Scouting Report: Red Sox-Rays Game 7

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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 7 of the 2008 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.

INSIDE EDGE BREAKDOWN—RED SOX VS. RAYS

Gotta know this…

Starting Pitchers
 
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Lester
   
• For the decisive Game 7, Boston hands the ball to postseason ace Jon Lester, who owns a stellar 1.86 ERA in 29 innings pitched during the last two Octobers, much lower than his career 3.81 regular season ERA. Lester has been a bulldog on two-strike counts, allowing a .190 on-base percentage in postseason outings (.274 regular season). He throws more breaking pitches in the fall, and opponents have batted just .074 average versus his curve and slider on two-strike counts in October. Batters strike out more than half the time in plate appearances ending on two-strike breaking balls from Lester in the postseason.

   
B.J. Upton broke Game 3 open for the Rays on his three-run bomb off Lester in the third inning. Lester usually confounds hitters by disguising his curves as high fastballs, but Upton got good wood on the first high heater he saw from Lester. Two batters later, Evan Longoria deposited another high fastball over the left field wall. Lester kept his fastball down in the zone for the rest of the game and allowed no runs to the final 13 batters he faced.

   
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Garza
   
Matt Garza pitched six strong innings in Tampa Bay’s Game 3 win. Garza, whose opponent average when behind in the count is second best in the league, has not allowed Boston hitters to gain an advantage by working the count. The current Red Sox lineup is batting .214 against him on hitter’s counts. Pitchers typically pound fastballs down-and-away when they fall behind, but Garza commands his heater for strikes to all four corners of the zone. Hitters are 0-for-14 this year when he locates fastballs up-and-in on hitter’s counts.

   
• Garza needs to pitch well when he falls behind because his 55 percent first-pitch strike rate is below average. He threw 0-0 strikes to only eight of the 27 Red Sox batters he faced in Game 3, but avoided the middle of the zone with his 1-0 fastballs. Boston did not hit the ball hard on 1-0 counts and went 1-for-3. After the first pitch, Garza threw strikes 62 percent of the time in Game 3 and walked only three Red Sox batters.

     
Bullpen
 
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• With the Red Sox leaning heavily on Hideki Okajima and Justin Masterson in recent games, they may need to turn to veteran Paul Byrd in Game 7 for a few key outs in middle relief. Byrd’s 68 percent strike rate ranked fifth best in the league in 2008. The righty has good control of both his fastball and off-speed pitches, and he throws strikes early in the count. He came in to relieve Lester in Game 3 and, down by five runs, pitched more like a mop-up man than a veteran starter trying to keep his team within striking range. Byrd threw strikes, but Rays batters hit 20 percent of them hard, including two for home runs.

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• Tampa Bay had the least efficient bullpen in the majors this season, averaging 4.05 pitches per plate appearance, well above the 3.88 league average. Rays relievers ranked slightly below average at throwing strikes, and their 41 percent foul rate was second highest in the league. All those foul balls prolonged at-bats, but their 22 percent strikeout rate was fourth best in 2008, and the Rays ‘pen allowed the fewest hits per swing.

 
Hitters
 

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Bay

   
• Of all the hitters in the Boston lineup, Jason Bay is the one Rays pitchers have been most careful with. Bay has seen 116 pitches in the ALCS, only 46 of which were in the strike zone. Bay has done a nice job of laying off Rays pitches out of the zone, chasing just 14 percent of them (20 percent is league average). He leads the Red Sox with 6 walks in the ALCS.

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Youkilis
   
• One Boston hitter who’s struggled against Garza is Kevin Youkilis, who is 0-for-12 this year. He’s hit five hard balls off Garza, however, more than any other Sox batter. Even though Rays fielders are rangy and sure-handed, Youkilis could be due for one to find a gap in the defense, especially if he gets his bat on a fastball in the lower third-thirds of the zone. He has a .500 well-hit average versus Garza’s hard stuff middle-down.

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Bartlett
   
• Shortstop Jason Bartlett has not been fooled by Lester’s curveball. He’s seen the lefty’s hook five times this year and has two hits on three swings. Lester has thrown mostly fastballs to Bartlett, and they’ve also been to his liking. Bartlett is 3-for-4 versus Lester’s heater on the outer area of the plate, but 0-for-3 against inside fastballs.

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Iwamura
   
Akinori Iwamura has faced Jon Lester 26 times, the most for any Tampa Bay batter. Iwamura is hitting only .250 against Lester, but he’s been more productive than his batting average suggests. With the bases empty, he has gotten something started by getting on base 44 percent of the time versus Lester. When runners are on ahead of him, Iwamura is slugging .857 against Lester with one home run and one double in seven at-bats.


Image of the day…

Rays starter Matt Garza is not afraid to bust right-handed hitters inside with his fastball, and with good reason. Righty batters hit just 22-for-138 (.159 BA) against Garza’s inside heat this season:

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Key Matchups…

Red Sox hitters who match up well vs. Garza
 
David Ortiz     It’s no secret that Big Papi crushes fastballs, especially when they catch too much of the plate. Ortiz is hitting .371 with a .773 slugging percentage against in-zone fastballs from righties over the past two seasons. Garza relies upon his fastball 73 percent of the time, which is much more often than most starting pitchers.

Jason Bay     Bay is hitting .391 since 2007 against pitchers with similar repertoires to Garza. Even when right-handers have kept the ball down against Bay this postseason he has produced—hitting .500 (8-for-16).

Red Sox hitters who could struggle
 
Jason Varitek     Varitek is slugging a very low .271 against hard-throwing righties since the beginning of the 2007 season. Over that time frame, the Sox captain is hitting only .186 against righty fastballs that top 90 mph.

Jed Lowrie     Lowrie hit just .134 against top-tier right-handed pitchers this season. Garza may find success with his changeup against the Boston shortstop; Lowrie hit .167 against changeups from right-handed pitchers this season with no extra-base hits.

 
Rays hitters who match up well vs. Lester
 
Carlos Pena     Pena is slugging .667 against Lester over his last 18 plate appearances. He’s been able to sit on Lester’s fastball as 32 of the 35 pitches between them this season have been heaters.

B.J. Upton     Upton is slugging .600 against Lester over the past two years and he is hitting .462 against southpaws since September when they leave a pitch on the outer third of the plate .

Rays hitters who could struggle
 
Carl Crawford     Crawford has a well-hit average of .176 against Lester over the past two seasons.

Rocco Baldelli     Baldelli is 8 for his last 48 (.167 batting average) against top-tier southpaws.