Tiger's TaleThis would be quite an interesting test for Daisuke Matsuzaka as the young ace faced a tough lineup from the Central Division. Last year's AL Champs added Gary Sheffield to the mix, and have come out strong to start the 2007 campaign. Matsuzaka finally got his game back together in his last start, but the Tigers entered the game tied for 2nd in the Majors with 198 runs scored. The offense has carried the club after an astounding run of superior pitching last season. If you look at the Tigers numbers across the board, offense and pitching, they look exactly like the 2007 Yankees. Very very similar. The Yankees are under .500, while the Tigers are in 1st place in the Central with a 23-13 record. That's baseball.
Matsuzaka's day would be hard work according to the numbers, while the Red Sox could look forward to facing an underperforming Tigers staff. What would give?
After allowing a leadoff single to Curtis Granderson, Matsuzaka promptly began to mow down Tigers, retiring 8 in a row before meeting Granderson again. Daisuke has struggled with certain batters this season, while dominating others. In the Toronto contest, he couldn't seem to figure out Alex Rios who went 3 for 3 against him. Today Granderson continued that trend as he broke up the early string of outs with a home run. Matsuzaka's greatest strength on most nights this season has been his ability to mitigate damage, as he held Detroit in check otherwise. Comparing the pitching lines through 5 innings, it's noteworthy that Daisuke made one mistake to Granderson, but was fairly dominant otherwise. Nate Robertson gave up 11 hits to the Sox, but the Beantown Boys could only cash in on 3 runs. The numbers that we talked about at the start of this post held true to form with regard to Detroit's pitching. Either they're going to get it together soon, or their impressive record is going to head south a bit. As bad as the Yankees have been with the same basic results, the Tigers have played over their heads. Matsuzaka showed how good pitching against the Detroit lineup can allow a team to take advantage of the mediocre rotation.
It's interesting that Tito allowed Matsuzaka to come out for the 8th inning after finishing the 7th at 100 pitches. I was even more shocked to see the Sox allow Daisuke to go for the complete game victory. Something tells me that the Red Sox are going to increase Daisuke's pitch counts to keep him sharp. His routine in Japan was built on 10 years of conditioning, and changing him now seems dubious. He had 14 CG last season for Seibu and he can handle it. As long as the mechanics aren't falling apart late in games, injury is not really a concern. If he becomes an 9 inning pitcher for Boston from here on out...wow!
The most impressive part of Daisuke's outing was the lack of walks. His strikeout numbers weren't as dominant, but he worked relatively efficiently with A LOT of ground ball outs. The lack of baserunners via free pass helped him to work into the 9th inning and gave the Red Sox the opportunity they needed to scratch a few runs across against the Tigers. If the Red Sox hadn't scored those 4 runs in the 8th, something tells me it would have been Papelbon time. He was on his game today, and seems to have found his stride a bit more than during his rough times against the Yankees a few starts back. Daisuke allowed 2 baserunners after the 4th inning and went 1-2-3 in 4 separate innings, mainly inducing ground balls along the way. His final line was stellar at:
He lowered his ERA to 4.17 with his second straight dominating performance and it's noteworthy that eliminating the 3 tough starts from his season totals, Matsuzaka has posted the following results in 37 innings:
You can't take away things that have actually happened, so the Yankees games and the recent debacle against Seattle stand against his record. The results in the other 5 games look very strong though and are right in line with what he did in Japan. If he continues to put together starts like the ones on his good days, imagine what kind of results the Red Sox might enjoy by October.
Many people have asked me to write about the Japanese reaction to Hideki Okajima's performance so far. I think what he's done is beyond anyone's expectations on either side of the Pacific, but we have to note that Japanese relief pitchers have been the most successful players in the Majors Leagues throughout the migration of the last 10 years. Kaz Sasaki, Hidetoshi Hasegawa, Akinori Otsuka, Takashi Saito, and a handful of others have been unhittable at time from the bullpen and Okajima is following closely in their footsteps. "Okaji"'s numbers in Japan compare favorably with some of the most accomplished names on the Japan/MLB list of relievers, so it's not a complete surprise that he's been able to shut down opposing lineups. What is surprising is that he hasn't allowed a run since his debut, and has more strikeouts than innings pitched.
The Japanese are pleasantly surprised by his performance, and I think the best way to describe the mood is amused. Whenever people bring up the topic of Okajima's success for Boston, their is an air of pride mixed with a lot of grinning and head shaking. No one expects him to continue at this pace, as Japanese fans have memories of some of his struggles as well. People are generally enjoying the ride, wondering if and when it's going to get rocky. For my part, I think the league will catch up to Okajima at some point around the All Star break. His delivery is tough to pick up, but Major Leaguers watch a lot of video and they'll get around to hitting him. That said, he is a very good pitcher and I don't think that "catching up to him" means that he's going to fall apart or get rocked. I think he'll continue to be a rock in the Boston bullpen all year. Don't expect him to finish with a sub 2 ERA, but 2.50 is not out of the question.