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October 12, 2004

Playoff Prospectus

Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees

by Derek Zumsteg

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This is the match-up baseball fans have been savoring all year long. I'm not even a Yankees or a Red Sox fan, and I have to admit that they've played the best, most dramatic games of the 2004 season. There were times it seemed like anyone could put on the uniforms and have an epic game: Your office could split on hometowns, put on a whiffle ball tournament, and the Red Sox-Yankees match-up would go 11 innings, decided on a miraculous over-the-cubicle-into-the-water-cooler diving stab of a line drive for the last out.

For history and rivalry, this will be the best match-up of this year's playoffs. This is going to be loud, good, and I hope it goes the distance.

Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/EqA/VORP)

Boston Red Sox

CF-L Johnny Damon (.304/.380/.477/.295/52.4)
2B-B Mark Bellhorn (.264/.373/.444/.286/39.1)
LF-R Manny Ramirez (.308/.397/.613/.330/70.0)
DH-L David Ortiz (.301/.380/.603/.322/73.1)
RF-L Trot Nixon (.315/.377/.510/.303/13.7)
1B-R Kevin Millar (.297/.383/.474/.297/38.8)
C-B Jason Varitek (.296/.390/.482/.301/47.3)
SS-R Orlando Cabrera (.264/.306/.383/.240/13.7)
3B-B Bill Mueller (.283/.365/.446/.282/23.1)

New York Yankees

SS-R Derek Jeter (.291/.343/.469/.291/58.7)
3B-R Alex Rodriguez (.288/.377/.515/.315/63.7)
RF-R Gary Sheffield (.291/.395/.537/.322/65.0)
LF-L Hideki Matsui (.298/.390/.522/.319/57.6)
CF-B Bernie Williams (.260/.357/.428/.279/28.9)
C-B Jorge Posada (.272/.400/.481/.311/49.7)
DH-R Ruben Sierra (.244/.296/.456/.264/10.1)
1B-L John Olerud (.282/.362/.399/.277/7.3)
2B-R Miguel Cairo (291/.336/.417/.277/22.4)

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the two most potent offenses in all of baseball. The Cardinals may field the best 1-8 sequence, which could make for a really interesting World Series preview, but that's for later.

Both of these teams play smash baseball. There are players on both teams who can steal a base if they need to. Still, neither team relies on speed as much as they do on power and plate discipline, and that's what we'll see a lot of.

The Yankees batted Matsui up in the lineup during their playoff series against the Twins, after spending most of the season hitting closer to the bottom. I think Torre may continue to bat him farther up, as Matsui was red-hot in the playoffs (.412/.476/.647). More than any other time, this is when managers are tempted to wear the same socks and hop on one foot if they think it's good luck.

The Red Sox are much more prone to doing line-up shifting. Look for them to spot Gabe Kapler for Nixon, and sneak a start for Doug Mientkiewicz in there as well. With Barry Bonds out of the playoffs, David Ortiz has been doing his best impression, hitting a eye-popping .545/.788/1.000 in the Division Series--and that's not a typo, that's a slugging percentage of 1.000 in the sweep of Anaheim.

The top of these lineups are amazingly good, and even at the bottom they're not giving up outs. These are both teams that can crack a game open before the other team realizes what happened, and constantly pressure the opposing pitchers, putting one, two runners on an inning against even the best competition.

Benches (AVG/OBP/SLG/EqA/VORP)

Boston Red Sox

C-R Doug Mirabelli (.281/.368/.525/.300/15.8)
1B-L Doug Mientkiewicz (.238/.350/.326/.241/-2.3)
MI-R Pokey Reese (.221/.271/.303/.201/.-6.9)
3B-R Kevin Youkilis (.260/.367/.413/.275/8.0)
OF-R Gabe Kapler (.272/.311/.390/.241/1.9)
OF-L Dave Roberts (.254/.337/.379/.273/13.9)

New York Yankees

C-R John Flaherty (.252/.281/.465/.253/3.8)
IF-S Enrique Wilson (.213/.253/.326/.204/-7.6)
IF-L Jason Giambi (.212/.346/.385/.267/5.8)
OF-L Kenny Lofton (.276/.346/.396/.271/11.7)
IF-S Tony Clark (.222/.298/.460/.264/6.5)
OF-L Bubba Crosby (.154/.193/.308/.182/-3.9)

Boston's got a couple of defensive (and pinch-running) options, which they used frequently in their first series.

Hot rumor is that the Yankees, who decided to go with Orlando Hernandez over Jason Giambi in the Division Series, may reverse that decision for this series. It seems logical, to the point that we included him in our ALDS preview, and I'm going to stick to the BP guns here. Giambi would be an interesting pinch-hitting option. Kenny Lofton was used as a CF against RHP this year, but we didn't see that in the ALDS. Whether that's going to continue, of course, remains up in the air.

Rotations (ERA/IP/SNVA)

Boston Red Sox

RHP Pedro Martinez (3.90/ 217.0/ 2.1)
RHP Curt Schilling (3.26/ 226.2/ 4.1)
RHP Bronson Arroyo (4.03/ 178.2/ 0.4)
RHP Tim Wakefield (4.87/ 188.1/ -1.3)

New York Yankees

RHP Mike Mussina (4.59/164.2/0.1)
RHP Jon Lieber (4.33/176.2/0.3)
RHP Kevin Brown (4.09/132.0/0.8)
RHP Javier Vazquez (4.91/198.0/-0.1)

Curt Schilling's been bothered by tendinitis (which is medical speak for "it hurts and we don't know why") in his right ankle, but the team expects him to pitch, and he should be fine given ample rest. Wakefield, if he does pitch, will be going on super-extended rest, though the Red Sox have taken steps to ensure he's sharp in the layoff.

This match-up against the Yankees produces a fascinating set of maybes and unanswered questions. The Red Sox have one ace in Schilling, who has an injury that might affect him. They have another pitcher who isn't the ace he once was in Pedro Martinez, and then it's crossed fingers and prayers to your deity of choice.

The Yankees have long-time ace Mike Mussina, who was brutal, good, and almost unwatchably bad as he fought a groin injury and a sore elbow this season, but he appears to be back in good working order just in time for the post-season, which is good for Yankee fans and bad for people who picked him for their fantasy teams. After that, the Yankees staff would seem to be far, far superior to the Red Sox, with Pedro matching up against Brown. Except Brown's a mystery, the best gamble of the options available to the Yankees as they finished the season, as he looked promising coming back from his self-injured broken hand. But even Brown's six-inning, one-run performance opens another set of questions: no walks but also only one strikeout? Is he really back? And then Vazquez, who hasn't lived up to expectations at all since coming over from the Expos--will he flash the brilliance he showed at times in Montreal, or will the Sox light him up?

Given the power of the two offenses, we're sure to see some shootouts.

Bullpens (IP, ERA, ARP)

Boston Red Sox

RHP Keith Foulke (83.0/ 2.17/29.7)
RHP Mike Timlin (76.1/ 4.13/6.2)
LHP Alan Embree (52.1/ 4.13/8.6)
LHP Mike Myers (42.2/ 4.64/1.6)
RHP Curtis Leskanic (43.1/ 5.19/-10.8)
RHP Derek Lowe (182.2/ 5.42*)

New York Yankees

RHP Mariano Rivera (78.7/1.94/30.5)
RHP Tom Gordon (89.2/2.21/41.9)
RHP Paul Quantrill (94.1/4.67/-3.8)
RHP Tanyon Sturtze (63.1/5.47/-4.4)
LHP Felix Heredia (38.0/6.39/-3.9)
RHP Esteban Loaiza (183/5.70*)

*IP/ERA total season line as starter (and, for Loaiza, including 12.3 nasty IP as a reliever)

A neglected story line of this playoff series is the match-up between the much-lauded, much-appreciated Mariano Rivera and Keith Foulke, the guy who quietly, year after year, has put up relief performances just as good for teams not nearly as well-noticed. Foulke had some trouble this year but overall, he and Rivera contributed about equally to their teams. In fact, on Baseball Prospectus' brand-new Reliever Run Expectation Report, you'll see they're #6 and #7.

The problem for the Red Sox will be what happens if one of their weaker starters gets knocked out early in a game. Besides Lowe, there isn't much in the way of multi-inning relievers there. With Pedro a short-inning starter, you're already looking at a bullpen that could get quite stressed over a seven-game series.

The Yankees, by contrast, have some options beyond Rivera, but they're all a little scary for different reasons. Gordon's got to be tiring by this point, Sturtze looked bad against the Twins in part because he is bad, and Quantrill got burned out months ago.

Defense

Neither team distinguishes itself here. The Red Sox have the edge overall, having improved mid-season, but they still field lineups with serious weaknesses at several positions. The Yankees have the same problem, only more so. The Red Sox have some things they can do to hold a lead late in a game, and they did them a lot this year.

Managers

Terry Francona is a major league manager without affecting quality. There's no quality or tendency Francona's shown that would turn the series. Swapping out first basemen for improved defense when Arroyo starts? It's not going to be that big a deal.

Joe Torre, though, has qualities you'd want in your post-season manager, but doesn't have a lot to do with it. As long as he can manage to keep his bullpen together, he'll be fine. If he does take Giambi into this series, he'll have some interesting choices on how best to apply that bat each game.

Prediction

Predicting this series makes predicting every other post-season series seem worthwhile. What can happen in a best-of-seven that hasn't already happened between these two this season? What kind of heroics can top what we have already witnessed? Is Pokey Reese going to throw three innings of brilliant relief in a 18-inning 1-0 win? Will Jason Giambi pinch-hit in a critical jam and hit a ball that's never found for a grand slam home run to win the deciding game seven? I don't know, but it's going to be interesting and it should be great baseball.

Red Sox in seven. I wonder if the winner of the NLCS might have an easy time mopping up against the winner of this series. Both teams will throw everything they have at each other and could well enter the World Series still breathing hard, bleeding from fresh scrapes, covered in dirt, and smiling as wide as they can to face a potentially rested, ready NL opponent.

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