Eight notes and observations on each of the eight playoff teams ... today, the Red Sox. 'Nuf ced.
1. Blame Toronto
If I know my MLB broadcasters, they will watch Josh Beckett dominate the playoffs again and note his win-loss record (12-10 at this moment) and pedestrian ERA (4.03) and say Beckett stepped up his game when it matters. Vegas Watch (hat tip to Neate) noticed the same thing, but pointed out just how similar his 2008 has been to his very, very good 2007. They also noticed that if you take away this game against the Blue Jays, his ERA would have fallen to 3.66. Which probably would have saved us from "Joe Buck...describing how Beckett has had a 'down' year."
2. Just when he finally settled down...
Jason Bay was drafted by the Expos and traded to the Mets two years later for the immortal Lou Collier, then traded to San Diego four months later for the equally immortal Steve Reed. The Padres figured out they had a good player, so they actually asked for someone useful in return, but Bay lasted just a year in San Diego. After five years in Pittsburgh, Bay moved again and who knows where he'll be in 2009.
So far it's worked out well for Boston: Bay has hit just as well as Manny and must be better defensively because nobody can be worse. Jason's also ridiculously happy to not be a Pirate, as any article written the morning after they clinched a playoff spot will tell you.
3. Don't face him if you're feeling randy
With all the hoopla over Cliff Lee's 22-3 record, I hope those who still look at win-loss record are looking at Daisuke Matsuzaka's 18-2. If he doesn't get the loss in tonight's game, he will be one of four pitchers to finish with 18 or more wins and 2 or fewer losses: Greg Maddux in 1995 (19-2), Randy Johnson in 1995 as well (18-2) and Roy Face in relief in 1959 (18-1). Daisuke is helped by the fact that he's a 6-inning pitcher, rarely around to absorb late-inning losses. Only four times this year has he lasted to the eighth: it's all about pitch counts and his are the highest in the majors. If I were a betting man, I'd say Matsuzaka's year, especially the walk rate, doesn't look like it will hold up against the tougher playoff competition.
4. It probably sounded good in February
On behalf of combinatorialists everywhere, don't blame the schedulers. This weekend's season-ending Red Sox-Yankees series would be much better if the games actually mattered. The thing is, a rivalry needs two relevant teams. The only relevance in this race is if Boston sweeps, there's a tiny chance they win the division and if New York sweeps, there's a tiny chance that the Blue Jays finish third instead of fourth.
5. Greek God of anything but facial hair
A top contender for the ugliest man in baseball is also Boston's cleanup hitter and a top-10 slugger in the game. Kevin Youkilis even leads baseball in something called "Clutch" (and yes, A-Rod is dead last by the same measure). Good luck pitching around him, with Bay behind and David "The Bedazzler" Ortiz in front.
6. "I'll be Riverdancing in bed tonight."
Jonathan Papelbon is a goof. A literal base-stealing goof. There's no better phrase. But we'll take goofs if they can produce interviews like this on Letterman (from just after last year's World Series) and this from a couple of days ago, via Ballhype.
7. As if baseball didn't take long enough already
Okay, screw the leave-the-schedulers-alone argument. Nobody can defend a five-game series that's played in eight days. One of the AL playoff series will start Wednesday, the other Thursday, and if the Red Sox/Angels series is the former, neither team will need to use a fourth starter. For Los Angeles of Anaheim, it means no Jered Weaver; for Boston, no Tim Wakefield. The Sox probably come out on top either way.
8. If you missed it...
...you can catch highlights of Jon Lester's May 19 no-hitter here. Hell of a couple of years for Lester, who went from lymphoma to a World Series ring to a no-hitter to being the youngest player to lead a playoff team in innings pitched this year.
Okay, the last one isn't as impressive. But it speaks to the year he's had, how those 9 no-hit innings weren't even close to being his whole story.