Monday, October 20, 2008

Final Thoughts: 2008 ALCS

-In the end, the Rays ultimately won this series because of their depth. The Rays ability to bring in five or six quality relievers out of the bullpen along with major contributions from Rocco Baldelli, Willy Aybar, Andy Sonnastine, and David Price provided the perfect compliments to a fantastic core.

-The Red Sox lost this series because they became the 2008 Mets. Sure Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay, Coco Crisp, Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima and Kevin Youkilis had great series, but who else rose to the occasion? No one. Guys who needed to be big in this series (David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Mark Kotsay) went a combined 12 for 76 with only 2 homers and 5 RBI. The Red Sox had too many holes in their lineup. It is difficult to win with only six or seven guys performing well.

-I understand why Terry Francona did not pinch hit for Jason Varitek in the ninth inning. But not pinch hitting for Varitek in the top of the seventh was simply stupid. With two guys on and two outs, Francona elected to let the Captain hit even though he had only one hit during the entire series. What justification could Francona make? Varitek only hit .201 against righties during the regular season and did not have a hit off of a right handed pitcher during the entire ALCS. Furthermore, Francona had both Ellsbury and Lowrie on the bench at that moment. Yes both guys have looked terrible so far in the ALCS (especially Ellsbury), but both have been major statistical upgrades over Varitek against right handed pitching. What's the rationale here? Did Francona not want to upset Varitek by taking him out of such a big game? Or perhaps, did Francona not want his young guys in such a big spot? I would lean towards the latter, but any explanation is poor in this situation.

-Series MVP Matt Garza was phenomenal. After Dustin Pedroia homered in the first inning, Garza remained in control throughout the entire game by impressively harnessing his emotions to deliver the best fastballs I've seen from him all season. The Red Sox looked terrible at the plate against Garza most of the night. It would've been very interesting to see how long Maddon stayed with Garza if Bartlett had not made that error in the top of the eighth.
-Even though the Rays won, Joe Maddon's bullpen management remains as suspect as ever. For some reason, Dan Wheeler has gone from closer to middle reliever over the course of five playoff games. How did this happen? I haven't the slightest clue. Since the Rays do not have the services of Troy Percival, Wheeler has assumed the closer's role. Or so I thought. In both game 5 and game 7, Madddon brought Wheeler in before the ninth inning when the Rays needed to get outs. While I might make moves like this in Strat-O-Matic, eventually this sort of bullpen management will come back to bite the Rays in the butt. Relievers need definition.

-With that said, definition can be thrown out the window if David Price is on. Price has the composure of a 10 year veteran and the stuff of a young CC Sabathia. Great fastball location to go along with a hard, fast, biting slider that eats up lefties and righties alike. That dude has some dominant stuff and loves to yell into his glove. Does it get any better than that?

-Did anyone else start chanting Alex Gonzalez to their TV after Jason Bartlett made an error in the 8th inning? I sure did.

-Who else loved the potential theifdom of Akinori Iwamura at the end of the Rays victory? Iwamura fielded the pennant clinching ground ball and after he stepped on second base, he proceeded to shove the ball into his back pocket before entering the dog pile. Bold move sir, I hope you still have the ball though.

-Carl Crawford's leap onto the top of the dogpile was epic. Crawford sprints in from left field feverishly shaking his wrist before he leaps over the entire dog pile to gracefully land on top of the team. Easily my favorite moment of the night.
(Photo: AP)

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