Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Monday, June 16, 2008

Ghosts of '15: Red Sox vs. Phillies Preview 

Few may remember, but I want to note that the Phillies and Red Sox have met before, prior to inter-league play, as the Red Sox and Phillies take to the field for a three game set that might be a World Series preview. These two teams squared off once before in the World Series, waaaay back in 1915, when the Phillies were led by Grover Cleveland Alexander, and the Red Sox had a roster featuring Centerfielder Tris Speaker and an unknown pitcher / hitter named Babe Ruth.

The ’15 World Series was played in the deadball era prior to the Roaring ‘20s. Boston won the Series four games to one, but out-scored the Phillies 12-10. The series featured terrific pitching from Alexander, who won Game One for the Phillies, but the Phillies were out-matched. In Game Two, with President Woodrow Wilson watching (the first U.S. President to watch a World Series game), the Red Sox won 2-1, and went on to win the final three games of the Series as well. The Phillies defeat in Game Two marked the beginning of an eleven-game post-season losing streak for the Phillies, who would also lose four consecutive games in the ’50 World Series and three consecutive games in the ’76 NLCS to the Reds before beating the Dodgers in Game One of the ’77 NLCS 7-5.

Could the ’08 World Series feature the Red Sox and Phillies once more? The way both teams are playing, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. After obliterating the St. Louis Cardinals 20-2 on Friday night the Phillies enter this series having dropped two straight to the surprising Cardinals, but still hold a three-game lead over the Florida Marlins in the N.L. East and are playing terrific baseball. The Red Sox, meanwhile, sit two and a half games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in the A.L. East. Two division leaders going head-to-head.

The Red Sox are a formidable team but are lacking their big gun, DH David Ortiz (a.k.a., Big Papi), as well as pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling. Despite the absence of so many important players, the Red Sox muscle on and currently have the second-best offense in the American League (371 runs scored, 5.15 runs per game, an American League-leading .356 OBP). Losing Big Papi's bat hurts (13 home runs, 43 RBI, .234 Isolated Power - ISO* - at the plate), but the Red Sox have a diverse offense. Jacob Ellsbury, the team's lead-off hitter, does a terrific job getting on base (.373 OBP), but has a lot of speed (33 of 36 steals attempted). Kevin Youkilis, the Greek God of Walks, plays great defense at first base and sets the table very well (.376 OBP). Right now Manny Ramirez is picking up the slack: 15 home runs, 49 RBI, .248 ISO. Mike Lowell (10 home runs, 36 RBI, .224 ISO) and J.D. Drew (11 home runs, 38 RBI, .256 ISO) are playing well too. It's a powerful, deep lineup.

*ISO: .SLG - .BA = .ISO. Measures a player’s raw power by subtracting singles from their slugging percentage.

The Moneyball-era Red Sox aren't the Red Sox of old, stacked with bats and lacking in pitching and defense. The Red Sox play defense very well (.703 Defense Efficiency Ratio, or DER, Balls Put Into Play that are converted into outs) and they have a nasty pitching staff: 3.83 ERA (fourth-best in the A.L.). The injuries to Schilling and Matsuzaka however have stretched the Red Sox staff. This weekend they send to the mound Bartolo Colon (4-1, 3.41 ERA), rookie Justin Masterson (3-1, 2.90 ERA, 31 career innings pitched) and Jon Lester. Josh Beckett, the Red Sox best pitcher, isn't slated to take the mound in this series.

It is a testament to the Red Sox eye for talent that they've cobbled together a staff that is really pitching nicely. Colon, seemingly washed up at the start of the season, has pitched well in his starts with the Red Sox, allowing just 7 walks in 29 innings of work. Lester, slated to pitch Tuesday night against Jamie Moyer, is just a month removed from tossing a beautiful nine-inning, two walk no-hitter against the Royals that saw him strikeout nine. Once the game gets to the bullpen, Jonathan Papelbon (2.08 ERA, 19 saves) and Hideki Okajima (3.24 ERA) are a nearly unstoppable duo.

The Phillies, meanwhile, send Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick to the mound in this series. Hamels is one of the best pitchers in the N.L. (6-4, 3.27 ERA), hurling 86 strikeouts in 99 innings (7.82 K/9). It will be interesting to see how Hamels handles the Red Sox in his first start against them.

After Hamels, Moyer takes the mound against Lester tomorrow night, then Kyle Kendrick on Wednesday. Moyer and Kendrick might not strike observers as being pitchers who might have success against the Red Sox, but I like them in these games because both Kendrick and Moyer pitch to contact. The Red Sox love to work the count against pitchers, so guys like Moyer and Kendrick might have success coming in to them aggressively. Just a hunch, but Moyer and Kendrick might actually have more success against the Red Sox hitters than people think.

On the Phillies side, Chase Utley (22 home runs, 61 RBI, .401 OBP) and Pat Burrell (18 home runs, 47 RBI, .425 OBP) are tearing things up. Overall, the Phillies have the second-best offense in the N.L. (381 runs scored, 5.37 per game) and do a great job mashing the ball (.188 ISO). Like the Red Sox, the Phillies have a deep roster with lots of power. Ryan Howard, meanwhile, continues to be mired in his struggles and is a notable exception. So far in June Howard's OBP is .313 with just two home runs and 16 RBI in 14 games.

Keep your eye on Jimmy Rollins: he's had success in the past against the Red Sox (career .915 OPS against the Sox) and he's off to a nice start since returning from the D.L. So far J.Roll is 13/13 stealing bases.

More tomorrow ...

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First I want to say, I think you have a great blog and I enjoy your analysis.

I have to disagree with your assessment of the Phils chances against Boston with Kendrick and Moyer on the mound. You are correct that the Sox are a patient team, but they aren't only a patient team. They can and do take walks, but they can also hit for power and average, as you pointed out.

Historically Moyer has been shelled by the Red Sox. His ERA against Boston in 117 innings is 6.69. I wouldn't be too confident about that.

Kendrick has not faced Boston before, but looking at his stats makes me think he's been a tad fortunate. He is giving up line drives at an obscene rate (23.5%). It’s tough to keep your ERA down when you're getting hit that hard and Kendrick doesn't get enough grounders to keep that up. In short, Kendrick is the type of pitcher the Red Sox usually light up. That doesn’t mean that the Sox will light him up, but I don't see any advantage for these two pitchers.
great site, keep up the good work.

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