Watching the playoffs is all about expecting that your team, no matter how good, could easily be headed home very soon. This is even more prevalent when the two teams are so closely matched and the series ends in the blink of an eye. This series took place completely between Game Two and Game Three of the Phillies and Rockies series. The Red Sox and Angels were very close to each other this year, and the playoffs came down to getting the balls in play to fall. The Red Sox had a BABIP of .166 in the first two games, which led to a very quiet offense. This wasn’t the only reason they are headed home, but it is definitely one of the bigger ones.
Jon Lester had trouble with control in Game One. After a 3.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the regular season, he managed only 1.25 in October. This happens from time to time, but when it happens in the playoffs it is even more glaring.
Lester wasn’t the only one to lose his control. Jonathan Papelbon in his Game Three appearance also walked three in just one inning. The Red Sox staff really struggled with walks on top of everything else.
This shouldn’t sound like a bunch of excuses for the Red Sox, because the Angels deserved to win this series. They played up to their skills and even suffered a bit with a decreased BABIP at .265. The Red Sox also made poor decisions like allowing Ramon Ramirez a chance to pitch in a game when only down three runs and throwing an intentional walk to Torii Hunter. Joe Posnanski gives seven reasons why that intentional walk was a bad idea, and I have to agree.
The result of this series came down largely to the hitting and defense since both pitching staffs on the whole had similar K/BB numbers. The Red Sox staff had a total K/BB of 18/10 and the Angels had 16/8. It truly came down to their ability to get hits on the balls in play.
Some players on both sides really struggled this series. The Angels had to deal with Scott Kazmir walking three batters in his Game Three start plus Chone Figgins striking out six times in 12 at-bats. This was not enough for the Red Sox, as they had to deal with Papelbon and Lester throwing six walks to six strikeouts combined. Then Jason Bay and David Ortiz had seven strikeouts in a combined 20 at-bats.
The Red Sox have to be disappointed with this result, but management knows how the playoffs work. The front office has some holes to fill with Jason Bay becoming a free agent and some players to address, like Jacoby Ellsbury‘s sudden drop in defense. Filling out the pitching staff is another issue.
On the other side we saw Lester become the ace of this team with Beckett still an elite starter. Clay Buchholz has established himself as a starter in the majors and will head in to 2010 confident in his spot. The offense will have a full season of Victor Martinez and Ortiz, who had a 128 OPS+ in the second half.