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Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Lester, Price make pitches for postseason



US Presswire
Jon Lester (left) and David Price (right) attempt to pitch their teams into postseason play tonight.

The American League Wild Card race goes to the final day with the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays tied at 90-71. The Red Sox will turn to Jon Lester against the Baltimore Orioles (7 ET on ESPN) while David Price will pitch for the Rays at home against the New York Yankees (7 ET on ESPN3). If both teams are still tied after Wednesday, a one-game tiebreaker would be Thursday at Tampa Bay.

Since 1995, 13 different teams have clinched a playoff spot on the final day of the postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, not including regular season playoff games. The biggest September deficit ever overcome by a team that made the postseason was 8½ games by the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals, who went on to win the World Series. The Rays were nine games out of a playoff spot on Sept. 2.

The Red Sox actually entered September leading the AL East by 1½ games. They have since gone 7-19 (.269 win pct), and with one more loss, Boston will match the 1952 team (7-20) for the most losses in September in team history. According to Elias, the worst Sept/Oct winning percentage by a team that made the postseason was .375 by the 1998 San Diego Padres.

Story to Watch
Jon Lester is 14-0 with a 2.33 ERA in 17 career starts against the Orioles, including a win in his only start against them this season. Lester has made one career start on three days' rest – April 23, 2008 against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He allowed four runs, nine hits, two home runs and struck out one batter in five innings and did not factor in the decision.

Lester has struggled over his last three starts, going 0-3 with a 10.54 ERA. One problem has been his lack of success with his fastball and cutter, indicated by his opponent’s .448 BA against his fastball and .400 average against his cutter.

Key Stat
Red Sox starting pitching has struggled throughout September. Boston starters are 4-13 with a 7.28 ERA this month. They have made four quality starts (three ER or fewer in six or more IP) this month, but only one in their last 11 games, and it was by John Lackey on Sunday (six IP, three ER).

For Tampa Bay, David Price takes the mound against the Yankees. Price is 0-2 in five September starts, though he has a 3.03 ERA. He has allowed two ER or fewer in eight of his last nine starts. In his last seven home starts, Price is 0-5 with a 3.55 ERA. The Rays have scored a total of five runs in those five losses.

Against New York, Price has a 4.26 ERA in four starts this year. However, he has allowed just three ER in 15⅓ IP (1.76 ERA) in his last two starts against the Yankees.

Story to Watch
It will be interesting to see how much Price uses his changeup against the Yankees. During a four-start stretch in August, beginning with a win over the Yankees on Aug. 12, Price dominated, and much of the credit for that was given to increased usage of the changeup.

He got a season-high six outs with the pitch against the Yankees that day, then got seven outs with it in his next start, a win over the Red Sox.

In those starts, Price threw 18 percent changeups (one of every six pitches). The feeling was that the changeup would help make Price’s fastball even harder to hit, and it did. In his start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Aug. 28, Price threw changeups a season-high 21 percent of the time, but used the fastball as his out pitch, using it to net 10 strikeouts.

In that four-start stretch, Price beat the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays, and lost to the Detroit Tigers, finishing 3-1 with an 0.87 ERA.

However, in September, Price has gotten away from the changeup. He’s only thrown it 9 percent of the time, and in his most recent start against the Blue Jays (one in which Price was done in partly by his own bad fielding), he only threw two changeups. This month, Price is 0-2 with a 3.03 ERA.

Key Stat
Derek Jeter is 11-for-36 (.306) in his career against Price, including getting his 3,000th career hit on July 9.