Friday, October 12, 2007
What we've learned about the Red Sox:
¿ That a healthy, fully engaged Manny Ramirez is going to make teams think twice about pitching around David Ortiz. The Red Sox are never more unstoppable than when Ortiz and Ramirez are doing their Bash Brothers remake, and they bashed away in the ALDS, combining to go 8 for 15 with four homers and seven RBI.
¿ That the leash is off Jonathan Papelbon. After carefully monitoring his workload during the regular season out of concern for his balky shoulder, the Red Sox are ready to turn him loose. He entered in the eighth inning of Game 2 against the Angels, after doing that only six times all season, and with all the extra built-in days off, it is safe to say he will do so again.
¿ That Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling are arguably the greatest big-game pitchers of their respective generations.
What we still don't know:
¿ Whether their setup crew is trustworthy. The Red Sox needed only a handful of meaningful innings from their bullpen in the first round (all of them coming in relief of Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 2) -- not enough to know whether Hideki Okajima is fully back from arm fatigue and whether Eric Gagne can be trusted with a slim lead.
¿ Whether Matsuzaka is one more bad outing away from losing his rotation spot. He's the only Red Sox pitcher who had any trouble whatsoever with the Angels' popgun lineup. And the Red Sox have a ready-made alternative: Jon Lester.
What we've learned about the Indians:
¿ That right-hander Fausto Carmona, their Game 2 starter, doesn't need a swarm of gnats to be unhittable. Earlier this year, Torii Hunter compared facing Carmona's sinker to trying to hit drunk -- and, well, maybe that explained what happened to the Yankees in the ALDS. Carmona and Game 1 starter C.C. Sabathia remain the best 1-2 rotation duo in the playoffs, bar none.
¿ That Manager Eric Wedge will stick to his guns, logic be damned. Starting a fully rested Paul Byrd over a short-rested Sabathia in Game 4 was fine, but calling on closer Joe Borowski in the ninth inning, after Rafael Betancourt had blown away the Yankees in the eighth, seemed to be a case of misguided loyalty -- even before Borowski gave up Bobby Abreu's towering homer. Would anyone be surprised if Borowski costs the Indians a game in this series?
What we still don't know:
¿ Whether they stand a chance in Games 3 and 4. Right-handers Jake Westbrook and Byrd were battered around in their respective five-inning stints. The fact Byrd managed to win his game, clinching the ALDS, is almost immaterial. Squaring off against Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield (or Beckett on short rest) in Games 3 and 4, they'll be lucky to manage the same split they did against the Yankees.
¿ Whether the Indians have been reborn as a small-ball team. After laying down 32 sacrifice bunts all season (tied for 26th in the majors), the Indians did it five times in the first round -- as many as the other seven playoff teams combined.