Archive for the ‘Dice K’ Category

Cautiously Optimistic

For the first time during these playoffs I am not 100% confident that the Red Sox are going to win a game. Now before people start calling me a fair-weathered fan, give me a chance to explain.

Being up 2-0 in the series, I feel that the pressure is now on Boston. The Rockies are in a big hole to a more experienced team. But unlike most teams in baseball, the Rockies seem to play better when their backs are against the wall. The Rockies can go out and just let it rip. They can be aggressive at the plate and take chances on the basepaths. People are already writing them off, so what do they have to lose?

Colorado has scored two runs in the series. Nobody can really believe that this is the best the Rockies have to offer. This is a team loaded with guys that can play and that are eager to show some offense. And tonight they’re playing at Coors Field in front of 50,000 fans. If this doesn’t give the Rockies the boost they need, nothing will.

Which brings me to Boston. I have been going back and forth since game two on who I think should start at first base for the Red Sox. This was like if someone asked which of my kids was my favorite. Who do you pick? Big Papi or Youk. This had to be a really tough decision for Francona. My initial thoughts were to go with Youkilis. He plays great defense and has been crushing the ball. The defense is particularly important in a bigger park like Coors Field.

Big Papi, on the other hand, is arguably the greatest postseason hitter in MLB history. He may not be a Gold Glover, but he has proven to be a decent first baseman. Every time I think Papi can’t play first base well, I remember the 2004 World Series. Game three, St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Suppan rounded third base too far and was promptly picked off by Ortiz on a great throw. I understand why Francona kept Big Papi in the lineup, but I just know I am going to worry every time he has a ball thrown or hit to him. Francona has stuck by his guns all year with regards to who plays and hasn’t been wrong yet. I’m counting on him that this is the right decision.

Another reason for my concern is Dice K pitching tonight. Although he pitched pretty well in game seven against the Indians in the ALCS, I never know what to expect from him. To make matter worse, Dice K doesn’t like pitching in cold weather, and with the forecasters predicting temperatures in the 40’s for tonight’s game, this could pose a huge problem for Boston. Another point of concern is the thin Colorado air that toys with pitches. Balls don’t break like they are supposed to. Balls that are supposed to break out of the strike zone will come right down the pipe on a silver platter. With a pitcher like Dice K, who relies on off-speed pitches and breaking balls, this could be a big problem. Let’s hope the extra day he has spent in Colorado has prepared him for tonight.

Of course, it’s not all doom and gloom. The Sox have a two-game lead in the World Series. They have been getting great pitching from the starters and the bullpen and getting a lot of runners on base. As an added bonus, Boston will face Josh Fogg tonight. A light-throwing pitcher that relies on nibbling around the plate, he reminds me of a really poor man’s Jamie Moyer. With a lineup like Boston’s, this has the potential to resemble batting practice.

The key for Boston tonight is not to play “safe” baseball. They need to continue to do the things that have got them to this point: patience at the plate, making pitchers work for their strikes, and capitalizing on mistakes.

If Boston can do these things and win tonight, pull out your broom. The series is over.

Throwing Dice

When a team is down one game to none in a five-game series, game two is a must-win. With the exception of the 2004 Red Sox, teams don’t come back from a 2-0 deficit.

That’s why tonight the Angels are going to put out their best lineup and leave it all out on the field. We’ll see Vlad playing right field. Mike Scioscia will have his guys trying to bunt for hits and steal bases, with a few hits and runs mixed in for fun. These are the things that got the Angels into the postseason. If they can’t do these things now, it will be what puts them into the off-season. You could say that this is the most important game for both teams to win.

Terry Francona knew the importance of this when he announced the starting rotation. Game one was a no-brainer. Cy Beckett was starting – easiest decision ever. For game two he had some options: Curt Schilling, Dice K, or Tim Wakefield. What we didn’t know at the time was that despite his solid final start of the season, Wakefield’s back was still hurting, so he was out. I think everyone assumed Schilling would start game two. After all, he’s pitched well during his last five starts, and is arguably one of the greatest postseason pitchers of all time.

Dice K has looked good, not great this year pitching in the Major Leagues. Earlier in the season, he caught a lot of teams off guard with his array of off-speed pitches picking up some wins. The second time against these same teams, batters would force him to hit his spots, driving up his pitch count and frustrating Dice K at times. The key for Dice K is getting that first pitch for a strike and then nibbling the corners with his off-speed pitches. If he gets too cute with his pitches and can’t command his fastball it could be a rough outing.

What concerns me about Dice K is that he is a different pitcher when there are runners on base. I don’t know if he focuses too much on the baserunner, or he doesn’t get enough leg push pitching from the stretch, but with a team like the Angels, who can get on base and are disruptive on the base paths, I worry how Dice K will do. But this is a guy that had very little run support and was still able to win 15 games as a rookie, playing in the toughest division in baseball.

So what made Francona go with a rookie for the biggest game of the series? Everyone has heard the stories of Dice K throwing 250+ pitches in a high school playoff game, then going out and throwing a no-hitter in the final for only the second time in Japanese high school baseball history. He followed that up by dominating the competition during the World Baseball Classic, posting a 3-0 record and winning the MVP pitching against the best players on the planet. Some pitchers have the ability to take it up a notch when it matters. It’s like they have an extra gear.

So why would Tito Francona send out a 15-win rookie with the knack of pitching lights out in big games against a team that has never faced him?

Something tells me we’ll find out tonight.

Dice KO’d

Daisuke Matsuzaka has been horrible during his last two starts for the Red Sox. His ERA is an absurd 16.88 in September. After allowing 8 runs to the Baltimore Orioles last night, he looks like a shell of the pitcher who not long ago appeared to be the future ace of the Sox pitching staff.

Coming over from Japan, major leaguers had no prior experience with Dice, so the first time against these teams he was showing stuff they had never seen before. Now that he’s going through these lineups a second time, the players are getting used to him – his slow wind-up, his weird butt wiggle, the variety of off-speed pitches.

Also, Dice isn’t throwing as many first-pitch strikes as he was earlier in the season, so he’s getting into more batter counts, allowing the hitters to wait on his fastball. When Dice K isn’t locating his fastball for first-pitch strikes and keeping batters off balance with the off speed pitches, he looks downright ordinary. He’s finding out that he can’t just throw fastballs past major league hitters.

As good as Dice K was in Japan, the talent over there pales in comparison to Major League Baseball, and a drop-off in performance was to be expected. Consider this: he is technically a rookie and has 14 wins playing in the toughest division in the league. If this was anyone else, they would already have his name engraved on the Rookie of the Year award.

Another thing to consider is that Dice K was used to pitching every 6th day in Japan. Pitching every five days and routinely throwing over 100 pitches per game may be wearing him down. If I were Terry Francona, I would give him his next scheduled start off. The Sox have a comfortable lead in the standings, and some guy named Clay Buchholz who’s proved to be a pretty good pitcher is ready to take his spot in the rotation for a game.

I’m really not worried, and here’s why: Dice K is respected by his teammates and members of the organization for his tireless work ethic and loyalty to his team. He is a true professional who will make the necessary adjustments to be a big part of the Red Sox playoff run, in this season and many more to come.

Game 1 goes to the Yankees

I feel so unsatisfied. The Red Sox just played one of their worst games of the year, and they have no one to blame but themselves. This was the supposed to be the game to set the tone of this series, and the Sox went on cruise control.

What is it going to take to give Dice K more than 3 runs of support? This guy had another solid performance. For nothing. Dice K should be leading the AL in wins, but unfortunately he has a 13-11 record. If the Red Sox were giving Josh Beckett this type of run support, no water cooler in Boston would be safe. But Dice K keeps handling it like a professional.

J.D. Drew played like his usual self. How’s this for a game? 0 for 4, 2 strikeouts, 4 left on base, grounded into 1 double play. Enough said about him. I need to go vomit.

Another thing that pissed me off last night was David Ortiz swinging on the first pitch from Joba Chamberlain in the 8th inning. This is a guy who Ortiz has never faced before, who had just walked Kevin Youkilis. Ortiz strikes fear in every pitcher he faces, especially 21-year-old rookies. He had the advantage here and gave up the at bat. It was just bad baseball all around.

With two games to go in the series, it appears for at least one night The Empire has struck back.