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October 8, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Game Four Preview: Red Sox at Rays

by Bret Sayre

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With the Rays having staved off elimination yet again at the hands of unlikely hero Jose Lobaton, the two division rivals will continue their series for one more game in Tampa Bay. Here is a look at the PECOTA odds and projected lineups for Game Four:

Red Sox (Jake Peavy) at Rays (Jeremy Hellickson) 8:30 p.m. ET
PECOTA odds of winning: Rays 53.5, Red Sox 46.5%

Projected Starting Lineups:

Rays vs Peavy (R)

Red Sox vs Hellickson (R)

David DeJesus (L) LF

Jacoby Ellsbury (L) CF

Ben Zobrist (S) 2B

Shane Victorino (S) RF

Evan Longoria (R) 3B

Dustin Pedroia (R) 2B

Wil Myers (R) RF

David Ortiz (L) DH

James Loney (L) 1B

Mike Napoli (R) 1B

Desmond Jennings (R) CF

Daniel Nava (L) LF

Matt Joyce (L) DH

Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S) C

Yunel Escobar (R) SS

Stephen Drew (S) SS

Jose Molina (R) C

Will Middlebrooks (R) 3B

The Set-Up:

For the first time in the series, PECOTA is siding with the Rays by enough of a margin to notice. The biggest reason for this is that it hasn’t watched Jeremy Hellickson pitch over the past couple of months. This is just one of the many reasons I’m envious of PECOTA. He’ll be opposed by Jake Peavy, who may have some rust to shake off; he hasn’t pitched since September 25 (that’s 12 days of rest for those of you counting at home).

Focusing In:
The newest member of the Red Sox rotation will be the one looking to put an end to this series one day after Clay Buchholz could not. Jake Peavy came over to Boston this summer as part of the three-way trade between the Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox—with Jose Iglesias as the only significant piece leaving Beantown. Since arriving on July 30, Peavy has made 10 starts with a 4.04 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 45 strikeouts in 64 2/3 innings. And despite a significantly lower strikeout rate with the more colorful Sox (16.9 percent versus 23.5 percent), he’s been better both in ERA and FIP since the trade.

Surely, Peavy is anxious to get out there and get a good taste of the postseason in his mouth. In his career, he’s made two starts under the bright lights and they’ve both been outings he’d like to forget (even if they were a long time ago). In 2005, Peavy pitched Game One of the NLDS and gave up eight runs in less than five innings en route to a loss. The following year, he again pitched Game One of the NLDS and gave up five runs and didn’t make it out of the sixth inning. Thankfully for Peavy, he’s not facing the Cardinals today, as both of those starts came against the Redbirds.

In two starts this season against Tampa Bay, Peavy had two quality starts—though they were of the basic variety (three earned runs in each without making it through the seventh inning). And considering how his opposition has fared recently, another quality start of any kind could be more than enough for the Red Sox to end this series at four.

That opposition, who has a 7.02 ERA since the calendar flipped to August, comes in the form of the enigmatic Hellickson. The entire second half of the season has been particularly unkind to the homegrown right-hander, as he’s transitioned from “pitcher who is getting unlucky” to “pitcher who is unwatchable.” His strikeout-to-walk ratio has dropped from 3.7 in the first half to 1.6 since. His FIP jumped from 3.74 in the first half (nearly a run lower than his ERA) to 5.21 in the second half (more than a run lower than his ERA).

Most importantly, Chris Archer (the man who Hellickson gets the start over) has been very good in that same time frame. His 3.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 3.39 ERA, and 3.97 FIP are all vast improvements over what Hellickson has put up. Archer did walk nine batters over 8 2/3 innings in two consecutive starts against the Red Sox back in June, but he’s improved since then. With that said, Joe Maddon is likely to have a relatively quick hook with Hellickson—especially since Archer has only thrown 1 1/3 innings this series (all in Game One).

Finally, one injury note to watch for, even though it’s something that appears very minor. Wil Myers had to leave Game Three with a leg cramp, but is expected to be in the starting lineup in Game Four. If he were to somehow miss the game, the Rays would likely shift Matt Joyce into the field and replace him at DH with famed post-season hero Delmon Young.

Matchup to Watch:
James Loney has five hits in his last six at-bats with two doubles in the last two games of this series, and today he gets to face a pitcher against whom he’s had a lot of success against in his career. And not just “James Loney success,” which consists of a bunch of singles, but real impact-bat success. In 31 at-bats against Jake Peavy, Loney is hitting .323/.344/.677 with seven extra-base hits and just three strikeouts. The Rays are likely to need a lot of offense in this game to keep up with the Sox, and Loney could play a big part in providing it.

My Prediction:
I’m going against PECOTA on this one and taking the Red Sox by a score of 8-5. I just can’t see this whole Jeremy Hellickson thing working out well.

Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

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