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October 20, 2007

Playoff Prospectus

Back to Beantown

by John Perrotto

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Now that the Red Sox have staved off elimination for at least one more game in the American League Championship Series, it is easy to say Boston has history on its side. After all, it was three years ago that the Red Sox pulled off the biggest postseason comeback in baseball history, rallying from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 ALCS to beat the Yankees in seven, and then swept the Cardinals in the World Series to end an 86-year championship drought.

However, a quick look around the Red Sox clubhouse reveals there are few holdovers from that band of "Idiots' who won a title-just eight players remain from '04. "It really is a different team," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who as a rookie in 2004 traveled with the team in the postseason but was not on the active roster. "We really don't do anything as crazy as 2004. This group of guys is a little different in the way they go about their business and their approach to get ready for a game. There's some joking around but it's a little quieter."

Many will argue there is no such thing as momentum in baseball beyond that day's starting pitching. Thus, it seems the Red Sox still have an uphill battle to overtake the Indians, up three games to two in the ALCS. While the Red Sox will be back home in Fenway Park for Game Six tonight, and in a potential Game Seven on Sunday night, the two teams will be counting on a pair of pitchers who failed to make it through the fifth inning in their first starts of this ALCS. Curt Schilling toes the rubber for the Red Sox against Fausto Carmona; if a Game Seven is needed, Daisuke Matsuzaka will get the ball for the Red Sox and face Jake Westbrook.

Schilling has the reputation of coming up big in October, based upon his career postseason numbers-he is 8-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 17 playoff starts, allowing 94 hits in 121 innings while walking 23 and striking out 111. Schilling was also the guy who seemingly gave the Red Sox inspiration during the 2004 run to the championship as he twice had a loose ankle tendon sutured so he could take the mound, beating the Yankees in Game Six of the ALCS and then the Cardinals in Game Two of the World Series. However, Schilling is a different pitcher now than the power pitcher of old. After spending seven weeks on the DL at midseason with shoulder problems, he transformed into a finesse guy, and went 3-4 with a 3.34 ERA in nine starts down the stretch. He struggled against the Indians in Game Two, giving up five runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings in a game Cleveland eventually won 13-6 in 11 innings. Still, the Sox have confidence in the veteran: "We have to feel good about having Schilling pitching with our season on the line because he's won so many big games in the past," Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz said.

The Red Sox may not feel quite as good about the possibility of needing to count on Matsuzaka in a Game Seven, despite their public show of support for the Japanese right-hander. He came up small while losing Game Three, allowing four runs and six hits in 4 2/3 innings in the 4-2 defeat to the Indians and Westbrook, who gave up just two runs in 6 2/3 innings. Matsuzaka sat despondently at his locker for a full hour after the game. After eventually taking a shower and dressing, he blew past a horde of patiently waiting Japanese media without commenting.

"I think both of those guys pitched better than their lines in the box score would indicate," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said of Schilling and Matsuzaka. "They didn't throw that badly, and I fully expect both of them will pitch good games. I know I'm confident in them both and so is everyone else on this team."

The Indians are equally confident that Carmona can close the series out for them tonight, even though he struggled with his command in Game Two; Carmona walked five in just four-plus innings while allowing four runs and four hits. However, Carmona was masterful in his start against the Yankees in the American League Division Series, as he held a potent lineup that averaged just under six runs a game in the regular season to one run and three hits in nine innings, albeit in a no-decision. He was also second in the AL in SNLVAR in the regular season at 6.8, just behind the 6.9 posted by the Angels' John Lackey.

"Fausto just needs to be more aggressive this time, pitch his game, focus on his strengths, go after it and let his defense work for him," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "If he does that, I think we'll be in pretty good shape."

The Indians were in excellent shape to wrap the series up at home Thursday night in Game Five, at least until Josh Beckett held them to one run in eight innings in the Red Sox's 7-1 victory, staving off elimination. That left the fatalistic Cleveland fans wondering if the Indians had blown their chance at ending a 59-year World Series championship. Wedge, for one, still believes his team will be able to shake off missing that opportunity, though. "I think our guys have done a great job the entire postseason," Wedge said. "The reason I say that is because they've handled each day as its own. They haven't gotten ahead of themselves."

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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Premium Article Prospectus Today: Inco... (10/19)
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Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: AL... (10/19)
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Premium Article Playoff Prospectus: Be... (10/21)
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Premium Article Every Given Sunday: Th... (10/21)

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