If you saw Oakland A’s ace Tim Hudson yawning on the mound last night, it wasn’t because he was bored. Barry Zito was probably rubbing his eyes while Ted Lilly popped some NoDoz in the dugout.
They’re just a little tired, that’s all. How would you sleep at night knowing that you’ve got to face Boston’s lineup? It’s like begging the crypt keeper to come give you nightmares—though he’d be wearing a Red Sox uniform instead of that hooded black robe.
Boston boasts the No. 1 offense in the league, with a .289 batting average and .492 slugging percentage. The Sox have scored 961 runs, 67 more than No. 2 Toronto. Eight players have over 80 RBI, and seven of those eight have 19 home runs or more.
“If you look at their lineup from top to bottom, they’re tough,” said Hudson, Oakland’s Game 1 starter, in a news conference on Tuesday. “There are no holes throughout their lineup. You have guys that can slug you. You have guys that are good situational hitters, they have guys that can run. They have a lot of weapons up and down their lineup.”
Boston has the AL batting champion in Bill Mueller—who will likely hit eighth, no less—and two MVP candidates in Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. Mueller finished the regular season hitting .327, just one percentage point ahead of Manny. Manny hit 36 home runs, while David Ortiz came out of nowhere—well, fine, Minnesota—to belt 31 home runs.
You know it’s going well when Nomar is fourth on the team with a .301 average along with 28 homers and 105 RBI.
Oakland has great pitchers, but they’re going up against one of the best offenses in baseball history. The A’s also have a tiny problem of choking in the playoffs (witness the last three years) and haven’t won a series since 1990.
Lefty Mark Mulder, who has been out since suffering a stress fracture in his hip in August, had the lowest ERA among Oakland’s starters in the 2002 playoffs at 2.08. The next lowest was Zito’s at a less-than-stellar 4.50, and he’s been nowhere near Cy Young form this year.
Lilly, who enjoyed success in September, got rocked in the 2002 postseason, surrendering six earned runs in 4 1/3 innings for a 13.50 ERA. Hudson, who two-hit Boston in August, went 0-1 in two starts with a 6.23 ERA in last year’s playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Sox pitchers have little to worry about since Oakland is ranked eighth in the AL in slugging (.417), ninth in runs scored (768) and 12th in batting average (.254). Against the Sox this year, the A’s hit .224 with a .375 slugging percentage.
Plus, Boston’s got Pedro going in Game 1, and he’s sick in the playoffs with a 1.13 ERA in four postseason games. He came out on the short end of the stick in Hudson’s shutout, so you can expect some fire in his belly when he gets the ball.
“He’s the best I’ve seen him in two years right now,” Boston manger Grady Little said on Tuesday. “There’s no one else we would rather have on the mound.… He’s better than he was the last time because of his knowledge. His preparation for our particular game is second to none, and right now physically he’s as good as I’ve seen him.”
Little has said that he’s not averse to throwing Pedro in Game 4, meaning the A’s have the lovely choice of being swept or facing him twice.
Derek Lowe, Boston’s Game 3 starter, dominated Oakland with a 1.64 ERA in two starts this year. True, watching Boston’s bullpen is not for the faint of heart. But remember, the Sox have won 95 games with that pen this year, so it can’t be that bad.
Anyway, who needs a bullpen when you’ve got a lineup that has its own pitchers tossing and turning at night?
“I don’t want to be traded, but if I do get traded, trade me to the National League because I don’t want to face these guys,” Sox reliever Alan Embree said on Tuesday.
Boston’s hitters are lights out—now who’s afraid of the dark?
—Staff writer Brenda E. Lee can be reached at email@example.com.