2004 ALCS Preview: Yankees vs. Red Sox
AMERICAN LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
New York Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox
Game 1: Mike Mussina (0-1, 2.57 ERA, 7 K) vs. Curt Schilling (1-0, 2.70 ERA, 4 K)
Game 2: Jon Lieber (0-0, 4.05 ERA, 4 K) vs. Pedro Martinez (1-0. 3.86 ERA, 6 K)
Game 3: Bronson Arroyo (0-0, 3.00 ERA, 7 K ) vs. Kevin Brown (1-0, 1.50 ERA, 1 K)
Game 4: Tim Wakefield (N/A) vs. Javier Vazquez (0-0, 9.00 ERA, 6 K)
Game 5: Curt Schilling vs. Mike Mussina
Game 6: Jon Lieber vs. Pedro Martinez
Game 7: Kevin Brown vs. Bronson Arroyo
OFFENSE: Similar agendas live within each lineup and while both are blessed with power that combined for 464 home runs this season, each club has an advantage when they take to the batter's box.
The Yankees have a balanced lineup of right-hand hitters, left-hand hitters and switch-hitters, negating, somewhat, what could be an advantage Boston has in their bullpen with two left-handers and two right-handers to set up their closer.
After starting with three righties in a row at the top of the order, New York sends out two switch-hitters in Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams and a lefty in Hideki Matsui. This trio follows Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield at the top, forming a murderer's row of the new millennium.
The Red Sox hit .282 as a team this season, 14 points higher than the Yankees, and led the majors in runs scored. With MVP candidates Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz anchoring the middle of the order, Boston is able to pound starting pitchers early on and get into their opponents' bullpen and play add-on for nearly half the game.
The Sox advantage is their speed at leadoff and the mix and match they can play off the bench. Johnny Damon had the best year of his career and provides a base-stealing threat for the heavy-hitting Sox. When the game gets into the late innings, manager Terry Francona can look to the bench and summon Doug Mientkiewicz, Pokey Reese, Gabe Kapler and speedy outfielder Dave Roberts, who also presents the perfect late-inning pinc running option.
The Difference Makers: Jason Varitek, Bernie Williams
Varitek always seems to come to the plate in clutch situations and as a switch-hitter could present a match up problem late in the game. The Yankees have but one left-handed reliever to go to and he allowed right-handers to hit .333 this season.
Williams is the wildcard in the Yankees lineup and could hit between Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui in order to protect the all-time postseason home run leader. Should Williams have a solid series, the rest of the Yankee bats can just go about their business without worrying about picking up the slack that both Bernie and the pitching staff could allow.
Without Orlando Hernandez, whose status is still up in the air due to a sore shoulder, the Yankees must rely on Mussina and Brown to not only give them innings, but to win at least two games in the series. Lieber and Vazquez don't match up well against Boston, combining for 13 home runs allowed in just over 42 innings.
If the Yankees starters don't go six innings a night, their already overworked bullpen will be forced to cover too many innings to stay effective in a long series.
Boston has the advantage of sending out baseball's best active playoff starter in Curt Schilling, and following him up with the team's six-year ace.
Schilling's career postseason ERA is microscopic and the only thing that could slow him down is the ankle injury that he has been fighting this season. Martinez pitched well in the LDS versus Anaheim but doesn't have a good track record against the Bombers. Bronson Arroyo has been the surprise of the second half of the year for Boston, and pitching six strong innings in game three of the division series against the Angels. If Arroyo out duels Kevin Brown in game three of this series, the Yankees are likely in big, big trouble.
The Difference Makers- Kevin Brown, Bronson Arroyo
The third game of the series seems to be a huge game no matter which angle one looks at it. If the Yankees win two at home, Brown could put the pressure on Boston with a solid outing in game three. If Boston wins two in New York, Brown could help the Yankees regain confidence and momentum as well as help steal back some home field advantage.
If the two teams split in New York, the winner of game three is set up to win the series with their best pitchers rested and heading into the final four games. A repeat performance of Brown's LDS outing could be pivotal.
ADVANTAGE: Red Sox
From top to bottom the Red Sox would seem to be arm-to-arm winners, having the advantage in three of the six relief spots and possessing the ability to match the left-handed bats with southpaw Alan Embree.
Not so fast.
Boston's pen is solid and clearly a step up from last October's group, but any bullpen with the best postseason reliever in baseball history as the anchor, has the advantage. As long as Rivera is available and rested for the series after leaving the team to attend to personal matters in his home in Panama, the Yankees have the edge here.
The key match ups could be in the late innings when Embree and Timlin face Rodriguez, Sheffield, Matsui, Williams, Posada, and Jeter. Should the Sox starter bow out after six innings and Embree faces the potential lefty bats of Matsui, Williams and Posada only, Boston will need to get an out or two from Scott Williamson to avoid using closer Keith Foulke for longer than an inning.
With Boston at the plate, Tom Gordon will be relied on heavily to bridge the middle innings to get to Rivera. Right-hander Paul Quantrill has struggled since the all-star break, posting a 7.09 ERA in 39 appearances, partly due to being overworked as the starting rotation was in shambles all season. Quantrill will still need to cover a key inning or two this series and since the Yankees have just one left-hander in Felix Heredia, Quantrill could be asked to face left-handed hitter in the sixth or seventh.
The Difference Makers- Keith Foulke, Mariano Rivera
The closers are both capable of going more than an inning each time out but if either blows a lead late in series, the repercussion of losing a game in that manner could swing the momentum too far to the opponents side that a recovery is unlikely. This is especially true for New York since they lean on Rivera so much.
The deadline deal that sent the Red Sox two gold glovers could be the difference here, as Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz bring their defensive prowess to bean town. While the Yankees have Jeter and Rodriguez anchoring the infield defense in the Bronx, the Sox counter with a nearly-equal left side of Cabrera and Bill Mueller. Further mirroring each other's infield, Miguel Cairo and three-time Gold Glove winner John Olerud fill out the right side in New York while the Red Sox go with Mark Bellhorn at second and Kevin Millar at first.
If the Sox have a lead late, Mientkiewicz will take over for Millar at first base and with the glove man on the bench for most of the game, New York has the infield edge defensively.
Behind the plate both Varitek and Posada are top game callers with Varitek having the slight edge. Neither throws exceptionally well but neither team has the speed to run into many runs during the series anyways.
In the outfield both teams are average and only Damon, Trot Nixon and Gary Sheffield have better than average range. Matsui throws well for a left fielder but tends to rarely throw anyone out. Williams has lost another step in center for the Yankees and Ramirez is barely even adequate in front of the Green Monster for the Sox, though Manny has learned to play the wall fairly well this season.
Each club has a speedy defender for the late innings should they decide to use them. New York's Kenny Lofton and Boston's Dave Roberts could provide a defensive lift for their respective teams.
The Difference Makers- Derek Jeter, Bill Mueller
If Jeter makes any highlight reel plays on defense it could turn the tide into the Yankees direction, just as it has so many times in the past. Mueller will be challenged with screaming liners and if he is able to start double plays and handle bunts and slow rollers without mistakes, the Sox are in good hands defensively.
ADVANTAGE: Slight Edge-Yankees
This is unfair to compare a four-time World Series Champion manager in Joe Torre to Terry Francona who is in his fifth year as a manager but his first in the postseason. Torre has been through the every single possible playoff situation and doesn't make mistakes that cost his team games.
Francona has displayed the capability to fend off the urge to make bold moves in favor of making the right move. Don't expect Pedro Martinez to pitch any extra frames if he shows fatigue or the inability get hitters out in this series. Even if it means that Martinez has to come out after only four or five innings, Francona, having learned his lesson in the regular season and after watching his predecessor fail last October, won't be taking that chance.
InsidethePark.com Prediction: Red Sox in six
The struggles of the Yankee starting rotation coupled with the overworked relief corps will catch up to the Bronx Bombers as they head up against the leagues best offense. Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez will be enough to propel the Sox into their first World Series since 1986.
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