What We Learned: ALDS
Lester, who made headlines by throwing a no-hitter in May, finished the year third among AL pitchers in VORP behind likely Cy Young award winner
Lester arrived in the AL three years ago as Boston's top pitching prospect, but his career was interrupted by non-Hodgkin's lymphoma toward the end of his rookie year, and his 2007 campaign was devoted largely to rehab and reestablishing himself after beating the disease over the offseason. Though he started and won the decisive Game 4 of last year's World Series, Lester didn't start in the first two rounds of the 2007 postseason, and was still finding himself this April, posting a 5.40 ERA over his first six starts. On April 29 he held the Blue Jays to one hit over eight innings, and from that game through the end of the season, he went 15-4 with a 2.82 ERA while allowing just nine home runs in 27 starts. With
The second overall pick in the 2002 draft,
In 2007, his first full big league season, the four-tool prospect blossomed into a five-tool star, hitting .300/.386/.508 with 24 homers and 22 stolen bases while displaying great range and a rifle arm in center and making just two errors in 78 games in the middle pasture.
This year, however, Upton seemed to go back to being a four-tool player because of a power-outage that could be attributed to the torn labrum he played with for most of the season. Upton hit just nine home runs this year while losing 107 points off his slugging percentage, only 27 of which can be attributed to his drop in batting average. After going deep once every 22.8 plate appearances last year, Upton's home-run rate dropped to one every 71 PA this season. It took him until June 8 to hit his fifth home run this year, and from then until the end of the season he hit just four more while slugging a mere .362. In the last two games of the ALDS, however, Upton homered in three-consecutive at-bats and enjoyed his first multi-homer game of the season in Game 4. It's good news for the Rays that his power is finally coming out of hibernation.
Critics of the sacrifice bunt correctly assert that when a team plays for one run, one run is all it is likely to get, and sometimes it won't even get that. Unfortunately, that wisdom is still sinking in around the game and the sacrifice remains overused. The squeeze bunt is another story. The squeeze doesn't just set up a run, it drives it in. When a team is down by a run or tied in the late innings with a man on third and less than two outs, a successful squeeze bunt is as good as a base hit and can make the difference in the game. Yet, the squeeze bunt remains underused for reasons that may escape the understanding of those who didn't see the ninth inning of last night's ALDS Game 4 in Boston.
The Angels are a fast team and a good bunting team, so when pinch-hitter
The Rays aren't going to crush their opponents. They don't have a shut-down ace (though they might when
The Rays were second in the AL in walks, led the league in stolen bases with a respectable 74 percent success rate, and were the best team in the majors at turning balls in play into outs. Speed, patience, and defense are perhaps the must undervalued skills in the game, and the last has a very large effect on pitching, which is a large reason why the Rays allowed 1.7 fewer runs per game this year than last. The Rays were also second in the AL in one-run wins (to the Angels, who ironically fell one-run short last night) and led the league in extra-inning victories.
One way to look at those stats is to say that the Rays are a team balancing on a razor's edge. Another is to say they're a team that wins games on the margins by being one step faster on the bases and in the field, by tracking down one extra out, and extending their own half of the inning by one extra at-bat, and by not allowing their opponents to plan around their one big bopper or their ace starter.
If the Rays are a multi-headed beast that prevents its opponents from knowing which set of jaws to dodge, the Red Sox are the Hydra, able to regenerate new heads on the spot. After hobbling around with a torn labrum in his left hip and going 0-for-8 in Games 1 and 3, Boston third baseman
When Game 2 hero