The Boston Red Sox are balanced, deep and relentless. That’s the takeaway from their American League Division Series showdown with the Tampa Bay Rays, which Boston closed out with a 3-1 win Tuesday night. Shane Victorino and David Ortiz reached base 10 times apiece, in 18 plate appearances each, in the four-game set. Jacoby Ellsbury reached base 10 times, too, in 19 trips.
I’ve written already about Joe Maddon’s management of his pitching staff, certain lineup choices and the bad matchups the Rays had because of both the structure of the teams and the gauntlet Tampa Bay had to run in order to reach this series. On Tuesday night, though, Maddon managed the pitching staff exceptionally well. The series had settled down, and Tampa was no longer beleaguered by travel and frayed nerves. The Red Sox simply beat them.
Xander Bogaerts came off the bench to pinch-hit in the seventh inning, walked twice and scored twice. Boston ground out at-bats, to the tune of eight walks and two hit batsmen on the night. Even on a night when their right-handed sluggers all came up empty, the Sox reached base 16 times in 39 team plate appearances, which allowed them to push across three runs despite the parade of Rays relievers that came in to try to stop them.
The Sox’s starting pitching was fine, although not sensational, throughout the series. Their relief pitching is proving itself an asset, not a liability. In concert with that offense, their run prevention is more than adequate. The Red Sox are really, really good.
The Rays were good, too. Maddon got proactive in Game 4, yanking Jeremy Hellickson after six batters faced, getting two innings from Matt Moore on three days’ rest, emptying the bullpen to the tune of nine pitchers used. He did everything he could have done. The guys of whom he didn’t even require anything different from what they’d done all season—Jake McGee, Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney—just failed to hold off the Sox, and the offense managed just a single one-run rally on the evening.
Boston scored 26 runs in this series, and gave up 12. During the regular season, they outscored their opponents by 197 runs, the highest number in baseball. In fact, in the last 10 years, only the 2011 Yankees and the 2007 Red Sox outscored opponents by more. Their only notable injury absences are relief pitchers who wouldn’t even rate as high-leverage options for them at this point, Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan.
As this team gears up for the ALCS, keep in mind that it’s one of the best ones we’ve seen in years. The Rays might have been the toughest foe they could face, and it took a walk-off home run from Tampa’s back-up catcher—the first home run Koji Uehara had given up in over three months—for the series not to be a sweep. Both the Athletics and Tigers are strong teams, so the ALCS should be fun to watch, but the Red Sox have to be the favorites.Next post: Chicago Cubs: Profile Shopping for Managerial Candidates
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