By Bill Chuck
Nine innings, nine pitchers. Who are your picks?
There is a unique rhythm to every baseball game. On paper, heres what a pitching win should look like:
We watch a pitcher in the 1st inning to see what kind of stuff he has. Then over the next couple of innings, we look for consistency.
By the 4th inning we are amidst in the second time around the batting order and we can watch the adjustments made by hitter and pitcher.
By the 6th inning, we are now on an inning-by-inning watch as to how long the starter will remain in the game.
The 7th inning we are down to batter-by-batter and almost pitch-by-pitch. Can the starter make it through the inning? Does he have anything left in the tank? Is he now using everything he has left? Is he no longer pitching, but simply throwing? Should the manager start the 7th by going to the pen or wait until trouble arises?
By the 8th inning, we are thinking that this is the ultimate bridge to the closer. You can hear the save man warming up and singing Sam and Daves Hold on, Im Coming.
The 9th inning saves the game and the team savors the win.
Here is how the American League has actually played out inning-by-inning. Here are the league ERAs with the best, worst, and Bostons run totals:
1. 4.11 Toronto has allowed 48 runs, Baltimore 94, Boston 73
2. 3.67 Chicago has allowed 38 runs, Baltimore 86, Boston 64
3. 4.13 Oakland has allowed 40 runs, Toronto 104, Boston 46
4. 4.31 Oakland has allowed 48 runs, Minnesota 84, Boston 64
5. 4.43 Texas has allowed 51 runs, Minnesota 87, Boston 63
6. 4.27 New York has allowed 45 runs, Baltimore 84, Boston 67
7. 3.63 Toronto has allowed 32 runs, Detroit 74, Boston 45
8. 3.73 Chicago has allowed 39 runs, Minnesota 85, Boston 63
9. 3.34 Seattle has allowed 29 runs, Toronto 56, Boston 35
Ive created a game called 9-for-9 Nine pitchers for nine innings. Heres how the game works: you get to choose one Red Sox pitcher for each inning of the game. Like in a regular game, you can use the pitcher only once. You base your nine decisions on how well the pitcher has pitched in that inning throughout the season.
Here we go:
1st inning team ERA 4.86
There are pitchers we know we dont want to use in the 1st: John Lackey has a .347 batting average against (BAA) in the opening inning and allowed 18 runs in 21 innings, so hes out. Surprisingly, Jon Lester hasnt been great in the opening frame with batters hitting .269 against him, plus hes given up three homers and 13 runs in 24 innings. Josh Beckett has a .233 BAA but has given up four homers and 11 runs in 24 innings. So, as much as I hate to burn him early, I go with Alfredo Aceves who in four starts has held opponents to a .154 BAA without giving up a run in the 1st.
2nd inning team ERA 3.93
Tim Wakefield is the pitcher to avoid in the 2nd. He has a .306 BAA and has allowed 11 runs in 18 innings. Beckett has a .198 BAA and given up just five runs, but my choice is Jon Lester with his .165 BAA and since hes only given up six runs in 24 innings.
3rd inning team ERA 3.21
This has been a strong inning for Sox pitchers, one in each they have given up only five homers all season long (Lester has given up two). Josh Beckett has been great in the 3rd holding batters to a .160 average and having allowed just two runs, but Im not quite ready to burn him, so Im going with Tim Wakefield who has a .209 BAA and has allowed six runs in 19 innings.
4th inning team ERA 4.36
Here we are in the midst of the second time around the batting order and not surprisingly, John Lackey has had troubles with a .366 BAA and has given up an astounding 24 runs over the course of 20 innings. Andrew Miller has been hit hard this inning as well with batters hitting .357. Wake has held batters to a .225 average and Lester a .215, while Beckett has held batters to a .181 average, he has allowed 10 runs in 24 innings, so Im going with the small sample of Erik Bedard. Batters are 2-for-9 against him (.222) and he hasnt given up a run.
5th inning team ERA 3.93
This is another really bad inning for Tim Wakefield. The knuckleball doesnt flutter in the 5th as batters have hit .345 and hes given up 19 runs in 20 appearances. Josh Beckett again pitches well here with a .262 BAA and hes allowed eight runs in 24 innings, but Im greedy and I want to hold him one more inning. Im throwing John Lackey in here, as despite a .282 BAA, hes allowed just seven runs in 18 innings.
6th inning team ERA 4.64
Other than the 1st inning this is the worst inning for Sox pitchers and that makes sense. For most Boston starters, this is as far they go and the bullpen is not deep enough to have a great 6th inning pitcher. John Lackey has actually pitched well this inning holding batters to a .232 BAA. Jon Lester has a .250 BAA but has permitted 10 runs in 23 innings. We see the emergence of the bullpen in this inning. Matt Albers has allowed six runs in 14 innings and Dan Wheeler has held batters to a .190 BAA but allowed eight runs in just seven innings. Heres where the ace continues to shine, however. My guy in the 6th is Josh Beckett who has held the opposition to just a .190 batting average and a measly four runs in 20 innings.
7th inning team ERA 3.07
We have heard how good the Sox are offensively this inning, now you can see how effective they are on the mound as well. Beckett has pitched into the 7th 13 times and Lester 12 times. Check this out: Daniel Bard has faced 27 batters in the 7th inning; he has walked three and allowed one hit. Thats a .042 BAA and hes only allowed two runs. But Im saving Daniel. I could go with Matt Albers who has held the opposition to a .213 average, or Dan Wheeler, who has held batters to a .200 average and has allowed two runs in nine 7th inning appearances. But Im taking Franklin Morales, who has a .154 BAA and hasnt allowed a run in 11 7th inning appearances.
8th inning team ERA 4.18
You dont want to see Jonathan Papelbon in the 8th inning. Batters are 3-for-8 against him and hes allowed two runs in three appearances. You should know that in the five times that Josh Beckett has pitched in the 8th inning this season, batters are 2-for-15 and havent scored a run against him. Talk about leaving nothing in the tank! Daniel Bard is as good as there is in the 8th inning. Hes appeared in 45 of them this season and batters are hitting .199. Hes struck out 41 of the 166 batters hes faced and despite the five homers and 15 runs, you got to say numbers be damned, hes the man.
9th inning team ERA 3.06
For those of you who are ready to let Jonathan Papelbon go, heres a little fuel: In the 9th, Bard has faced 21 batters, allowed two hits, one walk, struck out seven and hasnt allowed a run. Those of you who want to retain Papelbon, heres your support: Batters are only hitting .206, hes struck out 58 of 185 batters and has allowed 17 runs over the course of 45 appearances. Hes the choice closer in this game.
So here are the 9-for-9 Red Sox pitchers:
1. Alfredo Aceves
2. Jon Lester
3. Tim Wakefield
4. Erik Bedard
5. John Lackey
6. Josh Beckett
7. Franklin Morales
8. Daniel Bard
9. Jonathan Papelbon
Does this mean much? Probably not a whole lot, but it does give you a good indication of the strengths and weaknesses of the staff. Try playing it yourself and let me know if you come up with a different combination.