The Big MomentThis is why the Red Sox paid $100 million. Daisuke in the playoffs. Frankly, it's the reason the Yankees spent unfortunate wads of money on Roger Clemens too. Of course you need the horses to get there, but the post-season is all about pitching, and not just pitching, dominant pitching.
This is a very big spot for Matsuzaka. He was shaky in the playoffs for Seibu over the years, but made his last start in a short series between the Lions and the SoftBank Hawks where he was matched up against Kazumi Saito. He won the game 1-0, and was absolutely unhittable all night long. That's what the Red Sox would like from Daisuke. One of the keys to this particular performance is the ability of Matsuzaka to get the Sox to the 8th inning with the lead. If he can go 7 strong, Boston can go to one of the setup men with the knowledge that Papelbon is available for 6 outs if need be. That's huge. That's the gift that Beckett bestowed upon his mates when he pitched the complete game shutout.
For his part, Daisuke will be facing the Angels for the first time. He has had his greatest success against ball clubs in their first hacks against him, so it bodes well. The only drawback is that I think Francona should have saved him for Game 3 in Anaheim. Matsuzaka's road numbers are better than his home19-5 record splits and he won the WBC MVP on the mound in Southern California. It probably makes no difference.
One piece of business is a quick peak at my pre-season projection for Matsuzaka, based on past performance and established translation methods. I ran two different sets of numbers in doing my analysis, the 2005 Seibu stats and last season's 2006 numbers. Here are my attempts and the real thing (keep in mind, I always said that the ERA projection was a run too low):
In retrospect, it would have been wiser to project Matsuzaka based on his 2003, 2004, and maybe 2005 numbers for this season. By 2005 and 2006 in Japan he had established a rhythm which allowed him to dominate everyone he faced. Prior to 2005, he was still figuring things out, as he was this season in Boston. You can see that the MLB numbers aren't terribly skewed from his 2005, but are quite a distance from the projection based on last season. What the two projections I provided may tell you, is that Matsuzaka has the upside to be what I have given you...again add a run to that ERA. I'm hoping you'll see Daisuke keep it together all season in 2008 and give you at least a 3.70 ERA, if not lower.
The game tonight is a tough one. I'm going to continue following my guts with my predictions. To the annoyance of some readers, I make my guesses by guts and a little feel for this player. I don't go through the trouble of real metrics-based crunching. I don't have time for it to be honest. I've been pretty good so far this year and will bring you an added up tally of every prediction to compare to the actual numbers. That will be fun. Here's the prediction: