October 5, 2013
ALDS Game Two Preview: Rays at Red Sox
After a 12-2 drubbing of the Rays in Game One of the American League Division Series, the Red Sox look to put themselves firmly in the driver’s seat with another victory today in Boston. Unfortunately for them, if they want to do so, they’ll have to go through the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. Here is a look at the PECOTA odds and projected lineups for Game Two.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Just about the only positive the Rays can take away from Game One of this series is that the game was far enough out of hand that they didn’t burn many of the top guys in their bullpen, leaving a lot of fresh options available for Joe Maddon on Saturday night. Then again, the same can be said of the Red Sox, who have the further advantage of actually having won the game. Of their most reliable bullpen arms, only Junichi Tazawa got into Game One—and he threw only three pitches.
Even while missing three starts due to injury, Lackey still managed to throw nearly 189 1/3 innings on the season—and this was enabled by a career low walk rate (5.1 percent) and a career high groundball rate (46.8 percent). That inning total be a big number for someone returning from an entire missed season, but the Red Sox have kept an eye out for Lackey’s workload down the stretch. Here’s what Lackey had to say about it, courtesy of our own Zachary Levine: “I got a little break here in the last couple weeks when we were in a pretty good position as far as playoffs. John kinda gave me a little breather, so that could definitely help me to rejuvenate me a little bit. For the most part, I've felt pretty good all season.”
However, while Lackey’s overall numbers make this a season to remember, his recent past against the Rays has been something to forget. From May 9 to the All-Star Break, Lackey recorded 11 quality starts in 13 attempts. Those two non-quality starts were his only two appearances against the Rays this season, and he combined to give up nine runs and 19 hits in just 10 innings. Collectively, the current iteration of the Rays’ lineup has hit .300/.362/.425 in 225 career plate appearances against Lackey. And he may need to rely a little more on his defense than he usually does, especially against the middle of the Rays’ lineup—Longoria, Zobrist, and Loney have combined for a 9.6 percent strikeout rate against the big right-hander in their careers.
There has also been much made of manager John Farrell’s decision to pitch Lackey in Game Two over Clay Buchholz and his sub-2.00 ERA. And the reason for this? Lackey is 6-3 in 13 starts with a 2.47 ERA and 1.03 WHIP at home this season, versus 4-10 with a 4.48 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 16 starts away from home. So you’d think Lackey’s confidence would be through the roof pitching at Fenway, right? “I'm not really sure, honestly,” Lackey said about his success at home. “I don't know what that is. Really this place isn't one of the best places to pitch, so it should be the other way around.”
Opposing Lackey in this matchup is the man who carried his team on his back during Game 163 against the Texas Rangers by throwing a complete game in a hostile environment. At this point, we all know about Price’s diminishing velocity (his 94.5 MPH average velocity is down more than two miles per hour from his ridiculous 96.6 MPH average in 2012), but he hasn’t let that bother him too much. In fact, he still managed to put up a 3.05 FIP this past season, which was the exact same FIP he had in 2012 when he won the Cy Young Award.
Since returning from a triceps strain at the beginning of July, Price has been one of the best pitchers in baseball again, going 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 102 strikeouts (versus only 13 walks) in 131 2/3 innings. But he’s going about it differently, as was on display in Texas. Price’s swinging strike rate has gone down in 2013 from previous seasons, and in 118 pitches on September 30, he generated only four swings and misses. He doesn’t need to have hitters flailing at the plate in order to be successful, but he’s going to need to do a little better than that against a stronger Boston lineup.
This matchup today will also be the sixth time that Price will face off (ace off?) against the Red Sox so far in 2013, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, Price has only allowed 22 baserunners (19 hits and three walks) in 32 2/3 innings—that’s good for a 0.67 WHIP. He also has a 10.0 strikeout-to-walk rate and a 2.48 ERA for good measure.
Matchup to Watch