Achtober Baby

It was a good weekend for the Boston Red Sox, principally because they ended their maddening four-game losing streak and clinched a spot in the playoffs (it was also a good weekend for me because I slept here).

They may win the division, they may not; they may wind up with the league’s best record, they may not. We do know the Sox will face either the Indians or the Angels in the playoffs. Who do the Sox most want to face of those two teams?

Well, just based on the head-to-head results, the Indians seem like a favorable choice. The Sox went 5-2 during the season against them, and 6-4 against the Angels. That 5-2 record was helped by a 3-1 stint in July that featured the twin 1-0 pitcher duels between the Beckett-Matsuzaka and Sabathia-Carmona tandems. The Sox beat up Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee in the other two games. In May, the Sox took two of three and managed to avoid Sabathia and Carmona in doing so.

The Angels, meanwhile, took four of seven games from the Sox in the second half after Boston had swept a rain-shortened three-game series in April. The Sox have hung two losses on Angels ace John Lackey and somehow managed to avoid ever facing No. 2 Kelvim Escobar. The Sox had mixed results in two games against Jered Weaver.

Reality, however, has a way of messing with perception. Never mind that the Sox were a Gagne implosion away from going 7-3 against Anaheim this year, this Angels team seems to have significant flaws in their rotation that Cleveland does not. It might make the Halos the better choice for Sox fans hoping to see more than just three-to-five games of October baseball.

  • Sox offense vs. CLE: .282/.342/.456 (.798 OPS/98 tOPS+), 4.9 RPG
  • Sox pitching vs. CLE: .223/.292/.358 (.650 OPS), 3.05 ERA

Likely Sox playoff starters vs. CLE:

  1. Beckett (two starts): 1-1, 15 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 14 K, 1.80 ERA
  2. Matsuzaka (two starts): 1-1, 12.2 IP, 16 H, 6 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 4.26 ERA
  3. Schilling (one start): 1-0, 7 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 10 K, 1.29 ERA
  4. Wakefield: No starts

Likely Indian playoff starters vs, BOS:

  1. Sabathia (one start): 0-1, 7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 1.29 ERA
  2. Carmona (one start): 1-0, 8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 0.00 ERA
  3. Westbrook (one start): 0-1, 6 IP, 10 H, 5 ER, 4 BB, 1 K, 7.50 ERA
  4. Byrd (one start): 1-0, 6 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K, 1.50 ERA

You see the problem. The Red Sox beat up on Cliff Lee and Jeremy Sowers, two pitchers they are unlikely to see in the postseason. They, like most of the league, managed very little against Sabathia and Carmona, and Byrd gave them trouble, as well — even if it was just one start apiece. Despite the better record against Cleveland, that Indian one-two punch is lethal — more lethal at this juncture than the Sox’ because Sabathia can easily outduel Beckett in Game 1, leaving the Sox to throw Schilling or Matsuzaka against Carmona.

Now the Angels:

  • Sox offense vs. LAA: .290/.364/.452 (.816 OPS/104 tOPS+), 6.4 RPG
  • Sox pitching vs. LAA: .260/.307/.401 (.708 OPS), 3.99 ERA

Likely Sox playoff starters vs. LAA:

  1. Beckett (two starts): 1-0, 13 IP, 11 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 13 K, 1.38 ERA
  2. Matsuzaka: No starts
  3. Schilling (three starts): 2-1, 20 IP, 21 H, 9 ER, 1 BB, 12 K, 4.05 ERA
  4. Wakefield (two starts): 1-1, 11 IP, 12 H, 7 ER, 5 BB, 5 K, 5.73 ERA

Likely Angel playoff starters vs. BOS:

  1. Lackey (two starts): 0-2, 9.2 IP, 20 H, 9 ER, 1 BB, 9 K, 8.38 ERA
  2. Escobar: No starts
  3. Weaver (two starts): 0-1, 10.1 IP, 14 H, 8 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 6.97 ERA
  4. Saunders (two starts): 2-0, 13 IP, 14 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 9 K, 3.46 ERA

The Red Sox have had a lot better success against Angel starters this year, struggling only against Joe Saunders, whom the Sox could wind up not facing at all if they were to play Anaheim in the first round and the schedules aligned right. The numbers are obviously heavily sample-sized, but they do give an idea who the Sox and Angels have liked to face this year (John Lackey and Tim Wakefield).

The Angels have the easier starting staff to handle, while the Sox’ starters — or at least Beckett and Schilling — have shown they can dominate both these teams. From this perspective, the Angels look much better.

Momentum and home-field advantage seem to matter little in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but it would be nice to not play a team who is tearing it up in September.

Team pitching and batting lines since Sept. 1:

  • CLE: 14-6, 3.36 ERA, .262 BAA, .678 OPSA // 4.9 RPG, .263/.346/.449/.795, 26 HR
  • LAA: 11-10, 4.52 ERA, .273 BAA, .765 OPSA // 5.2 RPG, .293/.366/.417/.783, 16 HR
  • BOS: 12-8, 4.50 ERA, .241 BAA, .712 OPSA // 5.8 RPG, .283/.363/.464/.827, 25 HR

The Red Sox’ pitchers, despite struggling this month, have limited opposing batters better than the Angels’ have. Likewise, the Sox’ hitters have outhit both their likely playoff opponents. The difference seems to be in the pitching — Cleveland’s is strong and shows no signs of slowing down; the Angels have seen Escobar collapse (10.19 ERA in four September starts) and have little else behind him and Lackey.

Top BOS/CLE/LAA starters in September (see if this list doesn’t change your idea of what the Sox’ postseason rotation should be. Also, thankfully for Angels’ opponents, Mike Scioscia has decided to put the suddenly hot Ervin Santana in the bullpen in favor of Bartolo Colon while Escobar tanks):

  1. Carmona: 4-0, 1.27
  2. E. Santana: 2-1, 1.27
  3. Sabathia: 3-0, 2.03
  4. Beckett: 4-0, 2.25
  5. Lester: 2-0, 2.70
  6. Lackey: 1-1, 2.83
  7. Schilling: 0-2, 3.66
  8. Westbrook: 2-0, 4.56
  9. Byrd: 2-2, 5.12
  10. Weaver: 3-1, 5.32
  11. Matsuzaka: 1-1, 9.74
  12. Escobar: 0-2, 10.19
  13. Wakefield: 0-1, 12.08

Doesn’t include today’s games.

As much as we as Sox fans would like to see the Angels face the Yankees, it seems Boston has a better chance against Anaheim’s starters than against Cleveland’s, with both squads’ offense roughly equal, at least over the past month. Obviously, seeing the Angels beat the Yanks means nothing if the Sox go down 2-0 to Sabathia and Carmona with the underbelly of the rotation coming up.

So if the Sox win, root for the Indians. If the Sox lose, root for the Angels. That’s my advice, anyway.

44 comments… add one
  • Please – take the Angels. We’ll take care of Cleveland. See you in the ALCS!

    AndrewYF September 23, 2007, 10:00 pm
  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    uh, ok paul….maybe the team you need to fear the most is the yankees…i think you’ll beat your opening round opponent regardless, and assuming [yep a big if] the yanks do too, well, we got a ballgame…

    dc September 23, 2007, 10:02 pm
  • It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing.
    Right now the Sox need to get their own house in order and finish strong before worrying about these two teams. We got problems.

    no sleep til brooklyn SF September 23, 2007, 10:15 pm
  • Yup, you got BIG problems, lol.

    Marc YF September 23, 2007, 11:38 pm
  • i think you’ll beat your opening round opponent regardless
    The way the Red Sox have been playing of late, that’s an assumption I have no interest in making. I’d rather play the team that gives the Sox the best chance for victory. I think that’s the Angels, particularly given their own struggles. The Yankees are definitely the team I fear most in the playoffs; I’ve said so multiple times. On the other hand, Wang-Pettitte doesn’t scare me nearly as much as Sabathia-Carmona, and in a five-game series it’s almost all about your one-two.
    At any rate, NSTB, so what if the Sox need to get their own house in order? That’s a given. They haven’t been playing well. Are we not allowed to look at their opponents anyway? Clearly, the Red Sox have already begun thinking about that (re-aligning the rotation, plotting out a comeback for Okajima, pitching Gagne more frequently). Why shouldn’t we? I guess I just don’t understand your gripe with looking at the postseason competition now that the Sox are assured of getting there.

    Paul SF September 23, 2007, 11:47 pm
  • I have long since given up wishing for a certain opponent, it always seems to backfire…

    yankeemonkey September 24, 2007, 12:13 am
  • i admire your energy for putting so much into your posts paul, but you spent way too much time on this one…i don’t have a gripe with looking at the potential opponents, but beyond saying the obvious: anybody can beat anybody once the playoffs start, the analysis is wasted energy…i definitely do think the sox will beat anybody they play in the opener…the yanks seem to be a different animal especially this second half of the season, and could give the sox fits if they make it that far…i’m more concerned about them [the yanks] getting through the first round…

    dc September 24, 2007, 12:59 am
  • Great analysis, Paul. It contains a lot of the stuff I’ve been thinking about. Thanks!
    Would you want Dice as the number 2? I’m not so sure. Based on performance, no.
    But based on strategy, I’d rather have Schilling start a Game 3 as that does seem the most pivotal.

    Pete September 24, 2007, 6:52 am
  • I’m with ym – it’s hard for me to root for a certain matchup. The two hottest teams are NY and Cleveland. At the same time, I will probably always have a semi-nauseous feeling whenever the prospect of another LAA post-season series presents itself until the Yankees actually manage to overcome them, so I’m pretty ambivalent about who NY faces. I think the division is not determinative for much of anything in the post-season, but I think winning it in this last week, after being out of it for 6 months, would be a real boost to the team, whatever that’s worth.
    I expect Cleveland to play all-out until they have clinched (or have failed to do so) the best AL record so that they can take advantage of choosing the series they want since it clearly benefits them more than any other team.
    I don’t know what the Yankees and Red Sox each do if the Yankees clinch the WC say, tomorrow or Wed, but are still one game off the division. How hard do they each ride their starters and bullpens?
    These two sets of strategic-decisions – one by Cleveland and the other by NY/Boston are the more interesting things to me right now.

    IronHorse (yf) September 24, 2007, 8:59 am
  • but I think winning it in this last week, after being out of it for 6 months, would be a real boost to the team, whatever that’s worth.
    Just like it was for Minnesota last year.
    Not trying to belittle the comeback of the Yankees (it’s been marvelous), but the idea that such a comeback means much of anything with regards to momentum is one that is easily disregarded and easily made. If the Yankees win the division and continue to succeed in the playoffs it will have less to do with the division win than with the fact that they have been the best team in baseball for three months running and continue to play the same quality baseball that has been behind the successes of their last 80 games. If the Sox lose the division and fail in the playoffs it will not be because they were heartbroken by the regular season failure and were so despondent they couldn’t hit, but because the team is simply not good enough and played to the same level that defined their final 100 games.

    SF September 24, 2007, 9:32 am
  • I was surprised Lester has done so well in September. His walks are still wayy too high, but I’d put Wake in the pen and start Lester at least as the No. 4, based on reliability alone.
    anybody can beat anybody once the playoffs start, the analysis is wasted energy
    I’ve argued against this line of thought before because I think it oversimplifies the playoffs. You have your anomalies like St. Louis last year, but otherwise the teams that win it all, even if they won the wild card, have been great teams who deserved to win. Likewise, I think “anyone can win” applies more broadly outside the contexts of the actual teams themselves. The five-game series, while being more of a crapshoot because anyone can get hot and win three of five games from a vastly superior opponent, also more heavily favors the teams with a stacked front end who might otherwise not be built for a seven-game series. The idea is to be in the best possible position to win, and playing the Angels seems to give the Sox the best possible position.
    Don’t worry, DC. I didn’t spend that much time on it. And what’s baseball if you can’t root for the scenario you want down the stretch? At least now I know which teams to root for and against (other than the Sox and Yanks, of course).

    Paul SF September 24, 2007, 9:42 am
  • As an aside, I believe that the Red Sox can lose no more than one game the rest of the way to win the division. Tall task.

    SF September 24, 2007, 9:48 am
  • To be frank, there is no reason to push the starters to win the division, it’s just silly. We are in the post-season, that’s what matters. Why not rest the regulars and set up the rotation?
    It irks me, because I want to win the division, but in reality, it’s just not a priority right now.

    LocklandSF September 24, 2007, 9:56 am
  • Today’s a big game for the Yanks though. They absolutely have to win and against Burnett. If not, they’re 2 out with 7 to play.
    Then I could see the Sox going 4-3 and the Yanks would have to win 6 of 7 just to take the division. Baltimore may be laying down, but the DRays are playing tough baseball, as we’ve seen. Plus, don’t the Yanks see Kazmir?

    Pete September 24, 2007, 9:58 am
  • Yankees will face Kazmir on Thursday…Come on guys, doesn’t everyone want a Sox vs. Yankees ALCS???? It’s written in the stars in my opinion. This is the year the Yankees get past the Angels (if needed) and we own the Indians if that scenario plays out. The Sox have had success against both teams, right? Let’s all collectively wish, pray, meditate, whatever it is you do for another Fall Classic between the Bombers and the Sox!!!

    krueg September 24, 2007, 10:03 am
  • First off, I really don’t understand why anyone is giving Paul a hard time about his piece? Should he have written another piece analyzing the Gagne trade? Or maybe a piece on Manny’s and Youk’s health? I got it how about we talk some more about Wakefield and Daisuke? That’s what we come here for, discussion of what’s going on. Like it or not everyone speculates about who they will play, how they matchup, etc. Give him a break fellas.

    John - YF (Trisk) September 24, 2007, 10:07 am
  • “doesn’t everyone want a Sox vs. Yankees ALCS”
    Absolutely not, my body can’t take it.

    LocklandSF September 24, 2007, 10:12 am
  • The Red Sox don’t have 7 games left, that’s where the 1/2 game comes from, the Yankees have played one less game, today is a rain out makeup. You are right when you say today is a big game though. Torre has already said he would rather let the pitching line up properly, then make a push for the AL East.
    Vs. Toronto (Burnett)
    @ Tampa Bay (Hammel)
    @ Tampa Bay (Howell)
    @ Tampa Bay (Kazmir)
    @ Baltimore (Leicester)
    @ Baltimore (Cabrera)
    @ Baltimore (Burres)
    Vs. Oakland (Gaudin)
    Vs. Oakland (Lester)
    Vs. Minnesota (Baker)
    Vs. Minnesota (Slowey)
    Vs. Minnesota (Silva)
    Vs. Minnesota (Garza)

    John - YF (Trisk) September 24, 2007, 10:19 am
  • Thanks John – my bad. And thanks for the pitching schedule. If the Yanks lose today, the Sox can probably lose two games and still take the division cause I don’t think the Yanks win out. Otherwise, it’s going to be close – it could very well go down to the final day.
    And yes – I really do hope it’s Sox v. Yankees. It’s great baseball when they play and we’re living in a golden time when both teams are very good every year.

    Pete September 24, 2007, 10:27 am
  • I remember last year when i was hoping the yankees would face the Tigers since they so unexperienced and not as good as the red hot A’s. That worked out great for us.

    Sam-YF September 24, 2007, 10:29 am
  • “I really do hope it’s Sox v. Yankees.”
    Two of the dumbest things I have ever done/said:
    In 2003 I wished that the Red Sox would come back against the A’s so that they could play Yankees for the ALCS. I was actually rooting for them, I seem to remember a big HR by Trot that helped the cause.
    In the parking lot of Yankee Stadium, after Game #7 2003, I said to my friend “I don’t care if they get swept in the World Series beating the Sox and keeping the streak alive is all I care about!”
    Needless to say my days of wishing or rooting for certain matchups are over.

    John - YF (Trisk) September 24, 2007, 10:32 am
  • I have quarter-hourly heart attacks in Sox-Yanks postseason games: the stakes are too high. Working with a bunch of loudmouth Yankees fans who are d*cks when it comes to baseball (though really nothing else) does NOT make it fun for me. During Game 6 in 2004, I just sat in front of the TV by myself, huddled with my arms around myself, except when I was chain-smoking (mostly not cigarettes, either). I nearly killed myself with stress in the 9th inning of that game.
    It’s the definition of high-risk, high-reward. And in my case, if it can be avoided (except by losing), I’d avoid it.

    Devine September 24, 2007, 10:34 am
  • I know it’s not rational but I look at it this way:
    Sox playing the Yankees in the post-season means they had a very good year (i.e., it can only be the ALCS). If it happens this year it will have meant three times in five years. That’s pretty outstanding no matter what happens. And they’ve consistently played each other to a draw or close. That means great, great baseball.
    One more reason for the Sox to take the division? Homefield in that ALCS. That’s got some significance since the Sox have a winning record at home against the Yanks (5-4 – and a gag job away from another victory) while the Yanks had the advantage playing at home (6-3).

    Pete September 24, 2007, 10:43 am
  • Great news for the yankees, Burnett scratched from start.
    Gamer Please?

    Sam-YF September 24, 2007, 12:58 pm
  • I’m all for the Sox playing the Yanks, as long as we win.

    Tyrel SF September 24, 2007, 1:00 pm
  • > I have quarter-hourly heart attacks in Sox-Yanks postseason games
    I know what you are saying, Devine, but:
    A) My team wins a sweep with no real threat
    B) My team (wins/loses) in a heart-wrenching, stupendous, classic battle that may cost me a year off my life due to palpitations.
    I’ll take B, because 40 years from now I can bore my grandkids with, “I remember when Derek Jeter faced Josh Beckett with the bases loaded down by a run and then he….”
    Who remembers walks in the park? A walk in the park that turns into a race for your life chased by wild dogs and an angry mob? Now that sticks with you.

    attackgerbil September 24, 2007, 1:13 pm
  • Sam – totally forgot there was a game today. Looks like SF saved our bacon.

    attackgerbil September 24, 2007, 1:14 pm
  • Who remembers walks in the park?
    Um, I do. If I remember correctly the Sox beat the Cards in four straight a few years back and it was perfection.

    SF September 24, 2007, 1:18 pm
  • “Achtober Baby”
    How appropriate. Let the blitzkrieg rain down on those poor, hapless fellows from the Bronx.
    Let it be NY, I say. There’s only one way to put to rest the cries from the bandwagon jumpers
    “100 years of excellence!”
    “100 years of excellence!”
    “100 years of excellence!”, they sing!
    “2004 was just a fluke”, they burp. “With our 6 quality starters, HOF catcher, and impervious defense, we are golden!”
    Manny, Youk, Dice and Oki willing, of course. Would not be fair if one of the two combatants had to fight with his right arm ducktaped to his left foot.

    BostonRAW September 24, 2007, 1:19 pm
  • Milton Bradley tore his ACL (and will miss part of the early 2008-season as a result) as a result of his manager having to wrestle him to the ground to get him away from the umpire he was arguing with.
    Milton Bradley is priceless. I would scarecly be surprised if the guy pulled a knife in the middle of a game.

    IronHorse (yf) September 24, 2007, 1:29 pm
  • > and it was perfection
    It was also singular while being rather anti-climactic. Do you think that the series held more interest than the ALCS? Of course, as a Sox fan, you will remember the series win, but do you think, taken a whole, it was more intriguing than what was arguably the greatest, most improbable comeback in the history of sports?
    I don’t deny that winning a series is a thrill, by hook or crook, but what element of the 2004 season held the best expression of the struggle? If you say the last pitch of the fourth game of the Series, that’s obviously your prerogative, but that was a dénouement, not a climax.

    attackgerbil September 24, 2007, 1:34 pm
  • No, it wasn’t as dramatic as the Sox-Yanks series, of course not, but it was memorable. Why wouldn’t a Sox sweep of the Yankees be similarly memorable for someone like me?
    I don’t need the drama to be happy. Drama is great, for sure, so if it’s dramatic then good for baseball lore. But as a Sox fan I don’t feel like if there’s an absence of drama in a Sox win that means I have been shortchanged, that’s all.

    SF September 24, 2007, 1:37 pm
  • No, it wasn’t as dramatic as the Sox-Yanks series, of course not, but it was memorable. Why wouldn’t a Sox sweep of the Yankees be similarly memorable for someone like me?
    I don’t need the drama to be happy. Drama is great, for sure, so if it’s dramatic then good for baseball lore. But as a Sox fan I don’t feel like if there’s an absence of drama in a Sox win that means I have been shortchanged, that’s all.

    SF September 24, 2007, 1:38 pm
  • Put me down as not rooting for the Sox-Yanks ALCS. Sox-Angels or Sox-Tribe, please.

    Paul SF September 24, 2007, 2:01 pm
  • I misspoke.. “anti-climactic” is not an accurate description in any sense. Also, I agree that drama isn’t necessary for a series to be memorable or worthwhile.

    attackgerbil September 24, 2007, 2:21 pm
  • Fox is the biggest lover of Sox/Yanks match up by far.

    no sleep til brooklyn SF September 24, 2007, 2:35 pm
  • Toronto takes two of four in NY, where the uberteam has generally been decent all year. Quite unlike their roadshow performances.
    Maybe it’s time some realized that Toronto ain’t half bad and that the SOX losing last week with 4 Cora’s in the lineup did not amount to their conceding the Divisional title, “giving up” in the minds of too many posters here.
    The Yanks now go on the road against the dregs of the AL East to conclude their season. Meanwhile, the SOX are at home against more formidable foes. I call that a wash.
    The SOX win the division

    BostonRAW September 24, 2007, 4:27 pm
  • It helps that with the Yanks’ loss, the Sox can go 4-2 and clinch a tie no matter what(which really means nothing, with NY holding the tiebreak, but still). Still, I could totally see the Sox going 3-3 and the Yanks winning out. Luckily, the home/road scenarios are in the Sox’ favor.

    Paul SF September 24, 2007, 4:34 pm
  • “Let it be NY, I say. There’s only one way to put to rest the cries from the bandwagon jumpers
    “100 years of excellence! they sing!
    Earth to clownboy: if you win this year, the score is 26-7. That will hardly put an end to the singing of that song…

    Andrews September 24, 2007, 5:11 pm
  • Honk-honk!!!!

    Andrews September 24, 2007, 5:13 pm
  • BostonRAW September 24, 2007, 8:43 pm
  • Funny, but not yet, Clownboy…
    While you’re out shopping, you might want to pick up one of these:

    Andrews September 24, 2007, 10:09 pm
  • Whiz whiz, weeeee, chupa, chupa honk honk, CRASH!!!!!

    Andrews September 24, 2007, 10:11 pm
  • i think that’s the toughest thing for sox fans like b-raw after 2004…they really had to re-examine that whole curse notion, along with how they feel about “luck’ having a role in outcomes, the relative ease with which the championship team was dismantled with no apparent downside, and beginning this past year at least, their team’s philosophy for not buying a championship…these things are the silver linings for yanks fans who are still bummed about ’04…
    other than that, all i have to say is “honk-honk, ‘whistle’, whoop de doo”…

    dc September 25, 2007, 7:46 am

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