Previewing today's game
Breaking down Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. All stats for starting pitchers are for this postseason only.
Josh Beckett vs. Scott Kazmir sounds like a Game 1 matchup, but this hasn't been the best of seasons for either pitcher, both of whom were limited to 27 starts by injuries. Last year, Beckett went 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in the postseason and finished second in the AL Cy Young voting. This year, he started the season with a brief stint on the disabled list due to a bad back, missed a late-April start due to a stiff neck, and landed back on the DL in late August with a strained pitching elbow. More recently, he lost his opportunity to start Game 1 of the ALDS when he strained an oblique while throwing a routine bullpen session during the final days of the regular season. Despite all that, Beckett largely maintained his peripherals from a year ago during the regular season, but saw his ERA swell by three-fourths of a run due to an up-tick in his home run rate and his opponents' batting average on balls in play. Those two stats correspond with a sharp increase in his line-drive percentage to indicate that while Beckett may have been just as effective in the strike zone this year, when hitters did make contact with his pitches, they were hitting them harder than they had in 2007.
The good news for the Red Sox going into tonight's game is that those issues were largely confined to Fenway Park. Beckett has always struggled at Fenway (career 4.79 ERA), but this year his home ERA swelled to 5.65. Wearing his road grays, as he will be tonight, Beckett posted a 2.85 ERA while allowing just eight home runs in 15 starts. In two starts at Tropicana Field this year, Beckett's ERA was just 1.20 as he struck out 20 Rays in 15 innings against just two walks and seven hits. That's not quite enough to completely ignore his weak, five-inning performance in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Angels at Fenway, but it's close.
Like Beckett, Kazmir started the season on the DL and suffered a strain in his pitching elbow. Unlike Beckett, Kazmir got all of that out of the way in April and didn't miss a turn the rest of the way. After a warmup start on May 4 in Boston (4 IP, 4 R, 3 BB, 5 K), Kazmir peeled off six straight wins, posting a 0.88 ERA along the way, but since then, he's been decidedly ordinary. Over his final 20 starts of the season, Kazmir went 6-7 with a 4.36 ERA, completed the seventh inning only once, and never pitched into the eighth. To that he added an alarming walk rate of 4.78 walks per nine innings and an even more disconcerting home run rate of 1.8 HR/9, which combined to significantly undermine his stellar strikeout rate of 10.23 K/9. Only an abnormally low BABIP (.267) kept him from a dreadful season, for which he can thank his team's vastly improved defense. Kazmir gave up four home runs in two of his last three starts of the regular season, one of which came at home against the Red Sox. In that game,
Also like Beckett, Kazmir is pitching in his preferred environment tonight. Though most of his walks have come at home, by keeping the ball in the park (just nine home runs allowed in 14 starts at the Trop), and letting his defense work its magic, he has been able to survive those bases on balls, going 8-2 with a 2.90 ERA. In his Game 2 ALDS start against the White Sox, Kazmir walked two and hit a third, but didn't allow a home run and managed to pitch into the sixth having only allowed two runs. Still, he was neither dominant (eight hits and just four strikeouts), nor terribly efficient (98 pitches in 5 1/3 innings).
With the series shifting to Fenway after tonight and