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October 4, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

ALDS Preview: Rays at Red Sox

by Zachary Levine

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Thanks to the stipulation in the latest playoff format that says intradivisional division series are kosher, the 2013 playoffs have now given us a second one, and a very intriguing series. The Red Sox went 12-7 this season against the Rays and took the division, and as a reward, they have the home-field advantage with the Rays’ rotation slightly out of whack.

The storyline to watch is whether or not Tampa Bay’s exertion just to get to this point matters or if its pitching against the best offense in baseball will continue to roll like it has through the Rangers and Indians.

Projected Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/TAv)

Red Sox
CF-L Jacoby Ellsbury (.298/.355/.426/.270)
RF-R Shane Victorino (.294/.351/.451/.285)
2B-R Dustin Pedroia (.301/.372/.415/.281)
DH-L David Ortiz (.309/.395/.564/.324)
1B-R Mike Napoli (.259/.360/.482/.287)
OF-S Daniel Nava (.303/.385/.445/.302)
C-S Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.273/.338/.466/.281)
SS-L Stephen Drew (.253/.333/.443/.272)
3B-R Will Middlebrooks (.227/.271/.425/.234)

The best offense in the American League won’t be slowed by much, but despite the extremely balanced look to it, you can contain the Sox a little bit—knocking off 18 points of team OBP and 48 points of slugging—by throwing a lefty at them. Sure you’re getting Victorino’s good side, but you’re also neutralizing the Red Sox’s biggest offensive weapon, turning David Ortiz into a .249 TAv hitter instead of a .366 TAv hitter against righties. With the Rays potentially throwing David Price and Matt Moore three times, this will be the issue that Boston must solve. Look for them to give Jonny Gomes a couple starts in place of Nava against lefties—Gomes has made 54 of his 76 starts against lefties.

But overall this is a powerful group from top to bottom. Everyone above had at least nine home runs, and Gomes and Mike Carp made it 11 players to reach that mark. It will be a challenge for any pitcher of either handedness, and more than the Rays saw with Texas or the Indians.

Rays
LF-L David DeJesus (.260/.328/.413/.283)
RF-R Wil Myers (.292/.354/.478/.306)
1B-L James Loney (.299/.348/.430/.282)
3B-R Evan Longoria (.269/.343/.498/.311)
2B-S Ben Zobrist (.275/.354/.402/.286)
CF-R Desmond Jennings (.252/.334/.414/.288)
DH-R Delmon Young (.258/.329/.452/.302)
SS-R Yunel Escobar (.256/.332/.366/.267)
C-R Jose Molina (.233/.290/.304/.222)

This is the lineup that Tampa Bay used against Danny Salazar in the win over Cleveland on Wednesday, so figure on something like this one for Games 2, 3, 4 against the right-handers. But whether lefties or righties, we’re getting at least three more days of Delmon in our lives, and who wouldn’t want that? The guy is absolutely amazing. He can’t hack it with one of the worst teams in the National League, gets released, comes over to the AL, signs on with one of its best and of course, becomes an everyday starter and homers in the wild card game. This is of course the same guy who made it through an entire -0.5 WARP season in 2012 and then followed it up with an ALCS MVP.

There’s no need to bother with all the Hall of Famers from back before tiered playoffs who don’t have as many postseason homers as Delmon, but how about some guys from the everybody-in days? He’s tied with Barry Bonds and Lance Berkman. He’s ahead of Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez and teammate Evan Longoria. He has more than twice the total of Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio combined. He was intentionally walked Wednesday night in the fourth inning. Is there any doubt that he’ll pop one at some big moment this series?

The Rays will also have eight other players in their lineup.

Projected Benches (AVG/OBP/SLG/TAv)

Red Sox
C-R David Ross (.216/.298/.382/.232)
INF-R Xander Bogaerts (.250/.320/.364/.291)
OF-R Jonny Gomes (.247/.344/.426/.275)
OF-L Mike Carp (.296/.362/.523/.312)
OF-L Quintin Berry (.625/.667/1.000/.523)

It’s the best bench in the American League and it’s not all that close. Red Sox pinch-hitters hit .244/.359/.564, with the backup outfielders the primary weapons. Seriously, it’s not close.

American League pinch-hitting OPS
1. Red Sox .923
2. Mariners .817
3. Indians .795

10. Rays .594

15 Orioles .374

And not only that, but look at Berry’s numbers. Positively Ruthian. OK, so it’s eight at-bats, but he’ll be a weapon on the bases late in games while Bogaerts mans three positions in the infield.

Rays
C-R Jose Lobaton (.249/.329/.394/.281)
OF-L Sam Fuld (.199/.270/.267/.201)
OF-L Matt Joyce (.235/.328/.419/.284)
UTIL-R Sean Rodriguez (.246/.320/.385/.273)
UTIL-L Kelly Johnson (.235/.305/.410/.266)

Tampa Bay isn’t nearly the pinch-hitting team that Boston is, but not surprisingly for a Joe Maddon club, they have made the most late-game switches. Tampa Bay has led the league in pinch-hitting tries for each of the last six years. Or in other words, every year since they became good.

2013 AL pinch-hitting PA
1. Rays 189
2. Athletics 163
3. Rangers 138

9. Red Sox 92

15. White Sox 74

Maddon showed in the wild card game that he isn’t afraid to mine that depth. The biggest omission if this is indeed the playoff roster would be Luke Scott, who has lost time to Young and would be some duplication as a lefty with Joyce, who is a better hitter at this point on their respective aging curves.

Projected Starting Pitchers (IP/ERA/FIP)

Red Sox
LHP Jon Lester (213.1/3.75/3.61)
RHP John Lackey (189.1/3.52/3.89)
RHP Clay Buchholz (108.1/1.74/2.81)
RHP Jake Peavy (144.2/4.17/3.99)

The cast is listed in order of appearance. Lester will get Game 1 as John Farrell finally revealed the worst-kept secret in Boston. And Lackey will get Game 2, a result of his 2.47 ERA at home and his 4.48 away from Fenway. But there isn’t much reason for Boston to start getting creative here, so barring a meltdown or an injury, this should cycle through four pretty interchangeable pieces. Even Peavy, whose season-long stats are the worst of the bunch, has been better lately after an arm-slot adjustment.

Rays
LHP Matt Moore (150.1/3.29/3.98)
LHP David Price (186.2/3.33/3.05)
RHP Alex Cobb (143.1/2.76/3.39)
RHP Chris Archer (128.2/3.22/4.09)

The Rays played two loser-goes-home games this week, both on the road. And more telling for the future than the fact that they won them both was the fact that they were favored in both road games. That says something about the pitching, because that’s the variable that goes into these lines beyond team performance (which was almost identical) and home field (which they didn’t have). Granted, they didn’t face the Indians’ or Rangers’ top starters, but the Rays have the starting pitching to erase and even turn around disadvantages. If they’re going to win this series, a star will come from this group.

Now, about the order. This is the one that would keep Price on date after he pitched in Game 163, and the full rest would probably be helpful given the 118 pitches he threw in a complete game against the Rangers. He’d be on three days of rest if the Rays want to bring him back in Game 5 after that. Cobb would be on date for Game 3, but there’s some flexibility there. And Moore has pitched a Game 1 before

Projected Bullpens (IP/ERA/FIP)

Red Sox
RHP Koji Uehara (74.1/1.09/1.64)
RHP Junichi Tazawa (68.1/3.16/3.25)
RHP Ryan Dempster (171.1/4.57/4.70)
RHP Brandon Workman (41.2/4.97/3.46)
LHP Craig Breslow (59.2/1.81/3.63)
LHP Franklin Morales (25.1/4.62/4.58)
LHP Matt Thornton (28.0/3.86/4.72)

There’s really no need to tell you about Uehara, who was the best closer in the game this year and put together a string of 37 consecutive retired batters that Sam Miller exquisitely detailed here. Beyond that, it’s three lefties and three righties, with Breslow and Tazawa the most trusted and the likeliest to get high-leverage spots.

Dempster is the long man, a casualty of the single cut down to the playoff roster. It’s a return to his Cubs days, but it’s hard to gather much from that history because it was (A) six years ago and (B) before he ever got his walks under control. Felix Doubront, meanwhile, might be a casualty of the rotation and the roster altogether after starting all year but not being one of the top three choices as a situational lefty.

Rays
RHP Fernando Rodney (66.2/3.38/2.87)
RHP Joel Peralta (71.1/3.41/3.71)
RHP Jamey Wright (70.0/3.09/3.16)
RHP Jeremy Hellickson (174.0/5.17/4.25)
LHP Alex Torres (58.0/1.71/2.35)
LHP Jake McGee (62.2/4.02/3.44)
LHP Wesley Wright (53.2/3.69/3.95)

Luckily for the Rays, lefties are a strength here, especially with Torres, who has been the most effective reliever of the lot with silly numbers against hitters on both sides and a .468 OPS against. Rodney has been down this year but is still a reliable option compared to most people other than his 2012 self. As for the spot devoted to Hellickson in that rundown, that could be a different name at 3 p.m. Friday and could also change from round-to-round.

Defense
Their advantage in being the pioneers of 21st century defensive alignments (more than just the Ortiz shift) has begun to wane, but the Rays are still doing enough smart things and have enough good individual gloves that they are second in the league in defensive efficiency. Most of their success comes at third base, where Longoria is a +8.4 FRAA defender—back to his usual self after an off year in the metric. The Red Sox are middle of the pack, with most of their edge coming in the outfield thanks to Ellsbury and to Victorino, who is very much overqualified for right field.

Managers
John Farrell is going to be no. 1 or no. 2 in Manager of the Year voting, and Joe Maddon will get a few votes to finish outside the top three. Let that speak more to the nature of that award than anything else. Maddon has been the same tactician he was in winning 90 games each of the previous three years; it’s just that when you do it a fourth straight time, you don’t get much recognition. Farrell has been as good as advertised too, mostly in getting an underachieving and talented pitching staff in line thanks in part to better health. Both managers’ imprints will be all over this series, but not necessarily in ways that we notice anymore. We’re just used to them by now.

Prediction
This will be the best of an outstanding group of first-round series. The travel days will come with the series tied at 1 and tied at 2, and the Red Sox will win in their second crack at Price in Game 5.

Advance Scouting Reports
Evan Longoria

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

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