Matchup: Rays (97-65) at Red Sox (95-67), 4:37 p.m. ET, TBS
Probable Starters: Matt Garza (184
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
The Rays sport by far the worst offense remaining in the playoffs against lefties, posting a 726 OPS against them during the regular season. They are somewhat better equipped to handle southpaws now with the late-season return of Rocco Baldelli, although Baldelli did strike out three times in three at-bats against Lester in his first and only time facing him on September 10. Left-handed batters hit just .217 with a 571 OPS off of Lester this year, and Joe Maddon has already indicated that he will start Baldelli in right field and Willy Aybar at DH. If he chooses to be particularly aggressive and substitute offense for defense, he could also deploy the switch-hitting Zobrist to spell Carl Crawford in left.
Rookie left-hander David Price picked up his first major league victory in the biggest game in Rays franchise history, coming on to notch the last two outs of the 11th inning on Saturday night. Many speculated that Price could have an impact on this year’s postseason similar to Francisco Rodriguez’s in 2002, when the rookie right-handed reliever made Anaheim’s playoff roster on the strength of a brief September cup of coffee, and then proceeded to steal the October stage, fanning 28 while giving up just four runs in 18
Matchup: Phillies (92-70) at Dodgers (84-78), 5:22 p.m. PT, FOX
Probable Starters: Joe Blanton (197
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
Prospectus: The white towels waved by the enormous crowd at Dodger Stadium last night did not signal surrender, but rather the reinvigoration of an NLCS that most expected to be a classic battle. Game Three was witnessed live by 56,800 fans, the largest crowd ever at Chavez Ravine, and those patrons watched as their hometown team backed away from the abyss with a 7-2 victory. They also saw a few beanballs and a couple more near-misses, including a shot by starter Hiroki Kuroda across the bow of Shane Victorino that emptied both benches and nearly led to a brawl involving an incensed Manny Ramirez. In the end, the only player left with bruises was catcher Russell Martin, who was drilled twice by Phillies pitchers, and nearly hit a third time on an up-and-in fastball, so the hostilities between these two squads may not yet be over. Whatever else it may have proven, Sunday night’s extra-curricular excitement clearly showed that these two teams aren’t particularly fond of one another, and further increased the intensity for the remainder of what should be a fantastic series.
Instead of turning to rookie Clayton Kershaw, who worked 1
Jeff Kent has not started a game this postseason, and he started just twice at second base after coming back at the end of September from knee surgery. The irascible old infielder testily pronounced himself fit to play the field at the end of the regular season, however, and was double-switched in to play second during the third inning of Game Two. Based upon the numbers, Torre will likely give strong consideration to starting Kent at the keystone tonight, while shifting Blake DeWitt back to his natural position of third base in place of Casey Blake. The sample size is tiny, but Kent smacked five singles in six at-bats against Joe Blanton this year in his first action against him. Meanwhile, Blake was 0-for-10 off of Blanton, running his career numbers versus the former Athletics righty to 1-for-21 with three walks and seven strikeouts. While Kent could prove to be a difficult out, Blanton’s biggest challenge will not surprisingly be trying to retire LA’s dreadlocked third-place hitter. If Manny Ramirez owned yesterday’s starter Jamie Moyer (10 career homers), he’s practically got a leash around Blanton’s neck: Ramirez has 14 hits in 25 career at-bats against him, including 6-for-13 with a home run this year, and a 1320 career OPS; the highest against Blanton among hitters with at least 20 plate appearances.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. He can be reached here.