Scouting report: Rays-White Sox Game 3

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Inside Edge, a leading baseball scouting and information service, will provide scouting reports to Yahoo! Sports throughout the MLB playoffs. Here’s their breakdown of Game 3 of the 2008 American League Division Series between the Chicago White Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.

INSIDE EDGE BREAKDOWN—WHITE SOX VS. RAYS

Gotta know this…

Starting Pitchers
 
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Garza
   
Matt Garza has thrown 184.2 innings so far this year, a tremendous increase over the 84 innings he pitched last season and his 50 innings in 2006. The load has shown in his OPS allowed, which ticked up in every month from May (.604) to September (.765). Garza’s fastball lost some of its action through the strike zone as the innings piled up. Batters well-hit 6.6 percent of his fastball strikes in May, but 8.1 percent of them last month.

   
• He’s remained effective by shutting down hitters when runners move into scoring position. Garza allowed a .218 batting average with RISP (.091 last month). In this situation, right-handed batters hit .091 versus his inside fastball while lefty batters have more success against the right-hander, hitting .259 overall off Garza with RISP.

   
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Danks
   
• Current Rays hitters are only 19-for-76 (.250) versus Danks during his two years in the big leagues. Tampa Bay struggles with his 90 mph heater but has better luck against Danks’ main off-speed pitch, the changeup (.400 BA). Danks located 22 of 38 changes on the outside corner, and Tampa Bay hitters put half of them in play.

   
• Danks turned around his performance in 2008, winning 12 games on the heels of 13 losses last year. One big reason was his dramatically lower home run rate. The southpaw allowed 1.2 dingers per nine innings in 2007, and only 0.7 HR per 9 this season. He’s a flyball pitcher, so controlling the number of balls hit hard in the air is the key for Danks, who reduced his well-hit average on fly balls from .427 to .364. Danks has located fewer fastballs up in the strike zone this season, which helped cut back on home runs allowed.

     
Bullpen
 
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• The Rays bullpen pitched 3.2 scoreless innings in Game 2, and righty Grant Balfour was a key element. He’s had exceptional fastball command to his throwing side (in to righties and away from lefties). Balfour throws strikes on 70 percent of inside fastballs to right-handed batters and 54 percent of outside fastballs to left-handers. This season, he’s allowed an amazing four hits on 313 fastballs to his throwing side.

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• Balfour’s fastball has been otherworldly, but White Sox righty Octavio Dotel’s heater has been special, too. His .198 opponent average against the heater is ninth best among qualified right-handers. Dotel elevates his fastball a little more often than most pitchers, and it becomes more difficult to hit when he locates it higher. Opponents are batting a paltry .125 against Dotel’s elevated fastballs, less than half the .256 league average.

 
Hitters
 

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Iwamura

   
• Left-handed hitter Akinori Iwamura struggles against lefty sliders, hitting just .216 off them with little pop (.054 well-hit average). Chicago’s left-handers have pitched Iwamura by the book in this series, throwing him sliders 40 percent of the time. After seeing four sliders in a row from Mark Buehrle in Game 2, Iwamura was locked in and belted a go-ahead two-run homer that helped the Rays take a 2-0 series lead. Lefties normally throw him sliders 20 percent of the time.

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Crawford
   
Carl Crawford got his first at-bats since injuring a finger in early August in Games 1 and 2, going 3-for-8. He hasn’t hit the ball hard, though, and White Sox pitchers have mostly kept the ball off the inner two-thirds of the plate, where Crawford has a .278 well-hit average (.164 away). Crawford’s hits in the series have all been softly-struck singles off pitches on the outer part of the plate.

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Konerko
   
Paul Konerko is 3-for-5 with a home run, a double, a walk and three RBI versus Matt Garza. He’s had no trouble differentiating Garza’s fastball and slider, putting good swings on four of six swung-on heaters and sliders while laying off curves and changeups. Konerko, who’s usually a pull hitter, has pulled everything he’s hit off Garza to the left side of the field.

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Ramirez
   
• Rookie sensation Alexei Ramirez hit over a hundred points better early in the count (.340) compared to deeper counts (.235), but he has not been as aggressive at the plate in the ALDS. During the regular season, Ramirez swung on nearly 75 percent of pitches in the zone on early counts. He’s offered at just half of early strikes in the series. Ramirez is just 1-for-7 so far in the ALDS.


Image of the day…

The Rays’ 57-24 record at Tropicana Field was the best home record in baseball this season. Only two of Tampa Bay’s regular hitters (Evan Longoria and Eric Hinske) had a higher batting average on the road than they did at home. The three Rays with the most drastic splits between their home and away performance are below:

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Ironically, the Rays were better on the road against today’s Game 3 starter John Danks this season. They batted .280 against the White Sox lefty in Chicago, and just .237 against him in Tampa.

Key Matchups…

Rays hitters who match up well vs. Danks
 
Willy Aybar     Danks uses twice as many changeups as breaking balls in two-strike counts to right-handed batters. This is good news for Aybar as he hit only .048 against lefty breaking balls but hit .474 against lefty changeups this year.

Dioner Navarro     When Danks has gone to his breaking balls to a right-handed batter they have been ineffective (.318 BAA). Navarro is hitting .294 against curves and sliders from lefties this season.

Rays hitters who could struggle
 
Evan Longoria     Longoria has struggled against high fastballs against southpaws, hitting .160 against them in his rookie campaign. Danks likes to elevate his fastball—locating it up in the zone 30 percent of the time to right-handed batters (.169 BAA).

Jason Bartlett     Danks has also found success busting right-handed bats inside with his heater, holding them to a .178 batting average there. Bartlett has hit just .200 against inside fastballs from lefties this season.

 
White Sox hitters who match up well vs. Garza
 
Jim Thome     Garza has shown an ineffective changeup to lefties all season (.788 slugging percentage against). Thome has an OPS of .899 against righty changeups this season.

Alexei Ramirez     Alexei Ramirez has posted an impressive .941 OPS this season against low fastballs, which is exactly where Garza tends to operate with his heater, especially against right-handed batters.

White Sox hitters who could struggle
 
Juan Uribe     Uribe cannot handle two-strike fastballs on the outer third from right-handed pitchers—he is hitting only .127 against them all season. 55 percent of Garza’s two-strike fastballs to righties have been on the outer third.

Dewayne Wise     Breaking pitches have been Wise’s biggest issue when facing a right-handed pitcher—he’s posted an OPS of only .519 against them. Meanwhile, Garza has limited lefties to a .169 batting average against his curves and sliders.