How will the Rays respond to their October surprise in Game Five at Fenway?
Matchup: Red Sox (95-67) at Rays (97-65), 8:07 p.m. ET, TBS Probable Starters: Josh Beckett (174 1/3IP, 4.13 RA, 1.19 WHIP, 172 K) vs. James Shields (215, 3.93, 1.15, 160) Pythagorean Record: Boston, 95-67 (845 RS, 694 RA); Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA) Hit List Rankings: Boston, #1; Tampa Bay, #3 Series Favorite: Rays, 72.5% (Up 3-2) Prospectus: J.D. Drew's game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth on Thursday night flew over the head of right fielder Gabe Gross at 12:16 AM Friday morning-five years to the very minute after Aaron Boone crushed Red Sox Nation with his walk-off home run to win Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS. Since that loss, the Sox have won two World Series titles, rallying from 3-1 down to take the pennant each time, and they have put themselves in position to do the same thing this year thanks to their mind-boggling comeback in Game Five. Heading into the bottom of the seventh down 7-0, Boston's odds of winning the game had shrunk to 1.16 percent, per the 2008 win expectancy matrix, and after Jason Varitek and Mark Kotsay flied out on the heels of Jed Lowrie's leadoff double, that number had fallen to 0.75 percent; adjust for Tampa Bay's quality of run prevention, and the chance drops to 0.56 percent. But seven hits and eight runs later, Boston had made the greatest post-season comeback since the Philadelphia A's turned around an 8-0 deficit with 10 seventh-inning runs to beat the Cubs in Game Four of the 1929 World Series.
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With two wild workers on the mound, tonight's matchup might stretch into the wee hours.
Matchup: Rays (97-65) at Red Sox (95-67), 8:07 p.m. ET, TBS Probable Starters: Scott Kazmir (152 1/3IP, 3.60 RA, 1.27 WHIP, 166 K) vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka (167 2/3, 3.11, 1.32, 154) Pythagorean Record: Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA); Boston, 95-67 (845 RS, 694 RA) Hit List Rankings: Tampa Bay, #3; Boston, #1 Series Favorite: Rays, 87.6% (Up 3-1) Prospectus: Is Tampa Bay getting ready to put the finishing touches on perhaps the most remarkable turnaround in major league history, or are the Red Sox getting ready to strike from behind yet again? On Terry Francona's watch Boston is 7-0 in ALCS elimination games; in each of its last two times playing for the pennant Boston has rallied to overcome being down 3-1. Including their 1986 ALCS comeback against the Angels, the Sox have been on the long end in three of the 11 series where a 3-1 deficit was reversed. Against the Indians last year, Boston also won the first game before dropping the next three, then outscored the Tribe 30-5 in games five, six, and seven. That Sox team had a full assortment of healthy players, however. This October's edition is missing Mike Lowell-forcing the weak bat of Mark Kotsay into the lineup-as well as the power stroke of David Ortiz, who is 5-for-31 without a home run this postseason, results that are hard to not connect with his May wrist injury. J.D. Drew might not be healthy enough to reprise his grand slam heroics from last October, either; since returning from a herniated disk in his back at the end of the regular season he has hit .226/.294/.355 in 34 plate appearances.
It's do or die for LA in Chavez Ravine going up against Cole Hamels and the Flyin' Hawaiian.
Matchup: Phillies (92-70) at Dodgers (84-78), 5:22 p.m. PT, FOX Probable Starters: Cole Hamels (227 1/3IP, 3.52 RA, 1.08 WHIP, 196 K) vs. Chad Billingsley (200 2/3, 3.41, 1.34, 201) Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA); Los Angeles, 87-75 (700 RS, 648 RA) Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #5; Los Angeles, #11 Series Favorite: Phillies, 84.9% (Up 3-1) Prospectus: After Monday's stunning comeback, the Phillies can secure their sixth berth in the Fall Classic with a win tonight, and pull down the curtain on the drama of Manny Ramirez's remarkable run with the Dodgers. Ramirez has of course helped overcome such a disadvantaged position before, as a member of the Red Sox in both the 2004 and 2007 ALCS. Those Boston teams were two of the 10 clubs that have come back to win three in a row after going down 3-1 in a best-of-seven. There have been 70 opportunities for such a reversal, putting the success rate at 14.3 percent, very close to the 15.1 percent chance which Clay Davenport has assigned to Los Angeles as a result of his current Monte Carlo simulation.
After two teams have matched power with power in the first three games, two hurlers with soft-toss arsenals meet up for a critical showdown.
Matchup: Rays (97-65) at Red Sox (95-67), 8:07 p.m. ET, TBS Probable Starters: Andy Sonnanstine (193 1/3IP, 4.89 RA, 1.29 WHIP, 124 K) vs. Tim Wakefield (181, 4.43, 1.18, 117) Pythagorean Record: Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA); Boston, 95-67 (845 RS, 694 RA) Hit List Rankings: Tampa Bay, #3; Boston, #1 Series Favorite: Rays, 68.0% (Up 2-1) Prospectus: B.J. Upton has chosen a dramatic time to bust out with the greatest stretch of power hitting in his career. After seeing his home-run total fall from 24 last season to nine this year in nearly 100 more plate appearances, Upton has now launched five in Tampa Bay's seven playoff games, the latest a mammoth three-run job off Jon Lester yesterday that shot right over the Green Monster, out of the park, and down onto Lansdowne Street. The blast gave the Rays a 4-0 lead in the third inning and essentially ended the game-Tampa Bay, thanks mostly to its remarkable bullpen turnaround (from worst to first in WXRL), did not lose a game in which it had an advantage of four or more runs in any game all season long, one of just two teams (along with the Dodgers) to be so stingy.
The Rays will try to demystify Jon Lester's magic act at Fenway, and the Phillies deal with the Lowe-down in LA.
Matchup: Rays (97-65) at Red Sox (95-67), 4:37 p.m. ET, TBS Probable Starters: Matt Garza (184 2/3IP, 4.05 RA, 1.24 WHIP, 128 K) vs. Jon Lester (210 1/3, 3.34, 1.27, 152) Pythagorean Record: Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA); Boston, 95-67 (845 RS, 694 RA) Hit List Rankings: Tampa Bay, #3; Boston, #1 Prospectus: After a terrific Game Two that lasted five hours and 27 minutes-Boston's second five-hour game this postseason-the series now shifts back to Fenway Park tied at one game apiece for today's matinee. Left-handed pitchers are supposed to struggle at Fenway, saddled with a platoon disadvantage against right-handed batters who can pepper their offerings off of the Green Monster in left, but Jon Lester is putting the lie to that piece of conventional wisdom, as he has made the unforgiving old venue the prime witness to his domination this season. Lester finished the year 11-1 with a 2.49 RA in 115 2/3 innings at home, and kept rolling with seven shutout innings in the Game-Four ALDS clincher against Anaheim. The 24-year-old southpaw lost his first start of the season at Fenway, and the Red Sox dropped two of his first three outings there, but since April 29 Boston is 15-0 in home starts made by their new ace, thanks to Lester's 1.78 RA over that period. Three of those outings were against Tampa Bay, and Lester earned the win over the Rays each time, allowing just two runs in 20 innings. That 3-0 record matches his career mark in the postseason; Lester has not allowed an earned run in his last 19 2/3 post-season frames dating back to last year, and carries a 0.77 October ERA overall. Between the regular season and playoffs, Lester has compiled a 30-8 mark, which is a greater winning percentage than any other pitcher with at least 25 decisions since the beginning of the 20th century.
Rallying from two games down may seem steep, but there are historical precedents for it in major league and Dodgers history.
Matchup: Phillies (92-70) at Dodgers (84-78), 5:22 p.m. PT, FOX Probable Starters: Jamie Moyer (196 1/3IP, 3.90 RA, 1.33 WHIP, 123 K) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (183 1/3, 4.17, 1.22, 116) Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA); Los Angeles, 87-75 (700 RS, 648 RA) Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #5; Los Angeles, #11 Series Favorite: Phillies, 76.5% (Up 2-0) Prospectus: The Dodgers return to Chavez Ravine from their trip to Philadelphia in a very difficult position, but they can take solace in the fact that the task before them, while a hard one, has been accomplished 13 times before in major league history. A team has won a seven-game series after losing the first two games just three times before in a League Championship Series-it happened twice in 1985, with the Royals beating the Blue Jays and the Cardinals taking down the Dodgers, and again during the epic Red Sox-Yankees ALCS in 2004-but it has happened 10 times in World Series play.
Beckett and Kazmir will both need to summon their powers and perform beyond recent levels.
Matchup: Red Sox (95-67) at Rays (97-65), 8:07 p.m. ET, TBS Probable Starters: Josh Beckett (174 1/3IP, 4.13 RA, 1.19 WHIP, 172 K) vs. Scott Kazmir (152 1/3, 3.60, 1.27, 166) Pythagorean Record: Boston, 95-67 (845 RS, 694 RA); Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA) Hit List Rankings: Boston, #1; Tampa Bay, #3 Series Favorite: Red Sox, 72.0% Prospectus: During the regular season, Tampa Bay was 8-0 against Boston in games decided by one or two runs, and the home team in the series won 15 of the 18 games. The Red Sox bucked both of those trends in yesterday's 2-0 decision under the catwalks, starting off this ALCS battle between the two best teams in baseball (per third-order winning percentage) with a tense and well-pitched victory.
The Dodgers need to knock Myers off his horse and keep the Phillies from hanging Chad.
Matchup: Dodgers (84-78) at Phillies (92-70), 4:35 p.m. ET, FOX Probable Starters: Chad Billingsley (200 2/3IP, 3.41 RA, 1.34 WHIP, 201 K) vs. Brett Myers (190, 4.88, 1.38, 163) Pythagorean Record: Los Angeles, 87-75 (700 RS, 648 RA); Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA) Hit List Rankings: Los Angeles, #11; Philadelphia, #5 Series Favorite: Phillies, 60.1% Prospectus: Derek Lowe had given up two home runs in a start just once this year entering yesterday's Game One, but the Phillies smacked a pair against him, accounting for all of their scoring in a 3-2 victory to open what should be an outstanding NLCS. Philadelphia has scored eight runs in the last two playoff games, all of them on the long ball. That is a continuation of the combustion-fueled offense that the NL leader in homers lived by all season, as discussed by Jay Jaffe in his comprehensive series preview. Chase Utley provided the biggest blow of the game, pulling a ball over the right-field wall for a two-run shot that tied the score in the sixth. Utley went through a period of 27 games from late August to late September without a home run (equaling the longest stretch of his career), and intensifying speculation that he is not completely healthy, but he hit two in Philly's last six games of the year before adding another yesterday.
The Rays will try running the ChiSox out of the playoffs, and Lester and Lackey go at it again at Fenway.
Matchup: Rays (97-65) at White Sox (89-74), 4:05 p.m. CT, TBS Probable Starters: Andy Sonnanstine (193 1/3IP, 4.89 RA, 1.29 WHIP, 124 K) vs. Gavin Floyd (206 1/3, 4.67, 1.26, 145) Pythagorean Record: Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA); Chicago, 89-74 (811 RS, 729 RA) Hit List Rankings: Tampa Bay, #3; Chicago, #10 Series Favorite: Rays, 76.2% (Up 2-1) Prospectus: With a win yesterday, the White Sox kept Chicago from being swept clean out of the playoffs in both leagues, salvaging some pride in the Second City. The victory was Chicago's third straight at home when a loss meant certain elimination, after the Sox beat the Tigers in last Monday's makeup game and then the Twins in Tuesday's one-game playoff for the division title. Floyd pitched well in that game against Detroit, giving up one earned run in six innings to pick up his team-leading 17th win of the season. This will be his first career outing against the Rays. Sonnanstine pitched the best game of his career against the White Sox back on April 19, a complete-game three-hit shutout at Tropicana Field, but did not fare as well in his next two outings versus Chicago, giving up 19 hits and seven runs combined in 12 innings.
Three teams try to stave off elimination, but the Brewers could knot up their LDS with a home win today.
Matchup: Phillies (92-70) at Brewers (90-72), 12:07 p.m. CT, TBS Probable Starters: Joe Blanton (197 2/3IP, 5.01 RA, 1.40 WHIP, 111 K) vs. Jeff Suppan (177 2/3, 5.57, 1.54, 90) Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA); Milwaukee, 87-75 (750 RS, 689 RA) Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #5; Milwaukee, #9 Series Favorite: Phillies, 69.3% (Up 2-1) Prospectus: The Brewers got their first postseason win since 1982 yesterday, extending the series and forcing each team to throw its weakest starting pitcher this afternoon in what could end up being a Miller Park slugfest. Suppan was dreadful in September, giving up 16 runs in 16 innings over four starts, which included a six-run, 3 2/3-inning beating at the hands of the Phillies on September 14. The veteran right-hander has struggled more against the Phils than any other NL squad over the years, with a RA near 7.50 in 12 career starts, and has had particular difficulty with Pat Burrell (9-for-21 lifetime with three homers) and Chase Utley (9-for-19 with one bomb). Suppan will try to channel his success from the 2006 NLCS, when he was named the series MVP after giving up just a lone run in 15 innings. His last elimination-game start was in Game Seven of that NLCS, when he turned in the outing of his life, holding the Mets to one run in seven innings to help St. Louis pull out a 3-1 pennant-clinching win. Blanton meanwhile will be making his first-ever postseason start. He pitched effectively in his only career start versus Milwaukee this year, giving up three runs in seven innings at home in mid-September.
The Cubs and Brewers may be facing the final chapters in their hero's journey, as Philly and LA both go for sweeps.
Matchup: Phillies (92-70) at Brewers (90-72), 5:35 p.m. CT, TBS Probable Starters: Jamie Moyer (196 1/3IP, 3.90 RA, 1.33 WHIP, 123 K) vs. David Bush (185, 4.48, 1.14, 109) Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA); Milwaukee, 87-75 (750 RS, 689 RA) Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #5; Milwaukee, #9 Series Favorite: Phillies, 82.4% (Up 2-0) Prospectus: Fifty-four teams have gone down 0-2 in best-of-five series prior to this year, and seven of those have come back to win the next three games—just 13 percent. Brewers manager Dale Sveum has been in a similar position before, as he was the third-base coach of the 2004 Red Sox, who of course beat much worse odds to turn around a three-games-to-none deficit in the ALCS. Sveum will entrust the ball tonight to Bush, who faces a stiff challenge in getting his club on the comeback trail, as he is a pitcher prone to giving up home runs (29 this year, or 1.4 HR/9) going up against the National League's best homer-hitting club. Bush gave up four long balls in his two starts against Philly this year, three of them in an April outing at Miller Park.
The upstart Rays look to put the White Sox even deeper in the hole, while the Angels try to break an increasing streak of desperate failure.
Matchup: White Sox (89-74) at Rays (97-65), 6:07 p.m. ET, TBS Probable Starters: Mark Buehrle (218 2/3IP, 4.36 RA, 1.34 WHIP, 140 K) vs. Scott Kazmir (152 1/3, 3.60, 1.27, 166) Pythagorean Record: Chicago, 89-74 (811 RS, 729 RA); Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA) Hit List Rankings: Chicago, #10; Tampa Bay, #3 Series Favorite: Rays, 69.2% Prospectus: The Rays got the win in their first-ever playoff game yesterday, in large part thanks to a pair of homers from their first-year third baseman. Evan Longoria added to his burgeoning rookie ledger by becoming the second player to homer in his first two post-season at-bats, joining another third baseman, Gary Gaetti, who did so for the Twins in 1987. Longoria also picked up an RBI single, making him the fourth player to collect at least nine total bases and three RBI in his post-season debut, along with Ted Kluszewski, Ken Griffey Jr., and Todd Walker. Longoria also stole a bag, and the Rays will likely stay active on the basepaths against a Chicago team inept at holding runners.