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American League Division Series Preview from The Sports Network



Friday, October 4th (All times Eastern)

Tampa Bay Rays (1-0) at Boston Red Sox (0-0), 3:07 p.m.

Probable Starting Pitchers: Tampa Bay - Matt Moore (17-4, 3.29) Boston - Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75)

(SportsNetwork.com) - What a difference a year makes.

The Boston Red Sox lost 93 games last season. This year they head into the postseason as the top team in the American League. The Red Sox begin their first postseason run in four years on Friday in the best-of-five American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Only two teams were worse than Boston in the AL in 2012, leading to the dismissal of manager Bobby Valentine after just one season. So, out with the old and in with the new, as the team hired John Farrell away from Toronto to be the new skipper.

All Farrell did was put himself atop most people's AL Manager of the Year ballots, as he guided the Red Sox to a 28-game turnaround and ended the year 97-65, leading the club to its first AL East title since their World Series championship season of 2007.

The 97 wins were also the second most for the team since 1978.

Farrell, of course, was the Red Sox pitching coach under Terry Francona, and his impact was immediately evident, especially among the starting staff which saw their ERA decrease by nearly two runs from the prior season

Two of his former proteges, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, benefited the most, as both enjoyed bounce-back campaigns. Buchholz pitched to a 4.56 ERA in 2012, but was the best pitcher in baseball until a shoulder injury sidelined him for three months.

Still, he ended the year 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA.

Lester, meanwhile, will get the ball in Game 1 for the Red Sox. Like Buchholz, the left-hander struggled through 2012, posting a 9-14 ledger with a 4.82 ERA. He reverted back to the pitcher he was under Farrell this season, though, going 15-8 with a 3.75 ERA.

"Last year was just horrendous all the way around," Lester said.

In his 13 starts since the All-Star break, Lester is 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA.

"To be named Game 1 starter, especially after last year," Lester said, "big honor, obviously, very excited."

Offensively the Red Sox are still led by 37-year-old designated hitter David Ortiz, who put forth his seventh 30-homer/100-RBI season and hit .309 to boot.

Boston was criticized for giving outfielder Shane Victorino a 3-year, $39 million deal this offseason, but the Flying Hawaiian was one of the team's top performers this season, hitting .294 with 15 home runs, 61 RBI, 82 runs scored and 21 stolen bases.

Not to mention Victorino has had a penchant for coming up big in the postseason, as he has driven in 30 runs in 46 playoff games.

"He's added a grit to this team that we've seen repeatedly with the pain threshold in which he's played with," Farrell said. "He's been banged up for a lot of the year, but it hasn't forced him out of the lineup for really extended periods, and he gives us a well-rounded player both offensively and defensively in that 2-hole. He can play the small game. We've seen his ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark. He's a smart baseball player. He keeps things lively in the clubhouse, as I'm sure you all have seen. He's been a very good addition to this club."

One player to watch this series could be outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who missed most of September with a compression fracture in his right foot. The soon-to-be free agent, though, hit .298 this season and stole 52 bases.

The Red Sox as a team stole 123 bases this season, but it will be interesting to see if Ellsbury's foot allows him to be active in October.

If you are looking for an MVP on this Red Sox club you may have to look to the bullpen where right-hander Koji Uehara stepped up, as both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were lost for the season with injuries, and saved 21 games while pitching to a remarkable 1.09 ERA.

Uehara, whose ERA was the best in the majors of any pitcher with 50 or more innings, also posted a mind-blowing 0.57 walks plus hits per nine innings - the lowest WHIP in baseball history by a pitcher who logged at least 50 innings, surpassing by a considerable margin the 0.61 standard set by Dennis Eckersley in 1989.

He didn't walk a batter over his final 22 appearances and posted a 0.72 in save chances.

"When you're surprised that he gives up a baserunner, that means he's having a pretty good year," said reliever Craig Breslow. "Maybe my metrics are a little bit subjective, but when you can't remember the last time a guy's been on base, he's having a good year. He's been absolutely dominant, especially considering that coming into the season he was probably the third, fourth, fifth option to close."

Tampa, meanwhile, has been in postseason mode for a while now. In fact, after a mad dash just to put themselves into the wild card mix at the end of the season, the Rays have already played two elimination games.

Pitching has been Tampa's calling card and that was again the case in Wednesday's wild card matchup with Cleveland, as Alex Cobb tossed 6 2/3 scoreless innings, Delmon Young belted a solo homer and Desmond Jennings hit a two-run double to carry the Rays past the Indians, 4-0.

The Rays had thrown a team-record 17 shutouts during the regular season, including four in their final 18 games.

Tampa's season nearly ended Sunday, but it kept it alive by winning the last game of the regular season in Toronto. A day later, the Rays clinched their fourth postseason trip in six years by upending the Texas Rangers in a one- game tiebreaker to capture the AL's second wild card spot.

"That's three different difficult venues ... all in enemy territory," Tampa manager Joe Maddon said of his club's recent stretch. "I'm so proud of our guys. It was outstanding to watch and I was very proud."

As good as Boston's starters were this season, Tampa's were even better with a 3.81 ERA. None were better than lefty Matt Moore, who will take the ball in Game 1 for Maddon's team.

"We feel very confident about our pitchers pitching against anybody, and we've done well," Maddon said. "Part of that is we talked about that prior to the fact that our guys are used to pitching or playing in that venue, whether it's Yankee Stadium packed, Fenway Park packed, we kind of dig it."

Moore, who tossed seven scoreless innings in his only other postseason start back in 2011, was fantastic in his second full season, going 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 27 starts.

The 24-year-old hurler pitched well against the Red Sox in two starts during the regular season, going 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 15 innings. He gave up three runs in six innings in a 5-3 win at Tropicana Field on May 14 before throwing his first career shutout on July 22 at Fenway Park.

The Rays are an amazing 82-18 when they allow four runs or less. Keeping Boston in check could be a chore, though, as the Red Sox were the only team in the league to have scored more than 800 runs.

Tampa's pitching will have to be on the mark, as the offense ranked just ninth in the American League with 700 runs scored. It's a lineup, though, that is built to grind out wins.

Third baseman Evan Longoria is as vital to the Rays' offensive attack as Ortiz is to the Red Sox. Longo remained relatively healthy this season and hit .269 with 32 home runs and 88 RBI. Of his 19 postseason hits, 13 of them have gone for extra bases.

Of course these teams are no stranger to one another. Boston, though, dominated the season series, taking 12 of the 19 matchups.

"They really pitched well against us," Maddon said. "We just did not swing the bats well, and that speaks to their pitching. They have a really good pitching staff. They have a great starting staff. They have a tremendous bullpen. I do anticipate a lot of the same in the playoffs as we continue."

Tampa actually beat the Red Sox in seven games back in 2008 to advance to the World Series in the only other postseason series between the clubs.

10/04 10:25:23 ET

  • ACC: Wake Forest at Duke

    Tomorrow at 8:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • ACC: Syracuse at NC State

    Saturday at 12:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • SEC: Florida at Kentucky

    Saturday at 2:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • Pac 12: Stanford at Arizona

    Saturday at 4:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • ACC: NC State at Clemson

    Tonight at 9:00 on WRAL-FM

  • ACC: Duke vs. Wake Forest

    Tomorrow at 8:00 pm on 620am

  • Big Ten: Wisconsin at Minnesota

    Thursday at 7:00 pm on 99.9 The Fan

  • NBA: Dallas at Portland

    Thursday at 9:30 pm on 99.9 The Fan

Scoreboard
Local
Final
CHI 5
CAR 2
Final
SAV 49
NCCU 62
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
LAL
 
7:00pm Tonight
GT
UNC
 
9:00pm Tonight
CLEM
NCSU
 
Final
MIA 7
FIU 2
 
Final
DET 12
FLASO 2
 
1:05pm Today
DET
BAL
 
1:05pm Today
MIA
MIAFLA
 
1:05pm Today
PHI
NYY
 
1:05pm Today
BOS
NEASTERN
 
1:07pm Today
TOR
PIT
 
3:05pm Today
CIN
CLE
 
3:05pm Today
OAK
SFG
 
4:05pm Today
BOS
BOSTONCOLL
 
5:10pm Tonight
ARI
ASU
 
Final
PHI 103
TOR 114
Final
BRK 110
GSW 108
Final
MIA 115
PHO 98
Final
MIN 105
LAC 110
Final
DAL 102
NOP 93
7:00pm Tonight
CLE
BOS
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHA
LAL
 
7:00pm Tonight
NYK
SAC
 
7:30pm Tonight
ATL
HOU
 
8:00pm Tonight
MEM
UTA
 
8:00pm Tonight
CHI
WAS
 
9:00pm Tonight
DEN
MIL
 
Final
TEX 61
BAY 59
Final
SYR 47
UVA 59
Final
SHSU 76
CARK 49
 
Final
NWST 92
SELA 79
 
Final
NCAT 67
COOK 50
 
Final
HOW 61
NORST 59
 
Final
DELST 85
HAMP 75
 
Final
STEPH 83
INCWORD 62
 
Final
MCNST 70
LAM 69
 
Final
NO 79
NICST 89
 
Final
SAV 49
NCCU 62
 
Final
ALAAM 75
TXSOU 77
 
Final
VT 59
BC 66
Final
MVSU 66
GRAM 62
 
Final
ISU 77
OKLA 70
 
Final
ALAST 65
PVU 67
 
Final
ARKPB 64
JST 62
 
7:00pm Tonight
UMO
AKR
 
7:00pm Tonight
NAVY
ARMY
 
7:00pm Tonight
BST
EMICH
 
7:00pm Tonight
BUT
GEOR
 
7:00pm Tonight
IND
IOWA
 
7:00pm Tonight
FLGC
JVU
 
7:00pm Tonight
USCU
KNST
 
7:00pm Tonight
BGU
KSU
 
7:00pm Tonight
NKENTUCKY
LIP
 
7:00pm Tonight
HC
GHND
 
7:00pm Tonight
RUTG
MD
 
7:00pm Tonight
GT
UNC
 
7:00pm Tonight
BUF
OHIO
 
7:00pm Tonight
ALA
MISS
 
7:00pm Tonight
DAY
RIU
 
7:00pm Tonight
CMICH
TOL
 
7:00pm Tonight
DET
YOUNG
 
7:30pm Tonight
UNF
STET
 
8:00pm Tonight
ABCHRIST
HOUB
 
8:00pm Tonight
NDAK
NEOM
 
8:00pm Tonight
NILL
WMICH
 
8:00pm Tonight
ILLCH
WRST
 
9:00pm Tonight
MIZZ
AUB
 
9:00pm Tonight
UGA
KENT
 
9:00pm Tonight
NW
MICH
 
9:00pm Tonight
CLEM
NCSU
 
9:00pm Tonight
UF
TEXAM
 
9:00pm Tonight
KU
WVU
 
9:15pm Tonight
CREI
VILL
 
Final
NYR 4
NAS 1
Final
CHI 5
CAR 2
3rd
SJS 3
MON 0
 
7:00pm Tonight
PHI
CAL
 
7:00pm Tonight
NJD
NAS
 
7:00pm Tonight
CLB
WAS
 
7:30pm Tonight
TAM
BUF
 
7:30pm Tonight
FLA
TOR
 
8:00pm Tonight
MIN
OTT
 
8:30pm Tonight
DAL
NYI
 
9:00pm Tonight
ARI
ANA
 
9:30pm Tonight
EDM
LOS
 
10:00pm Tonight
VAN
SJS