Monday, October 22, 2007

The Red Sox win the pennant

Odds and ends and thoughts on the ALCS...

  • I saw some whining from Cleveland fans about lucky breaks. They were legitimate. The Red Sox, in games 6 and 7, had a bunch of balls that fell in the right place, several infield singles. Of course, they went up 3-1 in the series by virtue of an awful lot of that kind of luck. Look at, to point out one example, the ball that Nixon hit that scored the winning run in game 2. A high pop-up that was just beyond the 2nd baseman, and not hit well enough to reach the center fielder. Look at the double that Sizemore hit to enable the Indians to tie the score in the first inning of game 5. And those weren't the only ones. Everything they hit for three games found a hole. When that dried up, so did the Cleveland offense.

  • Apparently the umpires got the call right on the Manny ball in game 5. Which makes that the stupidest ground rule that I've ever seen. The ball was clearly over the wall - it had to hit an inch further on the top to be a HR?

  • Cleveland has another legitimate gripe, from last night's game - Kenny Lofton was safe at 2nd. If that call goes the right way, Cleveland ties it in the 5th and it's a very different game.

  • One of the things that David Pinto's pre-ALCS analysis (ALCS: Strikeouts are the key to this series) focused on was the strikeout rates of the Indians hitters and Red Sox pitchers, and the number of balls that would not be in play because of that. According to SI, "the Indians struck out more times (63) than a team ever had in an LCS." That makes a difference. Cleveland had a lot of well-placed base hits, but too many times never got the ball in play.

  • I spent a day and a half preceding game 6 thinking that the absolute ideal beginning of that game would be JD Drew hitting a 2-out grand slam in the first to give the Red Sox a 4-0 lead. I certainly wasn't expecting it, but that struck me as about the most productive thing that could happen in that first inning. It did. And I may have been right. That game never felt competitive after that swing.

  • There was only one game in the ALCS that was decided by fewer than 4 runs. The margins of victory were 7, 7, 2, 4, 6, 10 and 9. But the 9 run game and one of the sevens were actually very competitive. Game 2 was tied through 10 and then the Indians scored 7 in the 11th. Game 7 was a one-run game through 6 1/2 that wasn't tied in the 5th because of an umpiring mistake, and wasn't tied in the top of the 7th because of a coaching/baserunning mistake. Both got out of hand very late. (Actually, that could be said for game 5 as well, though after Boston scored in the third, it never felt as if the Indians were going to score against Beckett.)

  • Last Wednesday, there was a hue and cry in the Boston media about who's fault it was. There were calls for Francona's head because a) he brought in Gagne on Saturday, b) he didn't drop Pedroia out of the leadoff spot, c) he didn't play Ellsbury instead of Drew, d) he didn't play Ellsbury instead of Crisp, e) he didn't pitch Beckett on three days rest on Tuesday night, f) he didn't pull Wakefield soon enough, g) he let Wakefield stay too long, h) etc., etc., etc. I addressed some of this at the time, but I wanted to touch on it again, to make a couple of points.

    1. Terry Francona (un-affectionately known in some circles as "Francoma", which should give you some idea of the intellectual level of the discussion) managed games 5-7, in which the Red Sox outscored the Indians 30-5, exactly the same way that he managed games 2-4, in which the Red Sox were outscored 24-11. The manager can't "make things happen." The players can. All the manager can do is make sure the right players are on the field at the right times, and Francona's been very good at it, even when it hasn't worked.

    2. If seven games between two teams tells you nothing about the relative quality of the teams, which I believe to be the case, what does three tell you? Nothing. Zip, zero, nada. But the Boston media can't, or won't, understand that, so we end up with Glenn Ordway previewing his "Big Show" on WEEI Wednesday afternoon by saying, "I think we might have to come to the realization - Cleveland's a better team." Maybe they are, but certainly 3 games wouldn't establish that. Based on the entire season, I don't think it's true, but the last week doesn't change my opinion a whit.

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