BOSTON (CBS) – I remember in every interview in Spring Training or prior to a playoff series with former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, he would begin almost every answer with: “On paper…”.
It was simply because in baseball, you just never knew how things would play out when they rolled the ball between the lines.
So, let me start a Red Sox-Rays Playoff blog the same way. On paper, the Red Sox are a better team than the Tampa Bay Rays.
I go back to 2008 when the Rays and Red Sox went on to meet in the ALCS. In early September, the Rays came in to Boston and took two of three. It ended with a 4-2, 14 inning Rays win on a Carlos Pena home run. A week later the Rays did it again in Tampa. Then they went on to win the ALCS in seven games en route to their first-ever trip to the World Series.
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This season, the Sox were 12-7 against the Rays and seemed to play them with the ’08 Tampa confidence. In early September, Boston went into Tampa and took two of three. Clay Buchholz was solid, as was Sox closer Koji Uehara on the mound while Mike Carp hit a pinch-hit grand slam to win a game in extra innings. Now, that’s not to saying the Sox dominated the Rays this year by any means. They simply did the things they needed to win. It’s been that way all year.
Back to the “on paper” stuff, I like the Boston lineup over Tampa’s. The Sox scored more runs than any team in baseball and saw more pitches than any team in baseball – by far! It was something ridiculous like 1,600 more pitches. They are a team that will grind, and that’s important against a team like Tampa who has such good pitching. In fact, if you want to focus on one thing in this series look for strike one. If Tampa’s starters throw strike one it can turn the series in their favor in a hurry. This year’s Sox take a lot of pitches (like the 2003 and 2004 teams) and work counts, which can sometimes lead to the opposing team’s starting pitcher exiting in the 5th or 6th inning rather than the 7th and 8th.
Tampa can pitch. It’s the Rays strength with Moore, Price, Cobb, and a solid bullpen. They are tough, but if Boston can work high pitch counts early on, they will be in good shape.
Meanwhile, Tampa’s lineup isn’t as solid from top to bottom, but it’s still dangerous. Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist are great players with Delmon Young, Desmond Jennings, and Wil Myers wild cards. As for the Sox pitching, it’s the same theme we began the year with. If Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz pitch like they did when John Farrell was here as pitching coach then the Sox will be in good shape. After that, the 6th and 7th innings could be difference-makers. If Tazawa, Breslow, and Workman can be effective in these frames, the Sox will be more than fine.
Lastly, watch and see who could be that unheralded postseason hero; the Bill Mueller or Trot Nixon of the group. Can it be Stephen Drew? Will Middlebrooks? Daniel Nava? Mike Carp? Xander Bogaerts? David Ross? There are lots of possibilities and lots of opportunities, even in a short five game series.
You have two good teams going at it here with two good managers. I can’t wait to see it unfold.
I like the Sox in four games (maybe five). I just think it’s their turn.
Have fun and enjoy!
Follow WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on Twitter @RochieWBZ.