In Saturday’s slate of interleague play, the Brewers-Red Sox game was intriguing not only for its matchup of two of baseball’s best left-handed starters in Jon Lester and Randy Wolf, but also because it could be a preview of this year’s World Series. The Red Sox own the American League’s best record, while the Brewers have been one of baseball’s hottest teams, going 26-13 in their past 39 games.
Boston won the series opener soundly Friday by a score of 10-4, but in the battle of the southpaws Saturday night, Wolf came out on top as the Brewers beat the Red Sox 4-2. It wasn’t for lack of trying by the Red Sox, who pounded out nine hits but managed only two runs. Milwaukee’s lineup managed to get the best of Lester early, with back-to-back home runs in the first inning belted by Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart, as well as another homer hit by former Sox George Kottaras in the third inning.
This matchup got me thinking more about left-handed players and the increasing reliance on them. For centuries, left-handedness was looked at as deviant -- the word “sinister” is derived from "sinistra," which means "left-handed" in Latin. Nowadays you’re more likely to find a parent trying to teach a kid to be a switch-hitter rather than forcing him to write with his right hand.
Approximately 10 percent of the population is left-handed, but lefties are disproportionately represented in the major leagues. A number of clubs have lefty or switch-hitting-heavy batting orders. In the American League alone, Boston, Cleveland, Seattle and Minnesota all come to mind immediately. Some of the game’s most dominant pitchers have been southpaws, both historically (Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Warren Spahn) and currently (Lester, David Price, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia).
In addition to the lefty-versus-lefty pitching matchup, another intriguing aspect to the game was the contrast of Boston’s lefty-heavy lineup, versus the strong rightward lean in Milwaukee. Boston had four lefty or switch-hitting batters in their lineup, a strategy that usually works well against right-handed pitchers but is no guarantee of success against lefties. Lester was 9-2 with a 3.73 ERA going into Saturday night’s game, but Milwaukee has done well against left-handed pitchers over the past several seasons. Whatever left-handed mojo Lester had working against AL teams didn’t seem to faze the Brewers’ lineup.
Boston got off to an infamously bad start this season, but has worked overtime to let all the Vegas bookies who gave them short odds to win it all this year know their predictions were not in vain. Meanwhile, perhaps the only thing standing between Milwaukee and their second pennant is the Philadelphia Phillies. The Brewers are 2-1 against the Phillies so far and won’t play them again until the beginning of September, but with Zack Greinke back from the DL, the Brewers’ chances of playing in October are looking better and better with every series.
Interleague play is sometimes looked at as a distraction, a chore, or a chance to play some games that your team doesn’t “have” to win. From 1997 to 2002, each team played against teams from their counterpart division (e.g., AL Central versus NL Central). Now teams play against teams from any division. I have never been a huge fan of interleague play. Growing up in an American League city, I loved the terra incognita feel of seeing the National League team for perhaps the first time during the World Series. It was like hanging out with the foreign exchange student in high school: Can you speak English? I like your uniform. Wow, pitchers bat where you come from?
As I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate interleague play a little bit more. The chance to see two teams who could likely face each other in the World Series is one of the happy coincidences of the expanded interleague schedule. If we do have a Brewers-Red Sox World Series, it’ll be fascinating to see how left-handed hitter David Ortiz fares against a team with two southpaws in its starting rotation. Over his career, Ortiz has been inconsistent in his performance against left-handed pitching. While he had the chance to see Wolf’s stuff Saturday, going 1-for-3 with a walk, he hasn’t faced southpaw Chris Narveson. In a seven-game series, he might have to face both of them.
I’m not sure if we could term the Red Sox sinistrophiles or not, but they did rely on their lefties up to the bitter end Saturday night, even sending in switch-hitting Drew Sutton -- batting lefty, of course -- as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. It didn’t produce the heroic ending they might have hoped for: Sutton grounded out to Prince Fielder who, yes, is also left-handed. Features like that get me to thinking it could be a very gauche World Series, in a manner of speaking.
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