By announcing that Scott Kazmir will start game 5 instead James Shields, did Joe Maddon just leave the door open for the Sox to stage another ALCS comeback? While the Sox are not the same team they were in 2004 or in 2007, the move by Maddon is a questionable one for a few reasons.
Scott Kazmir has been terrible in the late part of the season. He finished with a 2-2 record in September, but had a 5.19 ERA and allowed 38 base runners in 25 innings. The playoffs have not been much kinder. He is 1-0 but has a 6.52 ERA and looked awful against the Sox. Combine September and October, and you have a starter that has, over 7 starts, struggled with 5.50 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and giving his team just 5 innings a start while surrendering 12 home runs. By starting Kazmir the Rays run the risk of not only allowing Boston to see a game 6, but you have the potential of jump starting an offense that has been anemic.
If it does go to a game 6 you will then have James Shields throw against Josh Beckett. There is something not right with Beckett, but like we saw 2004 with Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez in 1999, Beckett could go out there and gut it out for 7 innings as he, and the two mentioned, we battlers who could somehow win with their B and C stuff.
If Boston were to take game 6 and force a game 7, then you have Jon Lester on the mound for Boston. While he was roughed up against the Rays in game 2, he was very good against the Rays in the regular season, going 3-0 in 3 starts with a 0.90 ERA in 20 innings, 19 K and 6 walks.
While I don’t think we are going to see a repeat of 2004 and 2007, Joe Maddon has put himself in a precarious situation with this change in starters. True, Shields has been lights out at home, but in the playoffs, you don’t let teams hang around and you don’t say, "yeah, we may lose game 5, but it’s okay, we’ve got our man for game 6". Too many things can happen. What if he has to burn through his pen? What if the Sox bats get hot? Will they press in a game 6 thinking about how Boston has come back numerous times in the playoffs? Certainly, momentum would go back in Boston’s favor.
Now, of course, this all hinges on Boston winning game 5, and certainly Kazmir is as able to win a game as Dice-K is to lose a game–say nothing of the fact that Boston looks like an average team at best while the Rays look like world beaters–but Joe Maddon just may have left that door open.