Last night’s Sox game had to leave you with mixed emotions as a fan. The bad, they lost another chance to overtake the Rays. It just seems like every time they get to the precipice of overtaking that pesky team they fall back a step or two. Unfortunately time is running short, and the Rays do have two games in hand.
Some will say that first place isn’t that important, just making it into the tournament is what matters. I understand this, but disagree. We’ll get into that in a second.
The good, though, is that Josh Beckett is not only healthy again, but he’s pitching like Josh Freakin Beckett. When you’ve got a bona fide ace there’s nothing bigger in the postseason, and the Sox have that ace. That’s something else we’ll delve into.
So why does first place matter so much? Two reasons really. One, home field. Two, match-ups.
As for home field, it goes without saying that the Red Sox are simply a much better team at Fenway than away from it. At home the Sox are a powerhouse, having posted a 52-22 overall record there. When they’re at Fenway, they’re winning nearly three-quarters of the games. That’s huge.
On the road, they’re mediocre at best. On the road the Sox have posted a 37-40 record. They’ve actually played better on the road of late, but still that is a large disparity to say the least. They want to be playing at the friendly confines of Fenway.
As far as match-ups go, it’s really quite simple. First place would mean that the Sox avoid the Angels in the first round. Right now the Angels have the best record in the AL, by about three games, and they’ll probably finish with the best record. They’ll have the home field advantage throughout the first round. Because two teams from the same division cannot meet in the first round of the playoffs, the match-ups will be either Boston-LA and Tampa-Chicago, or Boston-Chicago and Tampa-LA.
Playing LA means that not only do the Sox have to play against a better team, but they would have to do that whole cross-country travel thing, which is never fun. Also the Angels have been on cruise control for a while now, having clinched the weak West Division about a week ago and will have their pitching well-rested and ready to go for the playoffs. They’re the favorites, even if the Sox are the defending champs.
Against Chicago the Red Sox have posted a 4-3 record this year. Against LA, the Sox are 1-8. Which team would you rather play? Tampa is 6-4 against the White Sox and surprisingly 6-3 against the Angels. Chicago is 3-4 vs. Boston, 3-6 against Tampa and 5-5 against the Angels.
So the absolute most lopsided first round match-up, based on the regular season, would be a Sox-Angels one. Of course history tells us that the Sox have pretty much owned the Angels in the playoffs over the years, but that might fill pages with happy memories, but has little to do with the present.
So even though tonight’s game might be a regular season contest, it’s pretty much as big a regular season game as you’re going to see. I won’t say it is a “must win,” but it is close.
If you look at Josh Beckett’s career numbers they don’t really jump off the page. Sure 89-61 and a 3.77 ERA are good numbers, but they don’t jump off the page.
What jumps off the page is his postseason numbers. We all know that Josh Beckett is the definition of a big game pitcher. He’s backboned two World Series winners and the Sox paid him the big money to be the frontline pitcher on a staff that would be going to the playoffs on a regular basis. He’s already delivered in spades, and the Sox are hoping he’ll do it again.
As has been Beckett’s biggest battle over his career, injuries once again kept him from a complete season this year. It seems the big gun is healthy, especially after last night, and he’s bringing it all together at the best possible time.
A win would have been great last night, huge really, but what a game he pitched. He retired the first 13 he faced and gave up just one earned run over seven strong. That’s more than you can expect, even from an ace.
Since coming back off the DL, Beckett has pitched 19 innings and given up just two earned runs with 13 hits, three walks and 21 Ks (7 in each game). The guy is in the zone.
He’s pitching his best at the best time to be getting hot.
His postseason career numbers are unreal. For his career he’s got a 6-2 playoff record, including a 4-0 mark last year and the LCS MVP Award (he was the 2003 World Series MVP, lest we forget, even though he was 2-2 that year). Over 72.2 playoff innings he’s given up just 40 hits and 14 runs. He’s struck out 82 and walked just 14. His ERA is 1.77.
Sure Jon Lester is having a great year, but we know who the No. 1 is and who will get the ball when the postseason starts, no matter who they are playing.
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.