Posts Tagged ‘American League’

By W.G. Ramirez

Set to meet for the fourth time in the Fall Classic, the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox open the World Series with Game 1 at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox are trying to win their third crown in 10 years. St. Louis, meanwhile, is aiming to take its second title in three years and third in eight seasons. And as starters Adam Wainwright and Jon Lester will toe the slab Wednesday night, I had a chance to sit down with a Josh Johnson, starting pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays, for his insight on this year’s Classic.

“Two really good teams, should be a really good battle, hope it goes seven games,” said Johnson, in between workout regimens at a local gym. “That’s the only thing I look for whenever I’m not rooting for one team.”

Johnson, who has pitched in both the National and American Leagues, said everyone he could think of told him the Los Angeles Dodgers were destined for the World Series, but he tried to warn them.

“I said don’t sleep on the Cardinals, they’ve been there, they’ve done it, they find ways to plug guys in … and win ball games,” he said. “They know how to do it. Don’t put anything past them.”

St. Louis opened a 3-1 lead over Los Angeles before dropping Game 5. But the Cardinals closed it out by thumping Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in the Game 6 clincher.

Time and time again, they proven there’s nobody’s been better than the Cardinals when the season is on the line. After winning the final two games of their best-of-five division series against Pittsburgh, the Cardinals are 8-1 when facing postseason elimination the past three years.

Now they’ve got the Red Sox, who know a thing or two about resiliency, as they became the second AL team in the three-division era to go from worst to first. After tying the Cardinals for the best record in baseball during the regular season, Boston defeated the wild-card Rays 3-1 in the division series, winning both home games. Boston beat Detroit 4-2 in the ALCS to capture its 13th pennant, going 2-1 at Fenway Park despite nearly getting no-hit in the opener.

Johnson said what impresses him most about the Crimson Hose is their patience at the plate, from top to bottom.

“That whole lineup, they have a lot of guys who are patient, and I’ve always struggled with that,” said Johnson, whose four-pitch arsenal finds him throwing a lot of strikes, and eventually turning to his slider for an out pitch. “They’re both pretty patient, but I think the Red Sox have so many guys who are patient, but also have power.”

And as tough as St. Louis’ pitchers are, he said, they could face the same frustration he does against hitters who don’t mind waiting for their pitch, or will simply lay off and take walks. Johnson noted fellow-Las Vegas Shane Victorino as one of the Red Sox’s most dangerous hitters to face because of the fact he can hit from both sides of the plate, he can the ball anywhere in the zone and he knows how to hit off-speed pitches very well.

“Shane’s always been a good hitter, especially off-speed up in the zone,” Johnson said. “He’s just a tough out, probably one of the toughest out for the Red Sox.”

That became evident in the final game of the ALCS, when Victorino drilled a grand slam over the Green Monster to put the Red Sox ahead for good. And while few in this year’s matchup have faced the opposing pitchers, both Victorino and Jonny Gomes – two former NL players – each have homered off Wainwright.

On the other side, Johnson said Boston pitchers need to be wary of Allen Craig, who hit a major league-leading .454 with runners in scoring position but hasn’t played since Sept. 4 because of sprained left foot, is set to return. Craig is set to be the Cardinals’ designated hitter in Games 1 and 2.

“The guy raked all year, and then got hurt; but he’s one of those guys who can just step in, and I would suspect he’s going go to come off the bench or be starting and still be hitting it.” Johnson said.

Johnson also noted the Red Sox should fear Matt Holliday Carlos Beltran, who has finally reached the first World Series of his 16-year career after three painful losses in Game 7 of the NLCS.

As for the pitchers, Johnson said there’s no one hotter on the planet than Michael Wacha, the NLCS MVP who has been almost unhittable lately. The 22-year-old rookie lost a no-hit bid against Washington on an infield single with two outs in the ninth inning of his final regular-season outing, then pitched 7-1/3 hitless innings at Pittsburgh before Pedro Alvarez homered in Game 4 of the NLDS. With the Cardinals facing elimination, Wacha won 2-1 to send the series back to St. Louis. In the NLCS, he outpitched Kershaw twice and threw 13-2/3 scoreless innings.

“Wacha has been unbelievable, he’s been their guy … and he’s been throwing the ball well,” Johnson said. “It’s contagious, once you get in that groove, you don’t ever want to get out of it. Days go by fast, your start comes up a little quicker, and that’s what you want.”

Wacha is 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in 3 postseason starts.

So all that being said, and even though he’s looking for a good series, who does the eight-year veteran think is going to walk off with the trophy?

“I’ve seen the Cardinals so many times, they just find a way to do it,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what it is; they find a way to get it done.”

A look at the American League wild-card playoff between the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers (-185, 9’u, -120), at Arlington, Texas (8:37 p.m. EDT). (TBS):

Projected Lineups:

Orioles: LF Nate McLouth (.268, 7 HRs, 18 RBIs, 12 SBs), SS J.J. Hardy (.238, 22, 68), RF Chris Davis (.270, 33, 85, 169 Ks), CF Adam Jones (.287, 32, 82, 16 SBs), C Matt Wieters (.249, 23, 83), DH Jim Thome (.257, 3, 10 in 28 games), 1B Mark Reynolds (.221, 23, 69), 2B Ryan Flaherty (.216, 6, 19), 3B Manny Machado (.262, 7, 26).

Rangers: 2B Ian Kinsler (.256, 19, 72, 21 SBs, 105 runs), SS Elvis Andrus (.286, 3, 62, 21 SBs), CF Josh Hamilton (.285, 43, 128, 162 Ks, 60 BBs, 103 runs), 3B Adrian Beltre (.321, 36, 102), RF Nelson Cruz (.260, 24, 90), DH Michael Young (.277, 8, 67), LF David Murphy (.304, 15, 61), C Mike Napoli (.227, 24, 56), 1B Mitch Moreland (.275, 15, 50).

Starting Pitchers:

Orioles: LHP Joe Saunders (as an Oriole: 3-3, 3.63 ERA, 23 Ks, 8 BBs in 44-2/3 innings over 7 starts with Orioles) – Saunders has always been one of the most durable pitchers in the game, not to mention one more reliable starters in a rotation. He is 3-7 with a 6.48 ERA in 11 career starts against Texas, including 0-6 with a 9.38 ERA in six previous starts at Rangers Ballpark. Complimenting his fastball, Saunders turns to a deadly slider, and occasionally gets hitters to chase a change-up. When struggling in a game, his weakness tends to be reliance on his change and curve ball. He uses the change more against right-handed hitters than he does lefties. He’ll have the tough chore of facing six right-handed hitters in this game.

Rangers: RHP Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90, 221 Ks, 191-1/3 IP) – The rookie Japanese-import is very assertive with his fastball, which comes in at the higher end of a 92- to 95-mile per hour range. Though this is his first season in MLB, he does boast postseason experience in his homeland. He was 8-2 with a 1.38 ERA and five complete games in 11 postseason starts for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters from 2006-11. Darvish, who is 4-0 with a 1.46 ERA in his last five starts, has limited opponents to a .139 average with a .180 slugging percentage during that span. The crafty right-hander has not allowed a home run over his last 43 innings.

Series Nuggets:

The Rangers won the 2012 series, 5-2.

The Rangers have won 10 of the last 12 meetings.

Texas scored at least 10 runs three times against the O’s this season.

The Orioles are mired in a 1-5 slide in Arlington.

The Over has cashed six of the last eight meetings.

Baltimore Nuggets:

Baltimore is in on winning streaks of 4-0 versus the A.L. West, 10-2 against right-handed starters, 4-1 when installed as the road underdog and 7-3 with a suitcase in hand.

Baltimore, which was is in contention for the A.L. East title until the last day of the season, is in the postseason after suffering through 14 consecutive losing seasons and four straight last-place finishes before resurrecting itself under manager Buck Showalter.

The Orioles went 29-9 in one-run games and have won an astonishing 16 straight extra-inning contests.

Orioles right-fielder Chris Davis homered in six straight games before the streak came to an abrupt halt in the regular-season finale against the Tampa Bay Rays. He finished as the team leader in HRs and RBI.

Baltimore is 23-8 when Adam Jones, who played in all 162 games, goes yard.

Texas Nuggets:

The Rangers are in on winning streaks of 7-1 when installed as a playoff favorite, 11-4 against southpaws, 5-1 with Darvish on the bump and 4-1 when he’s on the hill in Arlington.

Texas slugger Josh Hamilton became the 16th player in major league history to belt four home runs in a game, back on May 8, in a 10-3 win at Baltimore. Hamilton has 11 career blasts in 38 games against the Orioles.

Texas’ Nelson Cruz has batted an impressive .366 with six home runs and 30 RBI in 35 career games vs. Baltimore.

Baltimore is the only American League team Darvish did not face in the regular season.

The Rangers head into this one-and-out playoff game having lost nine of their last 13 games.