Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Francona has options for ALCS rotation

Terry Francona said late Monday night that he wasn't going to make any knee-jerk decisions about his roster and his pitching rotation for the American League Championship Series against the Tampa Bay Rays. You can bet that he and pitching coach John Farrell are having some in-depth conversations about how they're going to line up their pitchers for Games 1-4 for the series that starts Friday at Tropicana Field.

Here's one writer's view about how the staff should break down:

Game 1: Daisuke Matsuzaka. This one seems easy. Dice-K would have pitched Game 5 in Anaheim on Wednesday had it been necessary; instead, he'll take the ball on six days' rest against the Rays on Friday. Matsuzaka was 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA this season, and he allowed two earned runs in two starts (10 innings pitched) at Tropicana Field.

He made eight starts this season on six days' rest and had a 3.05 ERA; he actually was better on five days' rest (6-1, 2.49 ERA) than on four. But if he starts Game 1, he'd be ready to come back for Game 5 on, you guessed it, five days' rest.

Game 2: Josh Beckett. There's a temptation, given the way he pitched against Los Angeles and given that he'll be on regular rest, to bring back Jon Lester in this spot. Lester has been a monster in the postseason thus far; he pitched 14 innings against the Angels and surrendered just one unearned run.

But let's not forget just how good Beckett is. He labored through his five innings of work on Sunday, but he'd be pitching on six days' rest and against a team he dominated this season -- he was 2-1 but had a 2.06 ERA in 35 innings pitched against Tampa Bay this season. That includes a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings pitched at Tropicana Field.

Game 3: Jon Lester. There's not much more you can say about the left-handed ace, but there are a couple of reasons to save him until Game 3. For one thing, he was 11-1 with a 2.49 ERA at home this season but 5-5 with a 4.09 ERA on the road. For another, he was spectacular (0.90 ERA in 20 innings pitched) against the Rays this season -- but all of those innings were at Fenway Park and not at Tropicana Field.

And here's one more reason: It seems unlikely that the Rays are going to dispose of the Red Sox in four or five games. If you slot Lester in here, he'll be prepared either to come back and pitch a potential Game 7 on four days rest. (And, if the Red Sox win the series without needing Lester twice, he'll be ready to take the ball in Game 1 of the World Series -- at Fenway Park.)

Game 4: Tim Wakefield. The knuckleballer's need for a personal catcher makes lineup moves complicated if he's needed out of the bullpen in the late innings. But that shouldn't be what gives him the edge here.

Unlike the Angels, the Rays present a lefty-heavy lineup. Carlos Pena is left-handed. Carl Crawford is left-handed. Gabe Gross is left-handed. Akinori Iwamura is left-handed. Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske both are left-handed. Dioner Navarro is a switch-hitter but was better from the left side this season.

Paul Byrd has seen right-handed hitters hit .241 against him in his career (.255 this season). Left-handed hitters, on the other hand, are hitting .311 (.317 this season). Wakefield, meanwhile, has seen left-handers hit .248 against him in his career (.243 this season); right-handers (.256, .218 this season) aren't any better.

On top of that, right-hander B.J. Upton, who hit two home runs against the White Sox on Monday, is 5-for-22 (.227) with no extra-base hits in his career against Wakefield. He's 3-for-8 with a double and a walk against Byrd.

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