ALCS Game 3 Preview

Monday, October 15, 2007
Jacob’s Field – Cleveland, Ohio
Daisuke Matsuzaka vs Jake Westbrook
7:00 PM EST

Everyone knows how pivotal game 3’s are in playoff series. If the series is 2-0 coming in, Game 3 is the difference between the series going to 3-0 and being virtually over, or going to 2-1 and having both teams right back in it. In this case, however, the series is 1-1 coming in, which means the winning of tonight’s game takes temporary control of the series. It’s a huge momentum game. So how do tonight’s pitchers mathcup?

Jake Westbrook has had an interesting year. He started the year dealing with injuries and took a trip to the DL, which was initially what opened the door for Fausto Carmona cementing a spot in the early season rotation. Once he came back from injury, it was an up and down year for Jake. Westbrook caught fire towards the end of the season, and actually had a remarkable August, going 4-1 with a 1.90 ERA and 9/23 walk-to-strikeout ratio in the month. Typical of Jake’s season, though, he came back down to earth in September and October, going 1-2 with a 4.14 ERA and a 14/31 walk-to-strikeout ratio. In the ALDS, Jake was roughed up a bit by the Yankees. That was his last appearance, on Sunday the 7th, so Jake comes in to this game on 8 days rest. In his career, in starts on 6+ days rest, Jake has struggled a bit, posting an 8-16 record with an ERA of 4.92 in 25 starts. For his career against the Red Sux, Jake has faced them 6 times, going 3-2 with a 4.81 ERA and a 17/12 BB/K ratio. Interestingly enough, though, Jake has only given up 1 home run to the Sux. While those numbers are decent enough, it should be noted that Jake struggled mightily in his only start against Boston this year, pitching 6 innings and giving up 10 hits and 5 ER, walking 4 and notching 1 K, good for a 7.50 ERA. The one thing Westbrook really has going for him is that he’ll be pitching in the comforts of Jacobs Field, which is historically where he pitches the best. In his career at home, he is 34-25 with a 4.01 ERA with 164 BBs and 277 Ks, which is a 4.97 K/9IP ratio. Furthermore, all 3 of Jake’s career shutouts have come at home.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is a bit more of an enigma. In this his rookie season, we have much less of a track record to look at. I think perhaps the most interesting side note is that Dice-K’s last appearance was in Game 2 of the ALDS vs Anaheim on Friday, October 5th, where he went 4.2 IP giving up 3 ER and walking 3 and striking out 3. So Dice-K will be throwing on 10 days rest. How will this affect him, if at all? It’s hard to say, because he was known for his durability in Japan and being able to throw on short rest, so it’s not often he’s asked to wait this long between starts. This season he pitched 3 times on 6+ days rest, going 1-1 with a 3.66 ERA in 19.2 innings pitched, with 8 BBs and 25 Ks. So the long rest didn’t seem to have much impact on him this season. But 10 days could be a bit much. Against Cleveland this year he went 1-1 in 2 starts with a 4.26 ERA in 12.2 IP, with 3 BBs and 9 Ks. On the road, Dice-K went 7-8 with a 4.02 ERA in 18 starts, with 50 walks and 126 strikeouts while giving up 17 home runs. Perhaps the most foreboding split for Dice-K, though, is his first-half vs second-half stats. After a marvelous first half of the season going 10-6 with a 3.84 ERA, Dice-K seemed to struggle and wear down in the second half, going just 5-6 with a 5.19 ERA. His strikeouts fell from 123 to 78 while his walks increased from 38 to 42. Perhaps this indicates nothing more than a rookie struggling to deal with the long grind of the major league season. If that’s the case, the 10 day rest might be just what the doctor ordered for Matsuzaka.

This is a game that is setting up to be a battle to see which pitcher can more closely emulate their best stuff. Both guys have some demons to shed and confidence could be a factor in this matchup. Both pitchers struggled in their only starts this postseason. Both pitchers had up and down years. At their best, Daisuke seems to be the better pitcher. When not at their best, Jake has the longer track record of keeping it together and giving his teams a chance to win the game. Expect the bullpens to be a factor in this game, as neither guy is likely to make it into the 7th inning. In such a seemingly even matchup, I can’t help but fall back on the fact that this game is being played at Jacobs Field, which will be a huge advantage to Westbrook. If he can keep Ortiz and Ramirez from killing him (remember, Jake has given up only 1 HR in his career to these Red Sux), I think Cleveland has a great chance of pulling this one out in a close, medium-to-high scoring game.

My final prediction: Cleveland takes this one despite an anxiety ridden 9th courtesy of Mr. Borowski. Cleveland wins this game 7-5.