Series: NLDS, Game 4; Phillies lead 2-1
Time: 1:07 p.m.
Starters:Joe Blanton (9-12, 4.69) vs. Jeff Suppan (10-10, 4.96)
Of the 54 teams in major league history to take a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series, 19 lost Game 3 (the Phillies became the 20th last night). Of those 19, 12 held on to win the series. Given that history, the Phillies are still in excellent shape, especially considering that for the Brewers to even make it back to Philadelphia for Game 5 they'll have to survive a Suppan start today.
Suppan is a postseason veteran who posted a 3.00 ERA in nine postseason starts with the Cardinals from 2004 to '06. The most notable of those starts saw him pitch seven dominant innings in a Game 7 win over the Mets in the 2006 NLCS. That's a long time ago, however. In his last five starts of the regular season Suppan posted an 8.44 ERA and gave up seven home runs. Worse yet, the eight regulars in the Phillies' lineup have hit a combined .363/.388/.664 against him in their careers. The only positive indicator for Suppan entering today's Game 4 is that he pitched a gem against the Phils in late April, holding them to five hits and one run over seven innings. The one run in that game came on a home run by Jayson Werth, who is 4 for 7 against Suppan in his career. Keep an eye on Werth this afternoon. Righties have hit .308/.368/.501 against Suppan this year, and the righty-swinging Werth hit a pair of rockets for a double and a triple in last night's game.
The key matchup on the other side of the ledger pits Phillies starter Blanton against Ray Durham. Durham is the only Brewer with more than four career at-bats against Blanton and is 6 for 14 with four extra-base hits against him in his career. Like Suppan against the Phillies, Blanton faced the Brewers just once this year, allowing five hits and three runs (all on homers by Mike Cameron and Durham) in seven innings in a mid-September no-decision. A product of Billy Beane's Moneyball draft, Blanton was acquired from the A's in mid-July and posted a 4-0 record, and the Phillies were 9-4 in his 13 starts. Blanton's an unexceptional pitcher in almost every way but his indicators are more positive than Suppan's entering today's game. The only causes for concern are that Blanton has a harder time on the road and against righties (though not quite as tough a time as Suppan), the latter being significant because of the Brewers' righty-heavy lineup.
Though the pitching matchup again suggests that the Phillies will finish off the Brewers today, there's reason to hope for the other result. If the Brewers can pull out a win today, this series will be decided in Philadelphia on Tuesday with CC Sabathia, who has made four straight starts on three-day's rest, pitching on full rest against Cole Hamels. That's the best pitching matchup this postseason field can produce.
Series: ALDS, Game 3; Rays lead 2-0
Time: 4:07 p.m.
Starters:Matt Garza (11-9, 3.70) vs. John Danks (12-9, 3.32)
Of the four teams that fell behind 2-0 this year the White Sox may have the best chance of winning the series. The Pale Hose return home today, where they were a major-league-best 19 wins better than their road record, and have Danks, Gavin Floyd and Mark Buehrle (back in Tampa for a possible Game 5) lined up to pitch the next three games on regular rest. The Rays, meanwhile, lack a shut-down ace to cast a shadow over Chicago's hopes.
Today marks the second time in the last week that Danks has taken the mound at U.S. Cellular Field needing a win to save his team's season. In Tuesday's one-game playoff against the Twins the 23-year-old turned in a star-making performance, holding Minnesota to two hits and three walks over eight shutout innings despite entering the game with a 7.91 ERA in four previous starts against Minnesota this season. Danks had far more success against the Rays this year, posting a 1.86 ERA in three starts while striking out 20 against just three walks in 19 1/3 innings.
Once again, Rays manager Joe Maddon would be wise to start Willy Aybar over Carlos Peña at first base against the lefty Danks. Aybar was 2 for 2 with a double and a sacrifice bunt against the lefty Buehrle in Game 2, and not only is he leading the Rays in average and on-base percentage in this series but his season numbers against lefty pitchers in general and Danks specifically were also both better than those of Peña, who has been sitting due to a scratched cornea and struck out in his only at-bat in Game 1. Maddon's righty-hitting platoon hitters (Aybar, designated hitter Rocco Baldelli and rookie right fielder Fernando Perez) were a combined 4 for 11 against Buehrle in Game 2. All should be back in the lineup this afternoon.
The man looking to put the Sox away, Garza, is another reason why the Sox look likely to play again tomorrow. Garza's been decidedly unimpressive on the road this year, going 4-5 with a 4.53 ERA and allowing 10 more home runs than he did at the Trop. Worse yet, two thirds of the Chisox lineup (Orlando Cabrera, Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski and Juan Uribe) has gone a combined 9 for 21 against him in their careers, with two homers, a double and four walks. Of course those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt as the 24-year-old Garza hasn't faced the Sox since September 2007 (when he was still with the Twins), which is ancient history for a pitcher who just completed his first full year in the majors.
The difference in this series thus far has been extra bases. The Sox and Rays have similar numbers of hits and strikeouts in the same number of at-bats, and both teams have just three walks, but the Rays have eight extra-base hits and three stolen bases to Chicago's three and none, giving the Rays 17 more bases by those two measures alone. The White Sox stole the second-fewest bases in the league during the regular season and aren't likely to start running now, but they also slugged 67 points higher at home than on the road, which is another reason why this series stands a decent chance of returning to Florida.
Series: ALDS, Game 3; Red Sox lead 2-0
Time: 7:17 p.m.
Starters:Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41) vs. Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03)
The big question mark in this game is Beckett. To this point in his career Beckett has been one of the most dominant postseason pitchers in history (6-2, 1.73 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 4.95 H/9, 10.16 K/9 and three shutouts in nine starts, including one against the Angels in Game 1 of last year's ALDS), but those numbers were compiled in the 2003 and '07 postseasons, which just happened to follow his two best regular seasons. This year Beckett was unexceptional during the regular season, as the numbers above attest. Things get worse when you look at his numbers at Fenway Park this year (5-5, 5.65 ERA) and his performance in two starts against the Angels (7.43 ERA, 20 hits in 13 1/3 innings). On top of all that, Beckett's start tonight was pushed back from Game 1 due to an oblique strain he suffered during a routine bullpen session on the final Friday of the regular season.
Beckett threw 67 pitches in a side session on Thursday, prompting pitching coach John Farrell to tell his manager, "This is not a guy that's hurt." If that's true the Angels, who have lost 11 straight postseason games to the Red Sox dating back to 1986 -- a record against a single opponent -- are going to follow the Cubs out the door tonight.
If Beckett's still a bit gimpy, however, the Halos have hope. Third baseman Mike Lowell, who went 0 for 4 in Game 1, tweaked his injured hip on a swing and sat out Game 2 but is expected back in the lineup against lefty Saunders tonight. That could be to Saunders' benefit if Lowell's hip is as bad as it looked on Wednesday. Saunders is indeed more susceptible to righties than lefties, and the Sox have been significantly more successful against lefty pitching, but Saunders has some favorable splits of his own, namely his 10-3 record and 2.55 ERA in 15 road starts, his three quality starts against the Red Sox this year (two of them at Fenway), and his strong finish to the regular season (3-0, 2.14 ERA over his last five starts with 24 strikeouts against just six walks and two homers).
Like the other ALDS, extra bases have made the difference in this series. The Angels have just one extra-base hit to Boston's nine and no steals against Boston's three.