Here is a quick preview of today's matchup. Sort of a Pre-GDT.
Yesterday was ugly. The weather, the offense, and the pitching were just ugly. But Baseball is a beautiful game and it's already time to put yesterday behind us and start looking towards tonight's game. This evening's contest will feature two of the best young left handed starters in the game: Scott Kazmir vs. Jon Lester.
Here is R.J.'s write up on Jon Lester.
Lester is a southpaw who saw his highest velocity average last year, hitting 92. Like Beckett, Lester relies on his fastball more than any other pitcher, but also throws a curve, a barely used change, and a cutter. Lester found far more success in the majors last year in part because of his ability to get first-pitch strikes nearly 60% of the time. Prior to 2008, Lester's career average was closer to 50%. By now I have a keyboard macro that features phrases like "improved" thanks to Lester, but here's another progression; Lester generated 48% groundballs last season, by far the most since at least 2006 including minor league stints. Lester was a pain in the Rays side most of last year thanks to his dexterity, we'll see if that continues.
The Rays struggled with left handed pitching in 2008; that's not a secret. This is why the Rays decided to bring Pat Burrell and Gabe Kapler into the mix. Kapler brings a career OPS of .828 against lefties, while Burrell boasts a .950 OPS vs. southpaws including a .540 SLG.
Lester is one of the best in the game so it will be interesting to see how these "lefty specialists" do today. Kapler has never faced Lester and Burrell is 0-3 with two strikeouts in limited action. Ben Zobrist will replace Gabe Gross in right field tonight with Kapler taking over for Matt Joyce in center. I'd imagine Willy Aybar could also get an at-bat vs. Lester if the situation called for it.
As for the Rays,"Kid K" Scott Kazmir will take the mound tonight. For the second straight year, Kaz will make his season debut vs. Lester and the Red Sox. Because of past success Kazmir has somewhat of a dragon slayer label when it comes to facing the Red Sox.
In 22 career starts, he is 6-7 with a 3.62 ERA vs. the Sox. He has 132 strikeouts in 119.1 innings. In Fenway, he is 4-4 with a 3.02 ERA which is the lowest among active opposing pitchers minimum 50 innings pitched. He has struckout 68 batters in Boston in 62.1 innings. His last Fenway start is a game we all remember; Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS. To Kaz's credit he did his job. He left the game after six innings of two-hit shutout baseball. We all know what happened after his exit.
With some feeling as if the Rays season hanging in the balance on April 8, 2009, it would be nice for all of us if Kazmir to have a great game. Of course the key will be the slider. We've beaten the topic to death only to revive it and beat it again. If Kazmir is going to get back to 2007 form, the slider is a necessity. It will be interesting to see how he mixes up his pitches tonight.