This Rays team seems to have snuck under the radar for the rest of the country, but he had a front row seat for this team all year. How would you best describe this team?
TERRY FRANCONA: Really good. Again, when you play a team in your division as much as we do, you see we've played them, I think, 18 games. And we saw firsthand why they had so much success.
For the past few years they were becoming very athletic, but at times we could get into the bullpen and maybe win some games where they were leading. That stopped this year. They built their bullpen from the back with Percival kind of anchoring in, and then you have Wheeler, Howell, Balfour doing what he's done, and their starters getting them deep into the game and being young and healthy. So that part, they're very strong.
Then their defense, they may be the best in baseball. They're athletic; they catch the ball. The ball usually ends up where it's supposed to. And then it allows them to have if it's not a prolific offense, and I'm not going to sit here and criticize their offense before we play them, but they've gotten contributions from all over the map offensively, and because of all the things I mentioned, turns them into one of the premier teams in the league.
Everybody knows about Daisuke's record on the road, but what does he have to do at home or away to be successful any time he goes out, and what are those things that you say to him, you need to do this in order to be successful, maybe go deep in the game?
TERRY FRANCONA: Well, I won't say anything to him. John will have, and Tek and the catchers, will have their meeting as they always do.
But I think you're kind of stating the obvious. If you pound the strike zone, if you get to 1 1 pitches and execute strikes, if the count is 1 0 during the majority of the game, it's amazing how the pitchers have to start respecting other pitches. You're working behind the count and then they're able to sit on pitches; they become more dangerous, and all of the sudden, singles turn into doubles and home runs.
He's been able to more often than not when he's pitched behind and walked and put runners on base, he hasn't given up a lot of hits. There's been a couple different formulas for winning, and they've been different. But the final result is that he's won a heck of a lot more than he's lost.
You said that the Rays have one of the best defenses in baseball. How do you assess that? Is that just a visual assessment, or how do you judge good defense, and how would you describe your own defense?
TERRY FRANCONA: Well, you go around their infield: Longoria, Bartlett, Pena, they're Gold Glove caliber. They're good. Navarro is good. Their outfielders, the ball doesn't hit the turf very much. They can run, and they're not flashy, you know what I'm saying, where it's not like you're looking at highlight reels and then they don't make the routine plays. They make the highlight reel plays, and they make the routine plays. They're very good defensively.
I think we're good, too. I know our record indoors isn't very good. I think a couple years ago there was a reason for that because we could become a plodding team. I don't think that's a case now. I think we're good defensively.
How would you describe Jed Lowrie's play this year and his development on this team?
TERRY FRANCONA: Maybe a little bit quicker than everybody anticipated. You know, he got forced into an everyday role when Julio went down, and for the first, I don't know, maybe six weeks, I mean, he was very productive. Every time we looked up, he was hitting with the bases loaded and getting big hits and driving in runs.
And then he went through the normal growth process that all young kids do, second time through the league, the league started making adjustments. But the one thing he's always done through the whole thing is he's always caught the ball, and the game's never sped up; he's never gotten overwhelmed when he was going through a tough time. He didn't doubt himself. He's done a really good job for us.
In a position where if he didn't, then all of a sudden Lugo's injury becomes a little bit more glaring.
Last year the Rays were last in the league. This year they came out first. Playing against them this season, what kind of difference have you seen with them that made that change for them?
TERRY FRANCONA: Evidently my first answer wasn't good enough? (Laughter). I thought I just kind of said it.
Again, they're very athletic. They've always been athletic the last couple years, but now with the pitching staff and the defense and the timely hitting, actually I did just answer that I thought I answered it really good.
They're a good team. Maybe they got better than everybody else -- or quicker than everybody else anticipated, but that doesn't really matter to us. They got better, they stayed better, and it's exciting for baseball because now you have another team that's kind of got involved, especially in the east, not necessarily exciting for the Red Sox, because it makes our division a heck of a lot tougher. You go against the Yankees, Toronto, Tampa Bay, you beat the heck out of each other a lot.
Your team has got obviously a lot of experience playing here in this building. Despite that, is it still odd to play here between the crowd and the noise and the catwalks and the roof and everything that comes with it?
TERRY FRANCONA: You know, I hear a lot of people complaining about this building. I don't know if I'm one of them. I think they've actually done a pretty good job of making this into a baseball stadium.
Catwalks aside, the dugout is good; you can watch the game. It might be the best clubhouse in baseball. Hopefully the catwalks don't come into play, or if they do, it's not a controversial play that can affect the outcome of the game. That's one of the concerns that I'm sure nobody wants to have happen.
But other than that, actually I don't mind playing here at all. I think they've done a pretty good job.
Have you made any decisions with the roster, first round?
TERRY FRANCONA: We can go over that. Nothing is official yet because it doesn't need to be, but we have spoken to all the players. We'll go with an 11 man staff. Timlin is added. We're still going to go with the three catchers.
So with the people that we have here, the guys that won't be on will be Bailey, Van Every, Carter and Velazquez. Now, again, if somebody trips over something during the practice, we certainly have a right to make a change, but that's probably what we're going to do.
Just one more follow up to that. How do you think your lineup will vary? Are you going to go with Youk at third, or will you mix and match a little bit, or how is that going to play out?
TERRY FRANCONA: We'll probably mix and match a little bit. Youk is probably going to play the majority at third. But again, things change when you don't know they're going to change. Youk will play third tomorrow, and we'll go from there.
A lot of pitchers pitch well at home. What do you see from Daisuke that enables him to have that success on the road?
TERRY FRANCONA: You know, he's 18 3, so he's had success both places. But I think you'd be better off asking him. I guess some of it is I don't think he cares where he pitches. Not necessarily that he'd prefer to pitch on the road, but he doesn't mind it. He's able to shut out some of the things on the periphery and just able to concentrate on pitching.
But I know he's had a lot of success and we certainly hope that continues. But I don't know if I could give you one reason why.
There is a lot of confidence in competing well against you guys and it feels like a rivalry to them. Does it feel the same way to you? I know the Yankees are going to be on the top of the intensity scale as far as your match ups, but how do the Rays match up?
TERRY FRANCONA: I hope you're incorrect there. I hope when we're playing Tampa, the intensity is whoever we're playing is who we feel like we should be playing, without regards to whether or not I would call it a rivalry, I don't feel it's important.
When we're playing Tampa, we want to beat Tampa. When we're playing New York we want to beat New York. That's how we always view it. Whether fans get more revved up or the media, it really doesn't matter. Who we're playing is what's important.
You said last week how difficult it was to leave Mike Timlin off the roster. How nice was it to go to him and say, you're on this roster, but also what he brings to the table as far as the pitching staff is concerned?
TERRY FRANCONA: Well, I think we felt like in a potential seven game series, you need to have the other pitcher. Get yourself into a little bit of a bind if you don't.
It is certainly a lot more fun to give somebody good news than it is the other way. And he's very deserving. I mean, he's been doing this for a long time. I don't know how he will fit in this where he will pitch, when. We certainly don't know how the games are going to go beforehand. But I know there was a comfort level putting him on the roster.
How does it feel as a manager, not only to have one of the biggest payrolls in the game, but to have a farm system that keeps producing talent for the last two or three years, and it's had an impact on your ballclub? Why do you think that is?
TERRY FRANCONA: Well, the reason our payroll is where it is is because our owners are very generous, which we appreciate.
Our farm system, our guys have done a great job, and I know, when you hear them talk about getting draft picks, I know they get excited. And again, I wasn't here when Theo first took over, but I know one of the things he talked about was having a farm system that you could go to. Our scouts have done a very good job. Our player development people have done a great job.
Having guys not just ready to play in the big leagues but ready to help Boston win because we've been very young at times this year, and it hasn't set us back one bit. It's actually been pretty enjoyable.
In football, a lot of people look at the NFC East as like a black and blue division. When you have two teams when the AL East meet in the ALCS, what does it say about the competition of the division? I know you touched upon that. Could you expand on that?
TERRY FRANCONA: You kind of lost me on the NFL East. It means that we beat Anaheim and they beat Chicago.
Other than that, I don't know. I mean, I kind of alluded to it earlier. I think our division is very good. I don't know of winning percentages. I'll bet you the AL East is probably right up there with -- it might be the best, I don't know. You could correct me.
But I know that when we play each other, we beat each other up a lot. And to come out with the wins we did, we know how hard it was to arrive at our win total. They ended up being better. We pushed them, we pushed them, they pushed back, we could never overtake them. Now is our chance to overtake them.
Courtesy of FastScripts by ASAP Sports. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.