The American League Division Series each have two games under their belt as the opening sequence of games completed tonight in both Boston and Oakland. Here’s some thoughts on how both are unfolding…
Tampa Bay-Boston: The Red Sox’ offense is certainly the story of the first two games, scoring 19 runs and pounding out 30 hits in their 12-2 and 7-4 wins to grab a 2-0 lead. Boston has been balanced–they’ve used nineteen players in the everyday lineup and not only does every one of them a hit, but seventeen have a hit in both games.
The only exceptions are catcher, where Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross have started one game apiece, and Mike Napoli. And in Napoli’s case, he drew two walks in Game 2, even if he didn’t have a hit.
Nor is the attack built on the long ball. David Ortiz hit two solo home runs in the second game, but the vast majority of the assault has been just stringing hits together. The Sox have scored in eight different innings, precisely half, since they haven’t needed to bat in the ninth inning either game.
Now if this were happening in an August series against Houston, it would be notable, a good example of a good team taking advantage of an opportunity. But this is happening against the Tampa Bay Rays, renowned for great starting pitching. It’s come against 17-game winner Matt Moore and 2012 Cy Young winner David Price, each fresh off clutch starts in must-win games.
What’s further disconcerting for Tampa Bay is that they just don’t look sharp. We’ve now seen endless replays of Wil Myers misplaying an Ortiz fly ball in Game 1 into a double. We haven’t seen nearly enough of a passed ball on a strikeout, two more errors in Game 2, all the while Boston is turning key double plays with precision.
This is the area of the game the Rays have always excelled in, making up for the fact their offense isn’t quite as deep. When they don’t play sharp defense, results like the last two games are what happens.
The series will revert to Tampa, and maybe the change of scenery will help the Rays. Any kind of change is good for Myers right now, whose 0-for-9 is more alarming that his one fielding miscue in a game that ended up a blowout. His inability to get on base is allowing Boston to pitch around Evan Longoria.
But if you broke this series down by pitching matchups, which is at least as relevant as doing so by homefield, you would certainly have circled Saturday’s Price-Lackey one as a game Tampa had to have. Lackey was not sharp, giving up four runs in 5.1 IP, but the Rays still lost. Now Alex Cobb has to beat Clay Bucholz on Monday, and then the Rays have to hope Jeremy Hellickson, he of the 5.17 ERA, can re-find his form against Jake Peavy on Tuesday.
And if that works out for Tampa? There’s still a return trip to Fenway to deal with Jon Lester, who threw 7.2 IP of four-hit ball in the opener. The Rays climbed a much higher mountain when they chased down the Red Sox in the 2011 AL wild-card race, but make no mistake about it–this is another tough hill they have to make it up.
Detroit-Oakland: I don’t mean to give this series short shrift, because it’s been by far the best of all four Division Series thus far, with Detroit taking the opener 3-2 and Oakland coming back in Game 2 with a 1-0 win. But from an analytical/summation standpoint, it’s by far the most straightforward of the series. We’ve seen great pitching–everyone from Max Scherzer to Sonny Gray to Justin Verlander to Bartolo Colon has met the moment.
The Tigers were able to strike at Colon quickly, with three runs in the top of the first in the opener and even though Colon settled in, Scherzer was in lockdown form and Joaquin Benoit got the last four outs, three on strike outs.
You can’t say enough about Gray. This is a kid making his 11th big league start, his team’s season is all but on the line in Game 2 and Verlander is his opponent. Gray tossed eight shutout innings. Verlander was brilliant, retiring the first 11 batters and throwing seven goose-egg frames of his own. But even though it was the ninth when Oakland broke through and got the run that won it, to me the key inning was the seventh.
Oakland put runners on second and third with two outs and Stephen Vogt at the plate. The catcher put on an epic at-bat against Verlander, repeatedly fouling off pitches and even though he struck out, Verlander’s pitch count was pushed close to 120 and ended his night. Once the battle shifts from the rotation to the bullpen, Oakland has the advantage and they loaded up the bases with no outs in the ninth. Fittingly, Vogt had the walkoff single that sends the series back to the Rustbelt tied at a game apiece.
THE GAME 3 SCHEDULE
The American League will take off on Sunday to travel. The games resume on Monday as part of a baseball Grand Slam, with all four series in action. The A’s-Tigers will start it off at 1 PM ET from Comerica, with Jarrod Parker facing Anibal Sanchez and MLB Network on the coverage. The Red Sox-Rays will play in the Trop at 6 PM ET on TBS.