ALDS Preview: Tampa Bay Rays versus Chicago White Sox
This ALDS preview is brought to you by R.J. Anderson, senior editor of DRaysBay and Beyond the Boxscore, as well as by Baseball Analysts columnist Marc Hulet, who truly believes the White Sox have the most beautiful female fans he's ever seen at a ballpark. But that's not the only reason why they have his support...
Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 2 at 2:30 p.m. in Tampa Bay, James Shields vs Javier Vazquez
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL TB 57-24 40-41 97-65 CWS 53-28 35-46 88-74Head-to-head results: Tampa Bay won six out of 10 games in 2008
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB 774 .260 .340 .422 .762 103 CWS 811 .263 .332 .448 .780 108
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB 671 .246 .314 .400 .714 90 CWS 729 .261 .320 .410 .730 95
A.J. Pierzynski had another solid offensive season. He doesn't walk but he also does not strike out too much. The White Sox catcher has 28 games of playoff experience and has .287/.351/.529. Defensively, Pierzynski is nothing special but calls a nice game. His arm won't instill fear in many base runners.
R.J. says: Navarro all day.
Marc says: Navarro probably has an edge defensively, but I'd call it a draw offensively.
Paul Konerko had a pretty rough season offensively. The 32-year-old veteran has battled through some nagging injuries, although his numbers have been declining to two years now. He may be sorting things out a bit, just at the right time, as he has slugged eight homers in September.
R.J. says: Pena is superior.
Marc says: Konerko does not give away as many at-bats as Pena but the younger first baseman is clearly a step ahead in the batter's box when he makes contact.
Alexei Ramirez has had a very interesting season and has hit some pretty big home runs in August and September, including his grand slam against Detroit earlier this week to force the deciding game with Minnesota. Ramirez has walked just 3.6 percent of the time in his rookie season but he offers more power than most second basemen (.185 ISO). Even though he showed power late in the season, Ramirez hit just .211 in September.
R.J. says: Ramirez has a way, way better bat, although his defense is a bit iffy.
Marc says: Personally, I'll take Iwamura's steadiness and consistency over Ramirez' inconsistencies (and flair for the dramatics).
Joe Crede's back has not only ended his season, but it could very well be threatening his career. In his absence, the White Sox will have to look to Juan Uribe, which is a huge drop defensively and in the power department. Neither player, though, hits for average on a consistent basis. Josh Fields chose a really bad year to slump.
R.J. says: Evan Longoria. Evan Longoria. Evan Longoria.
Marc says: It's not even close: Longoria.
Orlando Cabrera has led the White Sox in games played, at-bats, hits and stolen bases. He also plays a steady shortstop. Although he has been a consistent performer throughout his career, Cabrera really hasn't fit in well in Chicago. Regardless, he should continue to be steady in the playoffs and has 27 games worth of post-season experience.
R.J. says: I’m a bit torn here, but Cabrera gets the slight nod.
Marc says: I definitely favor the steady veteran here.
The left-field picture is a little muddled at this point. If Carlos Quentin can some how make it back (without re-injuring himself), then Chicago has a huge advantage. If not, then it looks like Dewayne Wise and Nick Swisher could see time in left. Wise has resurrected his career and has had some big hits in September, although he's shown time and time again that he's just not a good hitter (.211 career average). Swisher should be the overwhelming choice in left field, but he has been absolutely brutal with the bat in 2008. He does, like just about every other White Sox player, offer some power potential.
R.J. says: I think a powerful Wise and an iffy hitting Crawford match up close to equal.
Marc says: Thanks to Crawford's off-year and finger injury, it's not as much of a landslide as it should be. I'll still take him over a combination of Wise and Swisher, though.
Ken Griffey Jr. is definitely a shadow of his former self both offensively and defensively. He hit just .260/.347/.405 in 41 games with Chicago but he can still take a walk and hit for occasional power. Griffey Jr. also hit pretty well in his previous playoff appearances.
R.J. says: Upton is better defensively and offensively than Griffey Jr.
Marc says: I will also take the youngster over the grizzled veteran. It's kind of sad, actually, that Upton is still better with basically one arm tied behind his back.
Jermaine Dye just keeps getting it done in right field and at the plate for the White Sox. His strong arm gives runners pause. His power will also keep pitchers honest. Unfortunately, Dye has not performed overly well in post-season play despite some significant experience. In 147 at-bats, he has hit just .259/.319/.395.
R.J. says: Love Gross, but Dye, easy.
Marc says: Despite his struggles in the post-season, I would rather have Dye at the plate with the game on the line.
Jim Thome has not been quite himself this season. That said, he has still hit a ton of homers (34) and walked a lot (91). In 188 post-season at-bats, Thome has hit just .222 but he's slugged 17 homers (.287 ISO) and driven in 32 runs.
R.J. says: Thome is having another monster season.
Marc says: The average may not be there but Thome loves to homer and drive in runs in the playoffs.
The bench probably isn't going to figure into the series much, unless another injury occurs. Toby Hall might see a few innings behind the dish. Brian Anderson will likely be a late-game defensive replacement for Griffey and/or Swisher.
R.J. says: Rays again, I think Aybar would start on the White Sox.
Marc says: I'd give the edge to the Rays since there is more depth and more pop in the bats sitting on the bench.
Scott Kazmir is having an extremely odd season. His fastball usage is way up, as are his fly balls and home runs allowed, and his outings have left something to desire, mainly efficiency.
Matt Garza was acquired last off-season in the Delmon Young trade. Strides have been made by Garza, including a one-hitter against the Florida Marlins. Garza’s fastball is extremely good and he has good breaking stuff.
Andy Sonnanstine doesn’t feature anything that would make tools whores drool, but he simply doesn’t walk anyone. Sonnanstine’s cutter is his main pitch, but he uses nearly a half-dozen different pitches and grips.
Javier Vazquez had another typical Vazquez season. He has good stuff and he strikes out a ton of batters (200 in 208.1 innings) but he just does not do well under pressure. Good thing there is no pressure in the playoffs.
Mark Buehrle keeps getting it done despite less than stellar stuff. He allows a ton of hits and doesn't strike out many batters (5.76 K/9) but he also doesn't walk anyone (2.14 BB/9) and he does a reasonably good job of keeping the ball on the ground (49.6 GB%). Expect him to rise to the challenge in the playoffs.
It's already been a great season for the former phenom known as Gavin Floyd. He led the club in wins but he showed signs of tiring down the stretch after pitching a career high number of innings. His K/9 (6.32) and BB/9 (3.05) rates were nothing special this season. He should be OK early on in the playoffs, but he'll have to be watched carefully if the White Sox move on into the later rounds.
Another young pitcher in uncharted territory, John Danks showed some guts on Tuesday night as he pitched the White Sox into the playoffs. He has good stuff for a lefty and has a diverse repertoire, but it remains to be seen how well he'll hold up over the course of a long post-season.
R.J. says: I’m going with the White Sox here on the basis that Kazmir won’t morph into 2007 Kazmir and that Danks will make the third start.
Marc says: The White Sox have the edge thanks to some veteran pitchers. I'm also not sold on Garza's ability to pitch while under pressure.
J.P. Howell is a left-handed Sonnanstine. Not the flashiest pitcher, Howell features some decent breaking stuff but won’t throw an egg through a cement wall anytime soon.
David Price also known as Velociraptor Jesus, Price throws a hard fastball that moves and a slider that sits in the upper 80s. Look for Price to get some of the workload from Howell and Trever Miller when it comes to lefties.
Chad Bradford gets a ton of ground balls and is a bit of a unheralded part of the pen. Along with most of the Rays dependable relievers Bradford can go multiple innings.
Bobby Jenks' strikeout numbers have declined each of the past four seasons and they dropped significantly in 2008 from 7.75 to 5.55 K/9. Part of that could be blamed on his injury woes this season, but it is still a little alarming. Even without the strikeouts, though, Jenks does a great job of keeping the ball on the ground (57.6 GB%).
Scott Linebrink was brought in as a free agent last winter to help stabilize the bullpen but he, like Jenks, battled injuries. Despite the shoulder woes, Linebrink showed improve K/9 (7.77) and BB/9 (1.75) rates in 2008 compared to his disappointing 2007 campaign.
Octavio Dotel had a bit of an issue with the home run during the regular season (1.61 HR/9) but he definitely resurrected his career in 2008. He struck out 12.36 batters per nine innings and batters hit just .216 off of him. He offers insurance for the White Sox if Jenks' back acts up again.
Matt Thornton clearly had a career year in 2008 and finally harnessed his excellence fastball. He struck out 10.29 batters per nine innings and lowered his walk rate from his career number of 4.48 to 2.54 BB/9. Batters also hit just .202 against him.
R.J. says: Not really sure here, Balfour and Howell are just as good at Jenks and Thornton, and I’m not sure Bradford and Price aren’t better than Linebrink and Dotel. Rays, barely.
Marc says: Price could give the Rays a real edge in an extra-inning game, but overall I like the White Sox' veterans.
Marc's Prediction: The Rays have a more well-rounded club and the team also has youth on its side (It is roughly three years younger than the White Sox) but Chicago has the momentum. If it goes five games, the fresher Rays have the edge but I'll take Chicago in four thanks to the superior (veteran) pitching.