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Five Other Things The Red Sox Need To Do To Go Deep In The Playoffs

With the 2018 regular season in the books and home field advantage clinched throughout the playoffs, the Red Sox have little to do now except to sit back, relax and recharge while the Yankees and A’s face off in the AL Wild Card Game.  This is not a new position for the Red Sox, though this year they do have the advantage of starting the playoffs at Fenway Park instead of on the road.  But home field advantage will not be enough for the Red Sox to finally get past the first round of the playoffs.  It will take a number of items to fall into place.

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The top five items that must go right for the Red Sox are obvious.  Chris Sale must return to some semblance of his mid-season dominance; David Price must overcome the ghosts of playoff past, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez each must rise to the bright lights where true superstars are made; and Craig Kimbrel must be the shutdown closer and anchor in an otherwise shaky bullpen.  If one or more of the previous items does not go happen, there is a good chance the Red Sox will not be hoisting the World Series Trophy at the end of the month.  But even if all of these work out, there are still five more things the Red Sox need to do to go deep in the playoffs.

1.       Flip the Switch

The Red Sox virtually clinched the AL East when they swept the Yankees in a four game series in Fenway in early August.  They hit a couple of minor bumps over the final two months of the season, but the Yankees did not have enough to mount a real challenge.  After formally clinching the East on September 20th, the Sox essentially went into spring training mode.  Over the final nine games, while routinely resting their regulars, the Red Sox appeared to lose a bit of their intensity.  They need to get that sense of urgency back.

After the Red Sox swept the Braves in Atlanta at the beginning of September, the Red Sox led the major leagues with a lofty .298 batting average with runners in scoring position.  Since that series, the Sox ranked 9th in the AL and 21st in the MLB in BA w/RISP at .235, a drop of nearly 65 points.  

While the games may have been meaningless, the players in those games needed to maintain a level of intensity, and often times it appeared they were only getting in their work.  The Red Sox came out flat in the two previous postseasons thanks to early clinches and David Ortiz retirement hangovers.  This year they need to find a way to quickly regain that edge once the playoffs start, because the Yankees and A’s were in playoff mode until the final weekend of the series.  It is hard to flip that switch back on after it’s been turned off.

2.      Get to Opposing Starters Early

Whether they face the Yankees or the A’s, the Red Sox will face a team that is loaded with strong arms at the back end of their bullpens.  The Red Sox will not have the luxury of taking a turn through the order to gauge what the starter is throwing.  While they should be familiar with the Yankee starters, this approach is even more critical against an Oakland team which the Red Sox have not seen since May, and that has the most dominant bullpen in the league.

3.      Starters Need to Go Deep

Conversely, the Red Sox need to get length out of their starting pitchers.  With the struggles of the middle relievers over the second half of the season, the group can’t be trusted to go three or four innings to get the ball to Kimbrel.  Starters not only need to pitch effectively, they need to pitch at least into the seventh inning.  With additional days off in the playoffs, pitch counts nearing 120 should not be a concern if (and that’s a CAPITAL IF for Sale) the starters are healthy.

4.      Starters Bailing Out The Bullpen

Based on the way Alex Cora utilized Eduardo Rodriguez over the final two weeks of the season, it appears he will be the starter moved to the bullpen for the playoffs.  Combined with Steven Wright, each could be called on to pitch multiple innings in relief to bridge the gap between the starters and Kimbrel.  Price may also find himself in the bullpen for a potential Game 5 in the ALDS to throw an inning if needed.  These starters could be a better option in the sixth, seventh, or even the eighth inning in favor of the incumbents Kelly, Hembree, Thornburg, Workman or Barnes, who are all basically the same pitcher and don’t feature a lefthander in the group.

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5.      Benny and Xander Must Show Up

The offense will revolve around Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, as it has all season.  Opposing teams will likely pitch around them and try to force someone else to beat them.  This is where Andrew Benintendi and Xander Bogaerts need to step up.  Neither has to dominate, but each of them must avoid falling in to slumps.  This is especially critical for Benintendi, who experienced a few prolonged slumps during the course of 2018.  Bogaerts quietly had the best season of his career in 2018, and the Red Sox will need that to continue through the playoffs.

BONUS: Kung Fu Panda 4

Pablo Sandoval was one of the worst free agent signings in baseball history.  He was a career .290 ish hitter who never hit more than 25 home runs in a season, yet was able to get a five year nearly $90 M contract out of the Red Sox.  Why?  Because he took his game to another level in the postseason and to an even higher level in the World Series.  Sandoval was a major contributor to three San Francisco World Series winning teams, and was named the World Series MVP in 2012.

How is this relevant to this year’s Red Sox playoff fortunes? A team that released an overweight, unproductive Panda after less than three years of a five year deal?  The Red Sox need someone, anyone, which you would not expect to get on a hot streak and ride it through the postseason.  Brock Holt has been this type of player over the past three weeks of the season.  Whether it’s Holt, Bradley, Devers, Moreland, Pearce or Kinsler matters not.  The Red Sox will need production from an unexpected source or two beyond Betts, Martinez, Benintendi and Bogaerts. 

A lot of things need to go right for any team in any sport to win a championship, whether they’ve won 108 games in a season or barely squeaked into the playoffs.  The Red Sox will need all of these things, and probably a few more, for there to be another parade down Boylston Street in November.

Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT.

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