Baseball Beat/Change-UpOctober 01, 2008
ALDS Preview: Tampa Bay Rays versus Chicago White Sox
By Marc Hulet

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
Game 2: Friday, Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. in Tampa Bay, Scott Kazmir vs Mark Buehrle
Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 5 at TBA in Chicago, Matt Garza vs John Danks
Game 4*: Monday, Oct. 6 at TBA in Chicago, TBA vs Gavin Floyd
Game 5*: Wednesday, Oct. 8 at TBA in Tampa Bay, TBA vs TBA

* if necessary


         HOME      ROAD     TOTAL
TB       57-24     40-41    97-65
CWS      53-28     35-46    88-74
Head-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


         RUNS   AVG    OBP    SLG    OPS    OPS+   
TB       671   .246   .314   .400   .714    90
CWS      729   .261   .320   .410   .730    95
Position-By-Position Breakdown

After an unlucky and injury plagued 2007 Dioner Navarro showed some of the promise that made him one of the top catching prospects for the New York Yankees way back when. Navarro is a switch-hitter with occasional home run power who does not walk or strikeout all too much but seems to have a fair grip on the strike zone. Defensively Navarro features a strong and accurate arm and decent blocking ability.

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.

First base:
Carlos Pena is almost certainly the leader of the Rays. The journeyman with the majestic smile and laugh did not set the east in flames like 2007, but that was to be expected. Pena still hit some timely home runs, including a big one versus Boston recently, and leads the Rays in WPA by quite a bit. How patient is Pena? In 2008 he’s walked nine times with the bases loaded. Solid at first base, Pena will not botch many plays.

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.

Second base:
Akinori Iwamura made a seamless transition from third to second this season. Despite changing positions, Iwamura remained as the Rays lead off hitter on most days and will not expand the strike zone.

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).

Third base:
Evan Longoria is almost certainly the American League Rookie of the Year. Unreal power Longoria will hack occasionally. Longoria also plays very good defense and has a fiery demeanor that the mainstream media will fall in love with.

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.

Jason Bartlett suffered a knee injury around mid-season, which could explain for the defensive metrics rating him worse. In the second half Bartlett has been a far better hitter, although he still deservedly hits ninth.

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.

Left Field:
Eric Hinske depending on Carl Crawford's health it seems as if Hinske will get the majority of reps in left field with Fernando Perez filling in for defensive and left-handed pitching situations. Hinske is awful defensively and his bat has been in a coma for most of the second half.

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.

Center Field:
B.J. Upton tore the labrum in his non-throwing shoulder in early May, the reason for his lack of power. Upton covers a ton of ground in center and has one of the best arms in the league. Anyone attempting to take home on a hit up the middle will quickly realize Upton ’s arm combined with his shallow alignment can cause issues for base runners.

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.

Right Field:
Gabe Gross is the king of walk-offs but he’s been really good overall. Acquired in May for Josh Butler, Gross will play right field most days with Rocco Baldelli (again depending on Crawford’s health) possibly sparing him against southpaws.

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.

Designated Hitter:
Cliff Floyd signed with the intent to play for a winner, or perhaps I should say “hit” since he hasn’t played defense at all. Floyd will probably split time with Baldelli. This is a pretty platoon-driven lineup.

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.

Willy Aybar can play any infield position, although playing him up the middle is at your own risk. He might see some time at DH as well. A switch hitter Aybar the Rays acquired him (along with prospect Chase Fontaine) for Jeff Ridgway in the off-season.Rocco Baldelli needs something magical in the playoffs to occur in order to cap off an amazing comeback story.

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.

James Shields is one of the best pitchers in the game. His change-up is really, really good, and he mixes in a decent curveball. Shields doesn’t walk many and his durability and efficiency resemble a poor man’s Roy Halladay.

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.

Grant Balfour went from designated to assignment to mint piece reliever within one season. Balfour brings the heat constantly, although he does have a slider.

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.

R.J.'s Prediction: Rays in five. The White Sox will tee off a few times on the Rays pitchers, but when all is said and done the Rays scrape out three hard-fought wins.

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.


Uribe a big drop defensively from Crede? Not the Uribe I've been watching the last six weeks. And Crede was having a horrible year defensively anyway. Uribe is actally an improvement.