- Big Papi and Dustin Pedroia -- almost tossed out in 0-fer in the ALDS, and couldn't possibly be any worse. If Ortiz and Pedroia hit while Beckett improves and Lester keeps cruising, the Sox should win. It says here that will happen.

RED SOX IN SIX

It didn't happen.

The chances were there -- a superb performance from Josh Beckett with only one-run of offensive support, a start for Tim Wakefield in a place where he'd traditionally dominated -- but in the end, it just didn't happen. After yet another key Daisuke Matsuzaka win in the opener of a series, not to mention an encouraging bounce-back from his disappointing outing at Fenway last week, the Red Sox offense crumbled in Games 2 and 3, all but handing Tampa Bay the AL East crown in the Rays' final stand at home.

Not that the Red Sox need to be cried over. With a seven-game edge in the Wild Card standings entering the night, Boston is all but assured to walk off with a playoff place, even with a tough run out of the season.

Those games -- at Toronto, at Cleveland and against the Yankees -- are exactly why Boston won't be able to bridge the two game breach at the end of the season. Sure, Tampa Bay has struggled on the road, a factor that comes firmly back into play as they head off to finish the season as vagabonds. But that shouldn't save the Red Sox with a division title on the line. It just won't. Boston had it's chances, twice in a week, for that matter, and it just didn't capitalize on them.

In fact, that's precisely what has to be much more discouraging about a second-straight collapse in a series against the Rays. Sure, the Sox hit impressively against Toronto and fought back to claw out a 3-of-4 series against a team even hotter than they were coming in, but they haven't been able to muster any of that clutch hitting against the team they've been chasing in the division all year. In fact, they haven't been able to muster any clutch hitting against Tampa Bay OR Anaheim, a considerable worry heading into the playoffs, since a Wild Card Boston would get yet another first-round face off with the Angels.

Naturally, conjecture over first round matchups are still a ways off. The AL Central is far too close to call, and even though the Sox shouldn't be able to bridge a two-game gap with 10 games left, much stranger things have happened. One magical run, and Fenway could be hosting Chicago or Minnesota as the playoffs open instead of trekking out to the left coast to kick off another playoffs.

It could happen, but it won't. It probably should happen, but it won't. It should have been teed up, but Boston couldn't capitalize and officially lost the season series to Tampa Bay for the first time ever. Kudos to the Rays. They earned an AL East title scrappy effort by undermanned scrappy effort, and the Red Sox just couldn't execute.

Soon, it'll be time to see who can execute when it really counts.

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