ALDS Preview: Red Sox vs. Angels

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Here we go again.
For the third straight season, the wild-card winning Red Sox and AL West champion Angels will match up in the ALDS. The Red Sox have gone through the Angels on the way to their last three World Series visits in 1986, 2004 and 2007. They also won last year’s series, only to lose to the Rays in the ALCS in seven games. Before the Angels salvaged Game 3 in last year’s ALDS, the Red Sox had defeated them in 11 straight postseason contests, dating back to Game 5 in the 1986 ALCS.
While the 2004 and 2007 series seemed like routs, the 2008 ALDS was well played. The Red Sox won the first two on the road 4-1 and 7-5, but the Angels bounced back to take Game 3 in 12 innings, winning 5-4. Boston won the finale on 3-2 on Jed Lowrie’s single in the bottom of the ninth.
2009 ALDS Probables
Game 1: Jon Lester vs. John Lackey
Game 2: Josh Beckett vs. Jered Weaver
Game 3: Scott Kazmir vs. Clay Buchholz
Game 4: Joe Saunders vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka
Game 5: Jon Lester vs. John Lackey
The Yankees have chosen the longer ALDS series, leaving the Red Sox and Angels to use four-man rotations. The first look at the matchups suggests that the Red Sox are going to have the advantage in Anaheim and the Angels in Boston.
Lester vs. Lackey
Lackey’s struggles against Boston are well known, but his worst outings have come at Fenway. He’s 2-5 with a 5.75 ERA in nine starts in Boston and 1-2 with a 4.45 ERA in five starts at home. In the postseason, he’s gone 0-2 with a 3.66 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox (one in 2007, two last year). The Angels scored a total of three runs in those three games.
Lester’s postseason career opened in brilliant fashion. In his first start, he pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings to beat the Rockies in the clincher of the 2007 World Series. He then yielded just one unearned run in 14 innings to win twice against the Angels in the ALDS last year. The ALCS didn’t go so well, as he was beaten twice, but has a 2.25 ERA in 36 career postseason innings.
The Angels have given Lester big problems in the regular season. He’s 1-1 with a 7.78 ERA and a .393 average against in four starts versus the team. Still, all of those came before last year’s dominant postseason performance. Lester has been one of the AL’s very best pitchers for four months running, going 11-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 21 starts since the beginning of June. He finished third in the league with 225 strikeouts.
Lackey was also on a nice run, though he stumbled in his final three starts. He ended the year 11-8 with a 3.83 ERA. He was down to 3.47 following a solid outing in Boston on Sept. 15, but he allowed 12 earned runs over 13 innings in his following three starts.
Beckett vs. Weaver
Beckett’s postseason star lost some luster when he amassed an 8.79 ERA in three starts against the Angels and Rays last year. However, he was dealing with a torn oblique then and he’s still 7-2 with a 2.90 ERA lifetime in October. Unfortunately, he’s again not at his best headed into the ALDS. Beckett opened the year 14-4 with a 3.10 ERA, but he’s gone 3-2 with a 6.02 ERA since. He just missed a start with back spasms.
Weaver’s recent performance has also left a great deal to be desired. He started off 7-2 with a 2.08 ERA, but he went 9-6 with a 5.01 ERA in his last 20 starts. He was better than that during September, coming in with a 3.11 ERA, but he was helped somewhat by an easy schedule, as his wins came against the Royals, Mariners and A’s. Weaver did impress in his starts against Boston did year. Both came during his spectacular first two months. He allowed one unearned run over 6 2/3 innings to win April 10 and one run over seven innings in a no-decision on May 12.
The start for Weaver will be just the second of his career in the postseason. He lost to Boston after allowing two runs over five innings in Game 3 in 2007. The Angels left him out of their postseason rotation last year.
Kazmir vs. Buchholz
It looked like the Red Sox have overcome their issues with Kazmir when the left-hander went 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in four starts against the team in 2008. However, Kazmir won both of his starts against the team this year and those came when he was a struggling Ray. He had a 1.73 ERA in his six starts with the Angels after posting a 5.92 ERA in 20 outings to begin the year. Kazmir is 8-7 with a 3.59 ERA lifetime against the Red Sox. He’s faced them 23 times, nine more times than he has any other team.
Just when the Red Sox were beginning to find some confidence in Buchholz, he went and turned in two stinkers at the end of the year. On Sept. 29, he gave up five homers and seven runs in five innings against the Blue Jays. On the final day of the season, he allowed six runs over three innings versus the Indians.
Before that, Buchholz was 7-3 with a 3.21 ERA. He’s still allowed one or no runs in seven of his last 11 starts. He’ll be pitching in the postseason for the first time in his career.
Saunders vs. Matsuzaka
The Angels can start a 16-game winner in Game 4. Saunders finished with a 4.60 ERA, but that was mostly the result of a bad midseason run in which he was pitching with a sore shoulder. He had a 3.26 ERA in April and May and a 2.55 ERA in eight starts after coming off the DL in mid-August. He’s also 4-1 with a 3.24 ERA lifetime in eight starts against Boston.
Matsuzaka just recently secured his postseason rotation spot. In four starts after returning from a second round of shoulder issues, he went 3-1 with a 2.22 ERA. One of those wins came against the Angels, as he blanked the team for six innings on Sept. 15. He’s still putting plenty of runners on base — his WHIP since returning is 1.40 — but he’s remarkable in his ability to pitch out of jams. For the year, he has a .398 average against with the bases empty and a .254 mark with men on. He hasn’t allowed a hit with the bases loaded since 2007. In the postseason, he’s 3-1 with a 4.79 ERA.
The offenses
The Angels and Red Sox are second and third respectively in the AL in runs per game, behind only the Yankees. One would expect the Red Sox to have modest advantages in OBP and slugging, which the Angels would then make up for with the speed and situational hitting. However, there isn’t much of a difference. The Red Sox have a .352 OBP and a .454 slugging percentage, compared to .350 and .441 for the Angels. That’s not accounting for the difference that Fenway Park makes in Boston’s numbers.
The Angels do hit for a higher average, of course. They led the American League at .285, while the Red Sox came in at .270.
We’ll see how much of that advantage carries over to the ALDS. Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins and Howie Kendrick have made a habit of wilting under the spotlight. Kendrick will likely only play against Lester, with the Angels preferring Maicer Izturis at second base for his defense. We don’t really know about Kendry Morales yet, but the Red Sox did hold him to a .200 average, no homers and two RBI in nine games this season. He fanned 12 times in 35 at-bats.
The Red Sox will have their full complement of players ready for the ALDS, though whether Mike Lowell (hip, thumb), J.D. Drew (shoulder) and Alex Gonzalez (hand) are truly healthy remains in question. Drew, at least, did his best to show he’s ready by smacking two homers on Sunday.
Also important for Boston is that both David Ortiz and Jason Bay are entering October rather hot. Ortiz hit .284/.390/.557 with six homers during September, while Bay came in at .299/.390/.598 with seven homers. Dustin Pedroia is also showing signs of life, having homered on both Saturday and Sunday.
Numbers
Angels won season series 5-4
Angels outscored Red Sox 44-40
Runs per game
Angels: 5.45
BoSox: 5.38
Runs allowed per game
Angels: 4.70
BoSox: 4.54
Bullpen ERA:
Angels: 4.49
BoSox: 3.80
Defensive efficiency
Angels: 17th in MLB
BoSox: 18th in MLB
Overrated angle
Angels basestealers vs. Red Sox catchers
It will certainly be a big subject on the telecasts. Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek are poor throwers, and the Angels have several guys who can steal a base. The Angels probably will do plenty of running if they can get a lot guys on base. But if they can get a lot of guys on base, they’re likely to fare well regardless.
What won’t get as much play is that the Red Sox should have some success there, too. The Angels stole 23 more bases than the Red Sox this year, but they were caught 24 more times. In fact, they led the league in times caught at 63.
Jeff Mathis, who has been doing more catching than Mike Napoli because of his defense, threw out 26 percent of basestealers this year. His career mark is 23 percent. Napoli was at 22 percent this year and 23 percent for his career. Combined, they allowed 126 steals and threw out 41 runners.
Martinez is expected to be Boston’s top catcher in the postseason, with Varitek perhaps not playing more than once a series. Martinez threw out just two of 19 basestealers for the Red Sox. However, 10 of those 17 successful steals came in Tim Wakefield starts and Wakefield won’t be pitching against the Angels. With conventional pitchers on the mound, Martinez has allowed seven steals in eight attempts over 27 games caught with the Red Sox.
So, yeah, the Angels should have an advantage here. Whether it’s a significant one will hinge on their ability to retire Jacoby Ellsbury. In the end, it typically comes down to who gets the most guys on base, not what the players do once they’re there.
Underrated angle
Banged-up Angels bullpen
Brian Fuentes’ struggles have been well publicized, but the Angels still had to be feeling good about the way things were setting up with power right-handers Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger mowing down hitters. Unfortunately, that’s all changed of late. Bulger, who had a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings from July through September, gave up two runs on Saturday and then complained of right shoulder tightness. He had a similar issue in late August that caused him to take a week off. Jepsen, who has given up eight runs in eight innings, has been experiencing dead-arm issues, according the Angels.
If those two aren’t 100 percent, then the Angels figure to have major problems in the latter innings. They may well end up giving key frames to Ervin Santana, who was left out of the rotation despite hurling a shutout against the Rangers in his final start of the season. It’d be risky, given Santana’s lack of experience as a reliever, but the payoff could be big.
Prediction
Red Sox in 4
With a number of question marks following in the rotation, the Red Sox will badly need Lester to set the tone in Game 1. Lester, though, has already made a habit of coming up big in his young career. He’s the better pitcher than Lackey, and even in Lackey’s good outings against the Red Sox, he always allowed a couple of runs.
If the Red Sox prevail in Game 1, then they can afford another off outing from Beckett or Buchholz, if not necessarily both. Their home-field advantage is as big as any in baseball, which should help a bunch in those Game 3 and Game 4 matchups that would seem to favor the Angels.

Wanna work as a baseball broadcaster for free?

Two drake Mallard ducks fly over Lake Erie near the Cleveland shoreline, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in Cleveland. Warming temperatures have brought a variety of waterfowl to the area as they stage for the northern migration. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
AP Photo/Mark Duncan
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(Hat tip to @ItsTonyNow on Twitter for pointing this story out.)

The Madison Mallards are a collegiate summer baseball team in Wisconsin. College players join the league to have an opportunity to showcase their talents for scouts. Though they’re not exactly the New York Yankees, the Mallards do relatively well for themselves. In 2013, they had the highest average attendance among amateur teams, per The Capital Times.

That makes one of their latest job postings seem rather curious. The Mallards are looking for someone to handle both play-by-play broadcasting duties as well as media relations, as seen in this post. Only one problem: the position is unpaid. Here’s the full description (emphasis mine):

The Madison Mallards are looking for an enthusiastic and ambitious individual to join the front office as the Radio Broadcaster.

This position will manage all day-to-day media relations duties and act as the traveling secretary on all road trips. This is a seasonal position, beginning in May 2016 and ending in mid-August. This position is unpaid. The candidate will serve as the full-time radio broadcaster, traveling with the team during the season.

Duties and responsibilities include but are not limited to:
* Write press releases promoting team initiatives including post-game recaps for the team website.
* Coordinate all aspects of team travel including notifying restaurants, hotels, and other teams, getting team orders, room assignments, etc.
* Broadcast all 72 Northwoods League games on 1670 The Zone including pre- and post-game shows, during the regular season (and playoffs if necessary).
* Ability to work long hours, including weekends, as business indicates.
* Strong written and verbal communication skills
* Produce radio commercials for the Mallards and business partners
* Work closely with GM and Corporate Service team to include all sponsor and promotional live reads each gameUpdate the Mallards website daily
* Other duties as assigned by GM

The habit of baseball teams looking for free labor isn’t exactly new. The U.S. Department of Labor investigated the Giants and Marlins in 2013 for possible wage law violations. That included the Giants being investigated for “possible improper use of unpaid interns.” The Giants ended up paying $544,715 in back wages. In a memo that year issued by Rob Manfred, he cited the Department of Labor believing that MLB’s habit of taking advantage of unpaid interns was “endemic to our industry.”

According to U.S. law, a for-profit company can hire an unpaid intern by meeting each of six criteria, according to FindLaw:

  • The internship is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment
  • The experience is for the benefit of the intern
  • The intern does not displace regular employees but works under close supervision of existing staff
  • The employer providing the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded
  • There is no guarantee of a job at the conclusion of the internship
  • Both parties understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the internship

It would seem that the third and fourth criteria wouldn’t be met.

The Mallards are almost certainly looking for a college student — not a well-credentialed media veteran — looking to add to his or her resume. They are also very clearly looking to take advantage of that student given the plethora of job responsibilities with no pay. Current college students are part of the millennial generation which has increasingly been taken advantage of through unpaid internships. Steven Greenhouse wrote for the New York Times in 2012:

No one keeps statistics on the number of college graduates taking unpaid internships, but there is widespread agreement that the number has significantly increased, not least because the jobless rate for college graduates age 24 and under has risen to 9.4 percent, the highest level since the government began keeping records in 1985. (Employment experts estimate that undergraduates work in more than one million internships a year, with Intern Bridge, a research firm, finding almost half unpaid.)

In a capitalist society, businesses are always going to search for the cheapest source of labor. Considering how bad the economy is and has been for millennials, they’ve had a pretty good time finding it. It’s hard to fault college students jumping at the opportunity to work in an industry they like in the hopes of one day landing a dream job. But as much as those businesses might loathe admitting it, that labor is worth something whether it’s for an amateur baseball team or a major league team.

Joey Votto: “I’d rather quit and leave all the money on the table than play at a poor level.”

Cincinnati Reds' Joey Votto reacts after a swinging strike against Chicago Cubs starting pitcher John Lackey in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, April 23, 2016, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Reds first baseman Joey Votto went 1-for-4 with a walk and an RBI single in Sunday’s 11-inning victory over the Pirates, but his overall stats remain dour. The 2010 NL MVP is batting a meager .230/.330/.310 with a pair of home runs and 12 RBI.

Votto spoke about his struggles in the first month of the 2016 season and he was quite honest. Via C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer:

“It’s not something I’m OK with. I’d rather quit and leave all the money on the table than play at a poor level,” Votto said before Sunday’s game against the Pirates. “I’m here to play and be part of setting a standard. It’s something I’ve always taken pride in. I love to play at a really high level. So far this year, it’s not been that. I will not be a very satisfied, happy person if I don’t perform at the level that I expect.”

Votto added, “I refuse to accept my peak has [passed], I refuse to accept that my best days are in the past. I’m not there yet. I just don’t see that, I don’t feel that.”

Votto, 32, has eight years and $199 million remaining on the 10-year, $225 million contract extension he signed with the Reds in April 2012.

Bryce Harper struck out four times in a game for the first time in nearly four years

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper reacts after he struck out during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, April 28, 2016, in Washington. The Phillies won 3-0.(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has not exactly been strikeout-averse over his five-year career, but he has been pretty good about not bunching them up. Entering Sunday’s game against the Cardinals, Harper had struck out three or more times in a game only 21 times in 533 games. He had registered two four-strikeout games, the last of which occurred on August 21, 2012 — his rookie season.

On Sunday, Harper struck out three times against Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez and once against reliever Seung Hwan Oh for the dreaded golden sombrero. The reigning NL MVP has now equaled his walk and strikeout totals at 17 apiece.

Despite the rough afternoon, Harper still owns a lusty .272/.390/.679 triple-slash line with nine home runs and 24 RBI.

Chase Headley doesn’t think Yankee Stadium is as hitter-friendly as advertised

New York Yankees Chase Headley (12) breaks his bat on a ground out to third during the third inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Monday, April 25, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
AP Photo/Brandon Wade
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Yankees third baseman Chase Headley finished April without registering an extra-base hit. Across 71 plate appearances, he registered only nine hits for an uninspiring .150/.268/.150 triple-slash line. Speaking to David Laurilia of FanGraphs, Headley said that Yankee Stadium isn’t as hitter-friendly as many people think it is, and added that the shift has helped to limit his offensive success.

“Everybody talks about how good of a ballpark Yankee Stadium is to hit in, but it’s pretty big with the exception of right field,” said Headley. “The rest of it plays as big, or bigger, than most yards. It’s maybe a better fit for guys who hit the ball high down the line than it for guys who hit the ball like I have for a lot of my career.”

[…]

“Because of the shifting that’s going on now, if you hit the ball on the ground, for the most part you’re out,” Headley told me. “I’m trying to get the ball elevated — I want to hit it hard in the air — and if I never hit another ball on the ground, I’ll be happy.”

According to StatCorner.com, Yankee Stadium is indeed better for left-handed hitters, and particularly so when it comes to extra-base hits. It lists park factors for handedness, setting 100 as average. A higher number means it’s more hitter-friendly. Here are the left-right numbers as of today’s writing:

  • Singles: 101 for left-handed hitters, 102 for right-handed hitters
  • Doubles and triples: 101 LH, 82 RH
  • Home runs: 137 LH, 127 RH

Headley’s hypothesis seems to have some merit. But his claim that shifts have been hurting him doesn’t seem to hold up to the numbers.

babip

Headley’s ground ball BABIP (batting average on balls in play) this season is only .022 behind his career average of .239. As he’s only hit 23 ground balls total this season, the difference between .239 and .217 is less than one hit.

Where Headley’s BABIP is notably lower is line drives. His career average line drive BABIP is .698, but it’s only .333 on nine line drives in 2016. This could be simple bad luck or it could mean Headley is making worse contact. FanGraphs’ batted ball data suggests Headley has been pulling significantly fewer balls (36 percent to his 45 percent career average), and he’s making “hard” contact less often (21 percent versus his 31 percent career average). Overall, there’s been very little change in his ground ball rate versus his fly ball rate.

Headley mentioned to Laurila that if he could, he would try to hit fly balls to the pull side more often. “I’m working on that,” he said.