For the third straight year, and for the fifth time in their history, the Boston Red Sox are the AL Wild Card winners. They will play the AL Central Champion Chicago White Sox in the ALDS.
The two advantages the Red Sox have over the White Sox are history and experience. Chicago hasn't been in the playoffs since 2000. They haven't won it all since 1917. The last post-season series they won was the 1917 World Series.
The Red Sox have much more experience than the White Sox in the post-season. Here are our playoff experience stats:
Bronson Arroyo: 9 games, 2 starts, 16 IP
Chad Bradford: 8 games, 0 starts, 8.1 IP
Matt Clement: 2 games, 2 starts, 12.1 IP
Mike Myers: 7 games, 0 starts, 4.1 IP
Curt Schilling: 15 games,15 starts, 109.1 IP
Mike Timlin: 37 games, 0 starts, 41.1 IP
Tim Wakefield: 15 games, 8 starts, 59.1 IP
David Wells: 25 games, 15 starts, 113.1 IP
That's 118 playoff appearances, 42 starts, and 364.1 innings pitched
Doug Mirabelli: 9 games, 17 ABs
Jason Varitek: 36 games, 132 ABs
Kevin Millar: 26 games, 92 ABs
Tony Graffanino: 12 games, 14 ABs
Alex Cora: 4 games, 15 ABs
Edgar Renteria: 52 games, 194 ABs
Bill Mueller: 33 games, 134 ABs
John Olerud: 63 games, 230 ABs
Johnny Damon: 29 games, 132 ABs
Trot Nixon: 35 games, 116 ABs
Manny Ramirez: 78 games, 297 ABs
David Ortiz: 35 games, 131 ABs
That is 412 combined post-season games, and 1,504 at-bats.
Here are Chicago's numbers for playoff experience:
Mark Buehrle: 1 game, 0 starts, 0.1 IP
Freddy Garcia: 6 games, 6 starts, 34 IP
Jose Contreras: 8 games, 0 starts, 11 IP
Orlando Hernandez: 17 games, 14 starts, 102 IP
Dustin Hermanson: 2 games, 0 starts, 4 IP
That's 34 games, 20 starts, and 151.1 IP. without El Duque, it is 17 games, 6 starts, and 49.1 IP. Overrall, the Red Sox have 84 more appearances, 22 more starts, and 213 more innings.
AJ Pierzynski: 14 games, 45 ABs
Chris Widger: 5 games, 4 ABs
Paul Konerko: 3 games, 9 ABs
Jermaine Dye: 28 games, 102 ABs
Carl Everett: 8 games, 28 ABs
That's 58 games, 188 At-Bats.
I don't put a whole lot of stock in the auro surrounding playoff experience. It usually doesn't matter until it becomes crunch time. But in the playoffs, crunch time is the biggest and most intense crunch time imagineable for a ball player. When its tied in the 8th inning, thats when playoff experience matters. When you lose the first game at home, that's when playoff experience matters. To have already gone through the fire makes it easier to go through again. In my opinion, going through the fire in 2003 against New York made it possible to come back against them in 2004. We had already seen the playoffs and knew what they were about. The White Sox haven't. Furthermore, Ozzie Guillen, as a player, was never on a playoff series winning team when he played regularly in the series. Does this matter? Who knows?
Here are the ever important pitching matchups. As we learned last year, anything can happen to pitchers so anything can happen in the game. Derek Lowe was not supposed to start for us at all but went on to win all 3 clinching games. This season, our imposing Schilling-Pedro-Wakefield-Arroyo is not there to look at with awe. This year it will be Clement-Wells-Wakefield-Schilling with Arroyo in the pen. It isn't so bad though. All of these pitchers are capable of having stellar performances, and they have 5 World Series rings amongst them so they have been there and done that.
Game 1: Tuesday 4:00 PM EST, US Cellular Field, Chicago, IL
Matt Clement vs. Jose Contreras
Matt Clement starts the series for Boston primarily because of the way the rotation was when the season ended. It was either Clement or Arroyo and I think Francona made the right call to choose Clement, putting Arroyo in the beleaguered bullpen.
The White Sox, on the other hand, chose to start Contreras. They feel that he is their best pitcher. Contreras has improved since his days with New York, but in my mind, he will always be the guy that was bought by the Yankees, but owned by the Red Sox.
Clement ended the season at 13-6 with an ERA of 4.57. Those are not good numbers considering his 10-2 before the All-Star Game and his 3.85 ERA in the first half. He gives up a good number of walks, about 2 per start, which gets his pitch count up early on. If he's throwing strikes though, he's pretty good. His last start was a 5 inning, 4 run outing against Toronto which was good enough for a Red Sox victory. Before that, he went 6 shutout innings against the hapless Orioles. In his last 10 starts, he's had 6 quality starts and 2 starts that were pretty bad. He isn't going into October with a hot arm, but it isn't cold. I expect 6 innings and 3 runs from Clement, which I feel should be enough for a win if the pen doesn't implode. Matt hasn't started against the White Sox this season.
In somewhat limited exposure, the White Sox have decent numbers against Clement. Overrall, they're 37/117 (.316). None of the players who have had more than 7 at-bats against him have an average below .300. Podsednik is 7 for 19, Blum is 6 for 18, Perez is 4 for 13, Konerko is 3 for 9, Crede is 3 for 8. Everett is 3 for 6 and Rowand is 2 for 3 with a rare homerun. The one number that scares me is their OBP vs. Clement. It is .394 as a team. They will be able to get on base so hopefully Matt can strand alot of runners and get out of a few jams. Otherwise, he won't last long and won't give us a good shot to win.
Jose Contraras, El Mercenario, finished 2005 with an impressive 15-7 record and an ERA of 3.61. Like Clement, he walked about two people a game. He was able to go about 6.4 innings a game.
Unlike Clement, Contraras has a hot arm. He went 8 in his last start, allowing 2 runs. The start before he went the distance allowing only 1 run. Before that, he went 8 again and gave up only 1 run. He has gone 7 or more innings in 9 of his last 10 starts. Nine of his last 10 have also been Quality Starts with the only exception being a 7.2 inning outing against Minnesota in which he allowed 4 earned runs. He has won his last 8 starts in a row. But like we saw with the Patriots losing at home for the first time in 21 games, streaks end.
In his one start against us this year, he went 5.2 and allowed 3 runs in a 6-4 Chicago victory. He was a beneficiary of a poor start by Arroyo, great bullpen work, and the Red Sox leaving 11 men on. In that game, the Red Sox combined to go 10 for 35 (.286), hit two homers (Tek and Ortiz) and hit a double. We walked 6 times and were struck out 9 times. Eight of the hits we got were off Contreras but only 2 of the walks were off him. We left 6 men in scoring position. If we capitalize on opportunities Contreras gives us, we can get a big inning and put up a big number. Otherwise, he'll shut us down and we will lose.
The Red Sox have seen just about as much of Contraras as the White Sox have of Clement. We're 33/101 (.327). However, our on-base percentage is a very nice .427. We should work a walk each time through the lineup. Ortiz is 3 for 14 with a double and a homer. Damon is 4 for 14 with a homer. Manny is 3 for 13 with a double and a homer. Mueller is 6 for 13 with a double and a homer. Mueller's bat is getting hot too so look for him to have a nice day. Millar is 5 for 10 with a double and two homers. Tek is 3 for 8, Cora is 3 for 7, Tony G is 1 for 6, Trot is 2 for 4.
I think the Red Sox will be able to get alot of baserunners against El Mercanario and I think we will be able to put up some runs. We let his previous start against us slip but that was a rare lapse against this guy. It would be very nice to put up some runs, let Clement cruise and focus on throwing strikes, and wear down Chicago's bullpen, which is pretty dam good which would make it that much better to wear it down.
My prediction: Red Sox win 7-3