Friday, September 23, 2011

Breakout Performances: Matt Moore

Matt Moore, baseball's top pitching prospect, made his first major league start in Yankee Stadium last night. For most, that alone would be memorable enough. Not Matt Moore though, who pitched 5 totally dominant shutout innings, allowing only 4 hits, striking out 11 against only 1 walk. To do that against any team is impressive, but to do it in Yankee Stadium against the AL East winning Yankees is even more so.

Now, of course, the day after clinching the division, the Yankees didn't exactly have their optimal lineup - Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, their two best hitters, had the night off. However, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Nick Swisher and Jesus Montero were all in the lineup. The ancient trio of Jeter, Jorge Posada and Andruw Jones each struck out both times they faced him. (Ok - Posada has hit .094/.171/.109 with 24 strikeouts in 70 PA against lefties. NOT striking him out would have been something of a red flag. But still).

Moore's Tampa Bay Rays now sit only two games behind the Red Sox in the American League pennant race. It's very likely that most teams are now rooting for the Red Sox and their vaunted lineup to make the playoffs. (Boston STILL ranks #1 in baseball in runs scored, OBP and SLG. It's hard to overemphasize just how execrable their pitching has been. They're tied with Texas as the #1 scoring team in the AL in September, but are 5-16. Awful). Facing the Rays rotation already seemed scary enough, but with a dominant Matt Moore in the bullpen, they're going to be even tougher. A rotation of David Price/James Shields/Jeremy Hellickson/Jeff Niemann with Moore and Wade Davis moving to the pen seems more formidable than... what? Who in the world is going to start for the Red Sox after Beckett and Lester? Jon and Josh and pray for slosh?? How is that going to work against the next three best offenses in the American League?

Beyond the impact for the next week, this may spend the end of James Shields in Tampa. With Price, Hellickson, Niemann and Davis already in the rotation, and Shields looking at a pay raise, it's likely the Rays will attempt to bolster their lineup. Look for the Reds to be among the teams working to pry him out of Tampa.

This week will be interesting though. The Red Sox are in something of a must-win tonight against the Yankees, having their only clear starting pitching advantage of the series in Jon Lester vs. Freddy Garcia.  After that, Wakefield vs Burnett is a wash, with the Yankees now having the edge in the bullpen, and Lackey vs. Nova has become a clear advantage for the Yankees, though the Red Sox have not been fooled by Nova in his two career starts against them. Meanwhile, the Rays will try to fend off the Blue Jays, an underrated team who is good enough to play spoiler.

My prediction? Honestly, it's too close to call. The Red Sox are losing because their pitching stinks. They're going to get two more starts from Jon Lester, and one more from Josh Beckett. They need to sweep those three games, because they certainly count on Wakefield, Lackey and Bedard to pitch well enough to win. If they score 18 runs for one of them, like they did for Lackey on Tuesday (in a game he couldn't even pitch the minimum five innings to get the win), that's great. They shouldn't have to depend on that though. Meanwhile, the Rays have arguably the best pitching staff in the AL, and because Desmond Jennings is in the lineup and Evan Longoria is healthy, are a fundamentally different offense than they were in the first half. So right now, the Rays are better than the Red Sox, but making up two games with six to go takes some luck too. If it comes down to a tie, though, the Red Sox, who are scheduled to pitch Beckett and Lester on Tuesday and Wednesday, are probably dead meat.

No comments: