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 2 of the 2008 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays.
INSIDE EDGE BREAKDOWN -- RED SOX VS. RAYS
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• Josh Beckett has been nothing short of dominant versus Tampa Bay in 2008, with a 2.06 ERA, 37 punchouts and 5 walks in 35 innings pitched. While the Rays have fared well overall versus right handed fastballs, the club has failed to hit Beckett's heater with any authority. Tampa Bay posted the 6th best OPS in the majors versus righty heat, with Ben Zobrist (1.107 OPS versus righty fastballs) Evan Longoria (1.080), Carlos Pena (1.020), Eric Hinske (1.004) and Cliff Floyd (.955) all making pitchers pay. However, current Rays hitters have managed just a .658 OPS versus Beckett's 94 mph fastball.
• Beckett's signature mid-70's curveball has been hit harder than usual in 2008. Opponents have slugged .408 versus his hook this season (.326 AL average), compared to just .258 in 2007. Still, the Boston right-hander may want to utilize the breaking ball versus Jason Bartlett (.143 OPS versus righty curves) and Dioner Navarro (.355), as both have been helpless versus right-handed curves.
• While Beckett has mowed down Rays hitters in 2008, Scott Kazmir has struggled to find the strike zone against the Red Sox. In 18 innings versus Boston, the 24 year-old lefty has surrendered 14 walks and 24 hits. The Red Sox crush left-handed sliders (ranking 1st in the majors in OPS versus the pitch), and the team has posted a 1.343 OPS versus Kazmir's slider. Jed Lowrie (1.431 OPS versus lefty sliders), Kevin Youkilis (1.283 and J.D. Drew (1.075) have all obliterated southpaw sliders this season. Not coincidentally, Kazmir has thrown the pitch less than 12 percent of the time versus Boston in 2008.
• Kazmir's reluctance in using the slider is not limited to his matchups versus the Red Sox, as he has significantly decreased his usage of the pitch overall. Kazmir threw his slider 22 percent of the time between 2005 and 2007, but he has used the breaking ball just 12 percent of the time in 2008. Opponents posted a feeble .556 OPS versus Kazmir's slider between 2005 and 2007, but that number has increased by 100 points this season. A career-high 75 percent of Kazmir's pitches were fastballs in 2008, with opponents managing just a .697 OPS against the offering (.759 between 2005 and 2007). Boston hitters have still managed to put good swings on Kazmir's heat, however, with a .967 OPS against the pitch.
• Hideki Okajima's fastball has been far more effective than your garden-variety 88 mph offering. The deceptive Okajima has held opponents to a .174 well-hit average versus the heat (.333 AL average). The 32 year-old Japanese native has given manager Terry Francona a versatile bullpen weapon, keeping both lefties (.547 OPS against) and right-handers (.661) at bay.
• An oft-injured journeyman who posted an ERA over seven in 2007, Rays right-hander Grant Balfour established himself as a flame-throwing pillar in the Tampa Bay bullpen in 2008. Balfour has relied almost exclusively on his 94 mph fastball, throwing the pitch 92 percent of the time with spectacular results. Opponents have swung and missed at his heater on 28.4 percent of swings, over twice the 14 percent AL average.
• Boston's outfield duo of J.D. Drew and Jason Bay certainly won't mind that Kazmir is throwing his fastball more frequently this season. Both Drew (.500 on-base percentage versus lefty fastballs) and Bay (.462) have made a habit of taking lengthy at-bats versus southpaws who choose to challenge them.
• Second baseman Dustin Pedroia has terrorized Kazmir during the course of his career, posting a 1.461 OPS in 25 at-bats. Pedroia has struck out just once versus the Rays lefty, a testament to his ability to make hard and frequent contact. Pedroia has swung and missed just 8 percent of the time this season (20 percent AL average) and is batting a robust .320 when behind in the count (.208 league average).
• While a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder limited him to 9 home runs during the regular season, outfielder B.J. Upton has bashed 3 long balls during the postseason already. Upton's power was down during the regular season, but he exhibited tremendous plate discipline by drawing 97 walks and posting a .383 on-base percentage. The 24 year-old has chased just 15 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone, well below the 25 percent AL average.
• Evan Longoria is just 1-for-16 since clubbing 2 home runs in his first-ever postseason game. The Rays' rookie third baseman has reached a two-strike count 10 times in October, and struck out in 8 of those. He's hardly battled with two strikes, taking 10 swings, putting just 2 in play and fouling a couple off. He has whiffed six times on fastballs and twice on breaking pitches. Longoria struck out less than half the time his at-bats reached two strikes in the regular season, with more of those K's coming via the off-speed pitch rather than the heater.
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Rays first baseman Carlos Pena belted 14 home runs on two-strike counts this season, which tied for the 4th most two-strike homers in the league. Red Sox hurlers will want to avoid the belt-high fastball and the off-speed pitch down-and-away from Pena with two strikes:
Rays hitters who match up well vs. Beckett
He's hitting .333 (5-for-15) vs. pitchers similar to Beckett since last season.
Slugging .533 vs. hard fastballs (over 92 mph) and owns a .333 well-hit average in 12 ABs against Beckett.
Rays hitters who could struggle
Reached base just 4 times in 13 PAs (.308 on-base average) vs. pitchers like Beckett since last year.
Went 1-for-10 against Beckett in 2008.
Red Sox hitters who match up well vs. Kazmir
He’s crushed lefty fastballs and is slugging .727 vs. pitchers similar to Kazmir since last year.
The Sox spark plug is a career 14-for-25 against Kazmir with a .529 well-hit average vs. his fastball.
Red Sox hitters who could struggle
Since 2007, Drew has 1 well-hit ball in 7 ABs against Kazmir, who has tormented him with sliders.
Ellsbury usually hits the ball on the ground vs. Kazmir and has a well-hit average of .000 (0-for-14) against him since last season.