Baseball BeatOctober 16, 2008
And Then There Were Three
By Rich Lederer

. . . OK, two-and-a-half.

After beating the Dodgers in five games in the NLCS, we now know that the Phillies will represent the National League in the World Series.

What we still don't know (quite) yet is whether Philadelphia will face the Rays or the Red Sox for all the marbles. Tampa Bay, which has scored 31 runs in winning three in a row, will send Scott Kazmir to the mound tonight in the hope that the 24-year-old southpaw can shut down Boston and send the upstart Rays to their first World Series ever.

Credit manager Joe Maddon for thinking outside the box and and making the bold decision to go with his young lefty even though the order of the rotation would suggest that James Shields should pitch Game 5 in Fenway and Kazmir in a "if necessary" Game 6 at home on Saturday. Should the Red Sox extend the Rays to a Game 7 in Tampa Bay, then Maddon will turn to Matt Garza to pitch the rubber match.

In the meantime, Boston manager Terry Francona will rely on, in order, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, and Jon Lester to pitch the Red Sox into their third World Series in the past five years. If history is any guide, I wouldn't count Boston out at this point. In winning it all in 2004 and 2007, Francona's club came back from 3-1 deficits in the ALCS.

Although I don't like Boston's chances of pulling off this feat for a third straight time, "it ain't over 'til it's over" as they say. One simplistic way to think about the Red Sox's chances is to recognize that Boston has about a one-in-eight shot of meeting the Phillies in the World Series if we can assume that the odds of winning each of the next three games is approximately 50-50. Sure, the Red Sox are a -150 favorite tonight, but it would likely be a slight underdog in each of the next two contests should the ALCS move to Tampa Bay.

While the real odds are somewhat less than one-in-eight, Boston faces an uphill battle after putting itself in this difficult predicament. That said, you have to take these games one at a time. A Red Sox victory tonight will change the dynamics of the series and give Boston fans hope that the Los Angeles Dodgers faithful never had the chance of experiencing.


Rich, I'd like to hear your opinion: if a team like Tampa Bay is more inspired by its 3 wins in a row, does its posibilities grow to more than a 50%?
Also, talking about one Dodgers' player rarely talked about: which would be the better option for Greg Maddux (not money involved)?
1. Retire right now after a good season (for a 42 years old) and after replacing Clemens as the 8th winingest pitcher in MLB history.
2. Play one more year (if there's a team interested and he's interested) and with 9 more wins move into the 5th place in the MLB wins list (and atop Warren Spahn).
By the way, great analysis web page!

I'd like to hear opinions on the use of Instant Replay in baseball. So far, it has seemed like a non-issue - but for the future...

Mark: Thanks for the nice comments.

I wouldn't put much, if any, stock in "inspiration." Boston is plenty inspired, too, as are all teams that make the postseason.

Re Maddux, the decision as to whether he should retire is his and his alone, provided there is a market for his services next year. It's not as if he would be retiring on top so I don't see that as a consideration. My sense is that he likes playing baseball and isn't quite ready to give it up. But I think he will be picky about the team should he choose to come back for another season. Either way, Maddux is one of the top ten pitchers of all time. Whether he ends up fifth or sixth in career wins won't change anything.