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2008 ALDS Preview - Rays vs. White sox

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
October 2, 2008

Records - Rays 97-65, White Sox 89-74
Third order records -  Rays 97-65, White Sox 88-75
Runs Scored (ML rank)
- Rays 774 (13th), White Sox 811 (6th)
Runs Allowed (ML rank) - Rays 671 (3rd),
White Sox 729 (14th)

Overview

Okay, raise your hand if you predicted that the Rays would face the White Sox in the playoffs this year?  Two teams that combined to go 138-186 (.426) last year went 186-139 (.572) in 2008.  The White Sox improved via starting pitching and home run power, while the Rays improved both their pitching and their defense.  Many people would be surprised to learn that the Rays actually scored eight fewer runs this season than they did in 2007. 

The Rays are far better suited to win in the postseason.  The Sox cannot count on hitting enough home runs against the excellent Rays staff, nor in Tropicana Field, which suppresses home run output by 15% over a neutral park and 40% over US Cellular Field.  The Sox have virtually no other means of manufacturing runs, whereas the Rays led all of baseball with 142 regular season stolen bases (both teams shun the sacrifice bunt).  Add in the fact that Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski is absolutely the worst starting catcher in baseball at throwing out baserunners, who are 96-for-117(82.1%) against him, and you have a huge mismatch here.

Additionally, many of the Sox' big boppers are either slumping or will not appear in the series.  Jermaine Dye hit .242 in August and .269 with just two homers and 13 RBI in September after being an MVP candidate in mid-summer.  Nick Swisher has hit .191 in the second half, falling so far out of favor that Dewayne Wise is now the team's everyday left fielder (why he is not playing center and the defensively-challenged Ken Griffey Jogger in left, I simply cannot say).   Carlos Quenttin, easily the team's best player, will not appear in the series.

Moreover, the Sox rotation is exhausted and only Matt Thornton and Bobby Jenks are even remotely reliable out of the bullpen, although those two have in fact been dominant.  The Rays have three bullpen arms to turn to with an ERA at 2.22 or less, and that's before they even get to Troy Percival and Dan Wheeler, who have split the closer's duties this year.  Wheeler has been better than Percival of late, but Percy's success in the 2002 playoffs could be a factor.  As well as their starting pitching is likely to perform, however, one wonders whether this great bullpen will get rusty by the time the ALCS rolls around.

Pitching Matchups

Game 1 - Javier Vazquez (12-16 4.67) @ James Shields (14-8 3.56)

Vazquez has been unfairly vilified my Chicago fans and media.  It was Ozzie Guillen's fault for starting him on three days rest twice in his last three starts.  His BAA in the 6th inning is .300 for his career, with an OPS of .867... so predictably, he lost his effectiveness in the 4th and 5th innings in his two recent starts on short rest. He is now 0-4 with an 8.10 ERA on three days of rest. 

None of this matters here, because Shields is 20-8 3.23 career at Tropicana Field, including 9-2 2.59 this year.

Big edge for the Rays

Game 2 - Mark Buehrle (15-12 3.79) @ Scott Kazmir (12-8 3.49)

Kazmir has allowed four homers in two of his last three starts, but still remains the most dominant pitcher in this series.  Mark Buehrle is 4-9 5.05 away from The Cell this year and 0-4 4.09 on artificial turf.  

Big edge for the Rays

Game 3 - Matt Garza (11-9 3.70) @ John Danks (12-9 3.32)

John Danks is 6-12 5.34 after the All-Star break in his young career.  Matt Garza has a 3.51 ERA since the end of April.  Tampa Bay is one game under .500 on the road and one game over .500 against southpaws, so there is some hope for the White Sox in this one.

Slight edge for Rays

Game 4 - Andy Sonnanstine (13-9 4.38) @ Gavin Floyd (17-8 3.84)

Sonnanstine tossed a complete game shutout against the Sox earlier this year.  Gavin Floyd has a 4.67 RA and a 4.78 FIP, making his ERA one of the most misleading in all of baseball this year.

Moderate edge for the Rays

Game 5 - Mark Buehrle (15-12 3.79) @ James Shields (14-8 3.56)

The Sox are fortunate to be able to use Mark Buehrle twice on his normal rest.  They are unfortunate to face James Shields twice in Tampa.

Moderate edge for the Rays

Outlook

Don't let the Sox' three game win streak fool you into thinking that they have momentum; they went 11-15 in September.  The Sox are 75-55 (.577) when MVP candidate Carlos Quentin plays and 14-19 (.424) when he does not.  He is inactive with an eye towards the ALCS, which is convenient, since he'll be watching it from home

Prediction: Rays in three




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com or found at the Baseball Evolution Forum

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