Series: ALCS, Game 3; Series tied 1-1Time: 4:37 p.m. ESTTV: TBSStarters:Matt Garza (1-0, 3.18 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (1-0, 0.00)
The reason the Rays so desperately needed to pull out a win in Game 2 is this matchup, Garza versus Lester at Fenway Park. The only game the Rays lost to the White Sox in the ALDS was Game 3, which was their first road game in that series and saw Garza take the hill against the other team's emerging young lefty ace. That scenario repeats itself tonight, the difference being that, as good as John Danks has become for the White Sox, Lester is better. The 24-year-old has been the most dominant pitcher in this postseason, and he's at his best when on his home hill.
Lester was 11-1 with a 2.49 ERA and just eight home runs allowed in his 17 starts at Fenway this year. That one loss came in his third start of the season, on April 9, and the Red Sox haven't lost a home game started by Lester since April 23. On May 19 Lester no-hit the Royals at Fenway, and in his last eight home starts, including his seven shutout innings against the Angels in Game 4 of the ALDS, he's 7-0 with a 1.64 ERA, averaging nearly seven innings per start. That's dominance.
If the Rays are to have a chance tonight, they need Garza to keep things within shouting distance, but don't count on it. In his only start at Fenway this year, Garza gave up seven runs in 5 1/3 innings. Only one of Garza's three other starts against the Red Sox this year lasted longer, that being a sharp, one-run, seven-inning outing at Tropicana Field on June 1. In four starts against the Red Sox this year Garza has a 4.50 ERA, which is a dead match for his ERA in three career starts at Fenway, and a near match for his 2008 road ERA of 4.53, though the last swells to 4.72 if you factor in the five runs he allowed in six innings in Chicago in Game 3 of the ALDS.
It's also worth noting that, of the 19 home runs Garza has allowed this year, 14 came on the road, two in that one previous start at Fenway (by J.D. Drew and Mike Lowell). Even though anything can happen in a single baseball game -- the Angels nearly won Lester's last start by keeping it close and getting to the Boston bullpen -- I just don't see that happening for the Rays behind Garza tonight.
The Dodgers needed to win last night, and they did. They need to win tonight just as much. L.A. simply can't allow Cole Hamels to take the mound for Wednesday's Game 5 with a chance to pitch his team into the World Series. Even with a Dodgers victory tonight a Hamels win on Wednesday would send the series back to Philadelphia with the Phillies having two chances to clinch at home. L.A. cannot afford to be in a worse position than that, and if they lose tonight they will be.
With an extra off-day between tonight's Game 4 and Wednesday's Game 5, Joe Torre has decided to bring back Game 1 starter Lowe on three days' rest to avoid having to use a fourth starter, a move that was surely his intention all along as potential fourth starters Greg Maddux and rookie left-hander Clayton Kershaw pitched in relief in Games 1 and 2, respectively. With the extra day of rest tomorrow, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda, as well as Lowe in a potential Game 7 on Saturday, will be on regular rest in their subsequent turns.
Lowe has pitched well in his two postseason starts this year, but after five shutout innings in Game 1 of this series he was bounced by a pair of home runs in the sixth. After allowing just one home run over his last 64 regular-season innings, Lowe has allowed three taters in 11 1/3 postseason innings. Of greater concern for Dodgers fans is the fact that in his only other start on short rest this season, on May 18, Lowe was torched by the Angels for seven runs on 10 hits in five innings. Last year Lowe's season came unraveled when he tweaked his groin in a one-inning relief appearance made on a between-start throw day in late July. Following that relief appearance Lowe lasted just four innings in his subsequent start, which was technically on two-days' rest, missed a turn, then went 4-5 with a 4.94 ERA and 11 home runs allowed over his final 10 starts of the season. Coming into that relief outing he had a 3.51 ERA and had allowed eight home runs in 21 starts.
Given that history Lowe seems like the wrong starter to take a chance on with short rest, and not just because there's no factual basis for the old baseball belief that sinkerballers pitch better when tired. On the flip side, Lowe's only postseason start on three days' rest came for the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS against Joe Torre's Yankees. Lowe allowed just two baserunners in six innings in that game, but that was four years ago, when he was 31 years old, and there were extenuating circumstances. Not only did the Red Sox's offense put the game away early, but the Yankees were in shock as the Sox were in the process of becoming the first team in major-league history to come back from an 0-3 deficit in a League Championship Series.
Blanton, meanwhile, was excellent in his clinching Game 4 NLDS start in Milwaukee, holding the Brewers to one run on five hits while striking out seven and walking none in six innings, but one wonders how much of that was a fluke. Blanton has had a hard time on the road this year, posting a 5.37 ERA, and is otherwise a very ordinary pitcher with a pedestrian strikeout rate. Ordinary will be good enough if Lowe suffers from working on short rest, but if Lowe stays sharp, the Dodgers could pull this one out, particularly given their improved offensive performance at home. In his only other career start in Dodger Stadium, Blanton allowed four runs on nine hits (two of them home runs by Andre Ethier and, of course, Manny Ramirez) and three walks in just five innings. Both that start and a more successful turn against the Dodgers in Philadelphia (6 IP, 1 R) came this August.
As you might expect, Ramirez owns Blanton, boasting a career .560/.600/.720 line against him in 30 confrontations, though with just that one home run. Conversely, Blanton owns Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake, who is 1-for-21 with seven strikeouts against the big righty. Torre started Nomar Garciaparra at first base against lefty Jamie Moyer last night. With Garciaparra having gone 2-for-3 last night and 3-for-9 with a homer in his career against Blanton, Torre should consider keeping Nomar in the lineup, but moving him across the diamond in place of Blake, for tonight's game.