Early handicapping of the AL East with PECOTA's projected standings.
For the past three seasons, the ultra-competitive AL East has been contested among the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. That won’t change in 2011, although the plucky, small-market Rays will have a harder task than ever before due to an offseason in which their roster suffered great losses to free agency. The Orioles will be less of a pushover opponent than they have in years and the Blue Jays will continue to be solid if unspectacular, but given the capabilities of the teams at the top of the standings, their progress will be difficult to see with the naked eye.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
The Tampa Bay Rays try to stop an outbreak of viral bedlam in Philly.
Matchup: Rays (97-65) at Phillies (92-70), 8:29 p.m. ET, FOX Probable Starters: Scott Kazmir (152 1/3IP, 3.60 RA, 1.27 WHIP, 166 K) vs. Cole Hamels (227 1/3, 3.52, 1.08, 196) Pythagorean Record: Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA); Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA) Hit List Rankings: Tampa Bay, #3; Philadelphia, #6 Series Favorite: Phillies, 89.6% (Up 3-1) Prospectus: Back in 1980, the Phillies closed out their inaugural world title at Veterans Stadium with ace Steve Carlton pitching seven innings of one-run ball to earn the Game Six victory. That performance provides a fitting parallel to tonight's home start by Hamels, who is Philadelphia's left-handed heir to the legacy of "Lefty." The 24-year-old Hamels has already thrown 66 1/3 more innings than he did all of last year, but far from showing any signs of fatigue, he actually appears to be getting stronger. This postseason, the ace left-hander has pitched his way to superstardom, winning all four of his starts while allowing just five runs on 18 hits in 29 innings, with a 27/8 K/BB ratio. Hamels has gone at least seven innings in each of his October tilts, and has not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his past seven outings dating back to the regular season. He closed out the Dodgers in Game Five of the NLCS with a seven-inning, one-run performance in Los Angeles, and now will have the chance to serve up a similar outing while at Citizens Bank Park to clinch Philadelphia's second World Series Championship.
The Phils are in control, and the Rays must fight the power outage to avoid a dark tomorrow.
Matchup: Rays (97-65) at Phillies (92-70), 8:29 p.m. ET, FOX Probable Starters: Andy Sonnanstine (193 1/3IP, 4.89 RA, 1.29 WHIP, 124 K) vs. Joe Blanton (197 2/3, 5.01, 1.40, 111) Pythagorean Record: Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA); Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA) Hit List Rankings: Tampa Bay, #3; Philadelphia, #6 Series Favorite: Phillies, 69.4% (Up 2-1) Prospectus: Despite having collected just two hits in 33 at-bats with runners in scoring position through the first three games of the series-both of them dribblers to third base-the Phillies hold a 2-1 advantage heading into Game Four, largely because the second of those infield singles came with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth last night. All of the games in the series thus far have been true Fall Classics, low-scoring and decided by a combined total of four runs. Things could be a good deal more offensive tonight however, with each team's fourth starter on the hill at Citizen's Bank Park, which despite playing as less of a hitter's haven this season is still a favorable run-scoring environment. The Phillies might come out hacking early on, for Sonnanstine works the strike zone more than any other pitcher on either side of the field-he ranked eighth among ERA title qualifiers this season with 67 percent of his pitches tossed for strikes, one spot ahead of Cole Hamels. A self-described behind-the-scenes strike thrower, Sonnanstine blends five pitches in healthy proportion to keep hitters off-kilter. His straight fastball averages a pedestrian 87 mph, but as mentioned yesterday, Sonnanstine mixes in more cutters than all but Jesse Litsch and Roy Halladay. One would expect a pitcher who does not throw hard and is constantly around the zone to give up a good amount of hits, and Sonnanstine did lead the Rays staff with 212 allowed in the regular season, but he walked less than two per nine innings and managed to keep his home-run rate below the one-per-nine benchmark as well.
In tonight's tie-breaker, it's the craft of a Philly veteran versus the power of a Rays youngster.
Matchup: Rays (97-65) at Phillies (92-70), 8:29 p.m. ET, FOX Probable Starters: Matt Garza (184 2/3IP, 4.05 RA, 1.24 WHIP, 128 K) vs. Jamie Moyer (196 1/3, 3.90, 1.33, 123) Pythagorean Record: Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA); Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA) Hit List Rankings: Tampa Bay, #3; Philadelphia, #6 Series Favorite: Phillies, 55.6% (Tied 1-1) Prospectus: The Rays and Phillies head to the City of Brotherly Love on track to bring the nation a World Series lasting longer than five games for the first time since 2003. Tonight (or tomorrow night, if the forecasted rain delays proceedings) is the proverbial swing game: after a 1-1 tie, the team that won Game Three went on to take the World Series in 34 out of 51 years, exactly two-thirds of the time. One of those teams that won the critical Game Three and then the series was the 1969 Mets, who claimed four in a row from the heavily-favored Orioles after losing the opener. This year's Rays have often been compared with the Miracle Mets due to their stunning rise from the depths, but Tampa Bay is actually trying to do something that no other team in history has accomplished, including their historical forebear: win the World Series a year after having the worst record in the majors. The 1991 Braves came close, but lost to the Twins in seven games; the Twins themselves had finished last in the AL West the season before. The only other team that made it to the title tilt a year after posting the worst record was the 1890 Louisville Colonels of the American Association, who came back to win 88 games after a horrendous 27-111 finish in '89, and then played the National League champion Brooklyn Bridegrooms to a 3-3-1 tie (though back then the championship series was nothing more than an exhibition).
Defense and hustle were themes from the regular season that cropped up in last night's action. Will we see more tonight?
Matchup: Phillies (92-70) at Rays (97-65), 8:29 p.m. ET, FOX Probable Starters: Brett Myers (190 IP, 4.88 RA, 1.38 WHIP, 163 K) vs. James Shields (215, 3.93, 1.15, 160) Pythagorean Record: Philadelphia, 93-69 (799 RS, 680 RA); Tampa Bay, 92-70 (774 RS, 671 RA) Hit List Rankings: Philadelphia, #6; Tampa Bay, #3 Series Favorite: Phillies, 66.0% (Up 1-0) Prospectus: B.J. Upton didn't hit a home run in Game One last night, a rarity for this postseason, but he did showcase another aspect of his all-around talent, gunning down speedster Shane Victorino at the plate with a pretty one-hop peg to complete a double play and end the second inning. Upton has one of the best arms in the majors, and probably the top arm at his position. He led all center fielders with 16 assists in the regular season, and was out in front by a wide margin, as Matt Kemp and Alex Rios checked in second with 10 each. Last season, his first playing the outfield, Upton finished second among center fielders with 11 assists to Melky Cabrera's 14, despite playing only 78 games at the position (Cabrera played 131). This year's total was unusually high for a center fielder-you have to go back to 1999 to find the last player who gunned down that many from the middle pasture, when Carlos Beltran also had 16 for the Royals. The days when center fielders racked up big assist totals seemed to be a thing of the past before Upton came along: there were five center fielders in the 1970s to register a season of 16 or more assists (Amos Otis, Elliott Maddox, Juan Beniquez, Rick Bosetti, and Andre Dawson), four in the '80s (Mickey Rivers, Kirby Puckett, Brett Butler, and Gerald Young), and five in the '90s (Darrin Jackson, Rich Becker, Kenny Lofton, Andruw Jones, and Beltran).
The Rays will need to get the kinks out in order to derail the Beantown Express.
Matchup: Red Sox (95-67) at Rays (97-65), 8:07 p.m. ET, TBS Probable Starters: Jon Lester (210 1/3IP, 3.34 RA, 1.27 WHIP, 152 K) vs. Matt Garza (184 2/3, 4.05, 1.24, 128) 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: Boston, 55.6% (Tied 3-3) Prospectus: With two outs and a seven-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning Thursday night, the odds that Boston would go on to win the series were around two-tenths of one percent, or one in 500, according to Clay Davenport's calculation (0.7 percent chance to win the game times a 27.5 percent chance to win both of the next two). Now, after the huge comeback in Game Five and last night's 4-2 victory, those chances are actually better than one in two, with an essentially toss-up Game Seven to decide whether the upstart Rays will knock off the resident bully and complete their fantastic breakthrough season with a pennant, or Boston will advance to its third World Series in five seasons. With the victory in Game Six, the Red Sox improved to 9-0 in ALCS elimination games under Terry Francona, and 26-11 in elimination games all-time.
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.
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.