October 03, 2008

Cliff Corcoran breaks down today's Division Series action; all games are on TBS; all times Eastern.

Series: ALDS, Game 2; Rays lead 1-0 Time: 6:00 Starters:Mark Buehrle (15-12, 3.79 ERA) vs. Scott Kazmir (12-8, 3.49 ERA)

Buehrle and Kazmir are both lefties, which means the Game 2 lineups in this matchup will have a different look. For the White Sox, that means putting lefty-hitting Dwayne Wise, whose three-run homer off James Shields accounted for all but one of Chicago's runs in Game 1, on the bench in favor of switch-hitter Nick Swisher. Swisher's .197/.359/.386 line against lefties this year isn't much to look at, but it's still an improvement on Wise's .179/.211/.284 career line against southpaws, which is why Wise has had just 14 plate appearances against lefties this year.

Overall, the White Sox have been a smidge better against lefties than righties this year, though that advantage had nothing to do with right-handed slugger Carlos Quentin. Quentin actually had something of a reverse split before breaking his wrist at the beginning of September. Since then, the Sox have slugged .505 against lefty pitching, hitting 15 homers off southpaws during Quentin's month-long absence. Paul Konerko, whose ninth-inning solo homer concluded the Sox's scoring in Game 1, has hit four of those taters, and he and fellow righty power bats Jermaine Dye and Alexei Ramirez enter this evening's game having gone a combined 11 for 32 with three homers against Kazmir. It's also worth noting that reserve outfielder Brian Anderson hit all eight of his home runs this year off lefty pitching in just 85 plate appearances.

The Rays have had a slightly weaker offensive attack against lefties this year. Surprisingly, that doesn't appear to have been fixed by the late-season additions of platoon outfielders Rocco Baldelli and Fernando Perez. Baldelli, who was diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder this spring and spent most of the season working his way back to the majors, has hit .292/.382/.500 in 55 plate appearances against lefties since rejoining the team in early August, numbers very close to his career marks against southpaws. Baldelli is 5 for 10 with a double and a homer against Buehrle in his career and will likely DH this evening in place of Cliff Floyd, who has been platooned all season and has just 12 PAs against lefties on the year. Rookie switch-hitter Perez is likely to replace lefty-hitting Gabe Gross (.191/.247/.338 vs. LHP) in right field. The 25-year-old Perez is a September call-up who snuck onto the postseason roster. A Columbia University graduate, Perez is a talented player who had a disappointing Triple-A debut this year, but hit .292/.414/.458 against lefties for the big club in September.

Lefty-hitting first baseman Carlos Peña was removed early in Game 1 due to blurred vision, but wrote on his blog last night that he's "pretty sure" he'll be back in the lineup tonight. Peña has been an everyday player all year, but his .190/.302/.352 line against lefties suggests that Rays manager Joe Maddon would be better off pretending Peña's still not ready to go and leaving Willy Aybar (.266/.360/.444 vs. LHP) at first. Then again, Peña has hit .314/.385/.429 in 39 career plate appearances against Buehrle while Aybar is 0-for-6 against Chicago's veteran southpaw. Even more impressively, lefty-hitting Carl Crawford, whose start in Game 1 was his first since August 9 due to a finger injury, is 10-for-21 in his career against Buehrle.

As for Buehrle himself, he finished the season on a hot streak, going 4-1 with a 2.29 ERA and only three home runs allowed in his last six starts. Kazmir, meanwhile, was generally inconsistent and mediocre over his last 18 starts dating back to late June, going just 6-6 with a 4.50 ERA and 4.69 walks per nine innings over that stretch.

Series: ALDS, Game 2; Red Sox lead 1-0Time: 9:30 Starters:Daisuke Matsuzaka (18-3, 2.90 ERA) vs. Ervin Santana (16-7, 3.49 ERA)

In the six LDS games played thus far, the team that has issued the most walks has lost. That's bad news for the Rays, and bad news for the Red Sox, as Daisuke Matsuzaka takes the mound tonight having walked 5.05 men per nine innings this season. All those walks made Matsuzaka distressingly inefficient this year as he averaged just 5.78 innings per start. The only pitcher in major league history to win 18 games while pitching fewer total innings than Matsuzaka's 167 2/3 was Elroy Face, who went 18-1 in relief for the 1959 Pirates. As a result, Matsuzaka has relied heavily on his offense, which has given him 5.7 runs of support per start, and his bullpen.

That was the case in last year's ALDS Game 2, when Matsuzaka burned through 96 pitches in 4 2/3 innings against the Angels, allowing ten baserunners, but just three runs, which the Sox's relief quartet of Javier Lopez, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, and Jonathan Papelbon were able to make hold up as the Sox won 6-3. Matsuzaka's only other career start against the Angels was one of just six of his 29 starts the Red Sox lost this year. In that late-July game, he gave up six runs in five innings, three of them scoring on a home run by Torii Hunter. In those two starts, Matsuzaka walked five Angels in just 9 2/3 innings, which is particularly alarming for Boston fans given that the Angels drew the third fewest walks in the American League this year. Ervin Santana, meanwhile, has walked just 1.93 men per nine innings this year.

The 25-year-old Santana's career can be mapped out via his curious home/road splits. In his breakout 2006 season, Santana's ERA on the road was nearly double his home mark. Last year, in a season that saw him demoted in July due to poor performance, his road ERA was more than twice his home mark. This year, Santana's road ERA has been a run lower than his home mark, which could be a sign of maturation. Santana's last start against the Red Sox came in his return to the majors last August, which means the Boston hitters have had very little exposure to him (David Ortiz leads the Sox with six plate appearances against Santana). Santana held the Sox to one run on four hits and no walks over six and a third innings in that last meeting, and their unfamiliarity with him, as well as those low walk totals, should increase his chances of another good outing tonight.

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