AccuScore ALCS projections

AccuScore simulations give Boston the slight edge in the series. The Red Sox are 53 percent favorites to reach their second consecutive World Series, and third in the last five seasons. Tampa won the division with two more wins in the regular season than Boston. The Rays also played incredibly well at home (57-24) and will have home-field advantage hosting four of the seven games at Tropicana Field. Both teams played under .500 on the road. Despite not having homefield, the Red Sox still hold the position as favorites.

The AccuScore Super Computer arrived at this conclusion after running more than 10,000 simulations for the ALCS, calculating how each team’s performance changes in response to game conditions, opponent’s abilities, roster moves, weather and more. We simulated each game one pitch at a time and then replayed the game a minimum of 10,000 times to generate the AccuScore Forecast.

RAYS VS RED SOX

SERIES

GAME1

GAME2

GAME3

GAME4

GAME5

GAME6

GAME7

Rays Win %

47%

54%

50%

43%

47%

44%

50%

48%

Red Sox Win %

53%

46%

50%

57%

53%

56%

50%

52%

Each team is expected to go with a four-man rotation: Matsuzaka, Beckett, Lester, and Wakefield for Boston and Shields, Kazmir, Garza, and Sonnanstine for the Rays. Matsuzaka and James Shields are slated to start Game 1, the only game in which Tampa Bay is currently favored to win. Shields is winning 54 percent of the time in the opener against Matsuzaka. Every following game however, AccuScore projects Boston winning in at least 50 percent of simulations.

The key in this series appears to be Josh Beckett. The right-hander is established as a playoff star, having previously won World Series games in 2003 and 2007. He also owns a 6-2 record in 11 postseason starts with a miniscule 2.09 ERA. What he has not been this season is completely healthy. Beckett suffered an oblique injury that forced him to be moved to Game 3 of the divisional round, and he pitched poorly in that game allowing four runs (including two home runs) in just five innings.

In fact it was a sub-par 2008 season for Beckett that was far from his vintage form. His numbers for the season (12-10 with a 4.02 ERA) indicate that he is not the same pitcher as he was at this time last season. Beckett is currently projected to start Games 2 and 6, both times opposing left-hander Scott Kazmir. The Red Sox are winning 50 percent of simulations in Game 3, and 50 percent in a potential series clincher on the road; that is if you believe Beckett will continue performing at his current level. If Beckett can rediscover his typical stellar postseason form – certainly possible given his track record – he can shift the balance of the series by himself. If he can raise his game to previous levels, Boston would be an even bigger favorite.

Tampa Bay could improve its chances by having Kazmir oppose the ultra-hot Lester in Games 3 and 7 and having Garza face Beckett in Games 2 and 6 at home. That is not likely to happen, so Garza will need to raise his game to match the importance of the moment. Although he had a breakout year after being traded away from Minnesota, Garza’s performances have vacillated this year from great to average. The key for him is the long ball. In the 17 starts in which he didn’t give up a home run he was 9-4 with a terrific 1.95 ERA. Garza needs to keep the ball inside the yard.

Boston was dealt a blow with the injury to Mike Lowell at third base. Kevin Youkilis has shifted to third, and Mark Kotsay and Sean Casey are the replacements at first. While the Sox lose some power and experience, both Kotsay and Casey are veterans and capable players. The Rays benefit greatly from the return of Carl Crawford in the outfield, but they have to still hold some concerns about their closer. Troy Percival was not on the roster against the White Sox, and likely won’t be on it during the ALCS. That leaves the closing job to Dan Wheeler, who blew five of 18 chances during the regular season. Tampa Bay will rely on the superb set-up work by J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour to get the Rays out of tough jams in the late innings, and hope that it does not come down to Wheeler.