By: Bob George/BosSports.net
October 04, 2013

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Let's relate this to the Patriots in January for a second.

Okay, so the Patriots avoided having to face Peyton Manning on their way to Super Bowl XLVII. Baltimore went into Denver and pulled out an incredible win. The Patriots are now the home team for the AFC Championship. Punch those tickets to New Orleans. Home cooking's gonna get the job done.

Oops. You forgot that the Patriots still had to beat Baltimore. Guess who the defending champs are. It isn't your Patriots.

Now the Red Sox head into the postseason with the precious home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and that includes the World Series. You all exhaled on Saturday when Seattle knocked off Oakland to enable the Sox to clinch home field. Whew. All deciding games will be at Fenway. The Sox will get one of three teams in the ALDS: Texas, Tampa Bay and Cleveland. The winner will have to go through two play-in games to get to Fenway. The Sox sit back, watch these teams knock themselves out and drive up their blood pressure, and the Red Sox can yawn their way to the ALCS.

Best of all, it was a good bet that the one team you didn't want to see, Tampa Bay, wouldn't possibly be there. They had to go to Texas first, and then the winner would have to go to Cleveland. Two road play-in games? They can't possibly win one, let alone two.

Whaddayaknow. Guess who's coming to town Friday.

If you watched both play-in games, you the Red Sox fan have to be very concerned. All the wonderful dreams of home field advantage may now amount to a hill of beans. Instead of looking at a Patriots-easy path to the World Series (and Las Vegas has the Red Sox as 14-5 favorites to win the World Series), the Red Sox probably are looking at having to come back down 0-2 to win the series at least.

Tampa Bay went to Arlington, Texas on Monday night and calmly and coolly shut down the home team, 5-2 to advance to the Wild Card game Wednesday in Cleveland. David Price, who won the Cy Young Award last year and might now remind you of Sandy Koufax, went the distance and defeated the Rangers, 5-2. Texas did themselves in with two runners picked off and starting Martin Perez where Matt Garza on three days rest against his old team might have been a better choice, but the Rangers could do nothing against Price. They somehow scratched out two runs, but Price was in total command.

Next, on Wednesday, the Rays put to rest any hope of Terry Francona returning to Boston and sticking it to his former bosses whom he clearly despises with a passion. This time it was Alex Cobb who, combined with relievers, shut out the Indians, 4-0 in Cleveland to send the Rays to Fenway for the weekend. Cleveland did themselves in with no clutch hits in the fourth and fifth innings, but Cobb was almost as studly as Price was on Monday.

Now, the Rays come to Boston for the ALDS. Matt Moore pitches Game 1 on Friday, Price pitches Game 2 on Saturday. If there is a Game 5, Price will pitch it.

Unless these guys have freak bad off nights where they mislocate all over the place, this is the series right here. Jon Lester and John Lackey can pitch their best games of the year, and the sad fact is that it still may not be enough. Both Price and Moore have shown that they can blow the Sox away, and the Sox have shown a propensity in 2013 to be vulnerable to lefties in general. Moore was an All-Star this year and Price has his hardware and his history.

But don't let that sell you on the Rays. Let's instead go with some hard proof.

Monday, July 22. Moore shuts out the Sox on two hits at Fenway. He throws 109 pitches, 74 for strikes. Brandon Workman gave up only two runs in six innings. On most nights the Sox win. On this night, you start Al Nipper instead of wasting a quality start from a fairly good rookie pitcher.

Wednesday, July 24. Price goes the distance, gives up one run on five hits (Mike Napoli went yard in the seventh to make it 3-1 Rays). Walks none, throws 97 pitches, 72 for strikes. Good night to start Felix Doubront.

Monday, July 29. Make up of a previous rainout. The Sox win two of three in Baltimore, then come home for the one game with Tampa Bay. Oops, guess whose turn it is in the rotation. Price this time cannot complete the game, but gives up only two hits and one run, walks none, strikes out eight, and throws 90 pitches, 67 for strikes.

That's three games at home within a week, in about the same time frame as this series. Two games with Price, one with Moore. The two pitchers go 25 1/3 innings, and go 3-0 with an ERA of 0.71. Can they replicate this in the ALDS? Of course. Will they? That will pretty much decide the series.

Lackey gets Game 2 at home instead of Clay Buchholz because he pitches much better at home. Buchholz might actually snitch Game 3 against probably Cobb; Buchholz beat Price 2-0 at the Trop on September 10 (going five innings in his first start back from his long injury). Perhaps Jake Peavy also snitches Game 4 against either Jeremy Hellickson or Chris Archer.

It still comes down to having to beat Price at Fenway in Game 5, against Lester.

The Sox wanted to avoid playing the Rays at all cost. By winning two winner-take-all play-in games on the road, the Rays are galvanized and have to believe that they can beat anyone. The Sox won the season series against Tampa Bay, 12-7, but throw those numbers out the window. The Rays have been maligned for bad offense, but Texas and Cleveland will take issue with you if you think that is still true.

This whole series, and the Red Sox season, will come down to how well Tampa Bay pitches. If the Sox somehow catch Price or Moore on off nights and Lester and Lackey pitch like they should, the Sox have a chance. But if Price and Moore pitch like they did in late July and if Price pitches like he did on Monday, the Sox are in deep trouble.

The Red Sox can be shut down by good pitching. They were shut out 11 times in 2013, one of them by the lowly Houston Astros. The Sox are also susceptible to lefthanders; both Price and Moore are portsiders. A telltale sign of how things will go is if the Sox look like Mario Mendoza with runners in scoring position and score all their runs only on solo homers.

This could turn out to be a series where the road team wins every game. Winning in Tampa is not too terribly hard thanks to the lousy crowds that show up at lousy Tropicana Field. Whatever home field advantage the Sox will have will be negated by Tampa Bay pitching.

Prediction: Rays in 4 and on to Tom Brady versus Drew Brees.


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