No Francona, but a lot of Price and Moore

No Francona, but a lot of Price and Moore
October 3, 2013, 1:00 pm
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I clicked the red “x” in the top left corner, and a question popped up on screen:

“Do you want to save the changes you made to SoxVsFrancona.docx?”

The answer was yes. Of course I did. I wanted to save those changes, make more changes and spend at least the next week writing about the most unlikely, complex and dramatic development in a season that’s been full of them: The ALDS. Sox vs. Indians. Terry Francona vs. Sox. Francona vs. Farrell. Francona vs. the owners. FRANCONA VS. THE WORLD. It would have been perfect. More than that, it would have been so much fun. But as Snoop once said, “it ain’t no fun if the Rays have a chance to spoil it.”


But obviously, we can’t complain. After three straight seasons without a playoff baseball in Boston, it doesn’t really matter who the opponent is. And even then, we can’t complain about not being able to complain. After all, four years between postseason appearances isn’t that long. Ask a fan from Pittsburgh. Ask a Sox fan in his or her 50's. Look back at the box score from the Sox last playoff game — October 11, 2009  — and sure, some time has gone by. You see names like Mike Lowell and Jason Bay. You notice that 24-year-old rookie Daniel Bard threw two perfect innings in relief. For Bard, four years probably feel like 40. Still, those were hardly the days of Doug Drabek and Andy Van Slyke. Clay Buchholz was the starting pitcher in Boston’s last playoff game. Jacoby Ellsbury hit leadoff. Dustin Pedroia hit second. David Ortiz hit fifth.

Terry Francona was the manager . . . damn you, Rays!

But enough about the past because we don’t need it anymore. This Red Sox season is all about moving on; about breaking free from what has happened and relishing in what’s happen-ing; about enjoying this delicious dinner instead of bitching about a crappy lunch.

So, what’s for dinner?

Well, the Sox have a chance to win the World Series. That’s the bottom line. They’re healthy. They scored more runs than anyone in baseball this year. Their rotation is imposing from top to bottom and, in the playoffs, those starters should be able to stretch out their innings and help better bridge the gap to the best closer in baseball.

This is not a team that’s merely happy to be here; it’s a team that should be held to the highest standard and unsatisfied with anything less than a title. Hell, they’ve only won two of these things in the last 94 years. Despite recent success, in the big picture, opportunities and teams like this don’t come along that often. You’ve got to strike while the iron’s hot, and right now, the iron’s hotter than Kate Upton tied to a cactus in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Also, her hair is on fire.

But this whole Rays thing just dumped a bucket of ice on Kate’s head (I’ll give you second . . .)

Not only because they spoiled the Francona Reunion, but because the Rays are one team that Boston really didn’t want to see in the playoffs. That’s because if this series goes five games, the Sox will have to face the combination of Matt Moore and David Price three times. And it’s not like the other two Tampa starters are a couple of Tanyon Sturtzes either. In Game 3 (after Moore and Price take 1 and 2), the Sox will likely face Alex Cobb, who dominated the Indians last night. In Game 4, it would be Chris Archer, who was smacked around in two starts against the Sox this year, but has been very good overall, and finished the season with a 3.23 ERA (which is better than every Sox starter other than Buchholz).

In Game 5, it would be either Price or Moore again. Hopefully Moore. But really, that like’s choosing between a two-by-four to the head and a lead pipe to the face.

Moore hasn’t been quite the same since missing all of August with an elbow injury. Of course, he still went 3-1 in September with a 2.79 ERA. But he also walked 20 guys over 28 innings. Had a WHIP above 1.5. He threw seven wild pitches over six September starts after only throwing 10 wild pitches in his previous 21 starts. At the very least, he hasn’t been the guy who threw a two-hit complete game shutout against the Sox in late-July.

And then there’s Price. In his last three starts against the Sox, the reigning AL Cy Young went a total of 24.1 innings, gave up only four runs, struck out 21 batters and walked exactly zero. On the season, Price was only 10-8 with a 3.35 ERA, which ranks fourth out of five in the Rays rotation. But in a playoff scenario, especially a winner take all, you want nothing to do with David Price. Ron Washington can tell you all about that. Just as soon as he’s done grinding his teeth.

There are many other layers to this series, and Sean McAdam has you covered there, but in the end, it really comes down to how the Sox lineup deals with Tampa’s two lefty stars. If Boston can’t win at least one of those three games, they literally can’t win the series.

So, which bats are most likely to step up?

David Ortiz is a career .462 hitter against Moore, with six hits, a homer, four RBI and a 1.346 OPS. Stephen Drew is hitting .400, but has only faced Moore five times. Other than that, there’s not a Sox hitter who’s batting above.200 for his career against Moore. Dustin Pedroia is 2-14. Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury are a combined 0-13.

As for Price, you wonder if John Farrell might consider rolling with David Ross. Ross is 2-5 against the Rays ace with two home runs. Meanwhile, Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a career 2-14. Other than Ross, Will Middlebrooks has had some success, going 5-13 with a double and a home run, but that’s where the good news ends. Ortiz is 8-for-37 (.216) lifetime against Price, Pedroia is 12-for-45 (.267), Ellsbury is 7-for-33 (.212), Daniel Nava is 2-for-20 and Mike Napoli has struck 15 times in 27 at-bats.

The wild card in all this is obviously Xander Bogaerts. How much does Farrell intend to use Young X? After remaining so loyal to Drew this entire season, it seems unlikely that Farrell will remove the veteran from his starting role, but maybe he’ll be a little quicker to go to Bogaerts as a pinch-hitter. After all, the sample size isn’t that large, but X is hitting .467 (7-15) against lefties this year. Drew’s hitting .196.

Either way, the Sox could be in for some long nights.

But hey, what are you going to do? Stop believing in this team after six months because of one less-than-perfect matchup? Of course not. The Sox have proven that they’re a better team than Tampa. As good as Price is, the Sox still found a way to win three of the five times they faced him this year. Because that’s what they do. They find a way to win. And my money’s on them doing that again.

It may not be as fun or as easy as it would have been with Francona and his Indians sitting in the opposing dugout, but after three seasons of playoff-less baseball, this new SoxRaysALDS.docx doesn’t look so bad.

Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine