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Red Sox Winning in Unexpected Ways

In the Bizarro Baseball World of 2018, the only thing that we should expect on the field is the unexpected.  Relievers are starting games.  Starters are pitching in relief.  The game we know is changing right before our eyes.  Up is down.  Left is Right.  Hello means goodbye. 

Photo courtesy of bostonglobe.com

The Red Sox may not be using any of their relievers to start games, but they have hardly made their way through the postseason by conventional means.

Imagine if you had just returned from being out of touch with modern civilization for the past week.  You may have been on an ocean cruise or mountain retreat in a region without cell service or other contact with the outside world.  Now imagine you returned and inquired about the results of the Red Sox – Astros American League Championship Series and were told the following.
  • ·        The series lasted only five games.
  • ·        The Red Sox lost the first game at home.
  • ·        J.D. Martinez batted .278 with only 3 RBIs.
  • ·        Mookie Betts slashed .217/.280/.304.
  • ·        Andrew Benintendi slashed .208/.208/.292.
  • ·        Red Sox catchers were only 2/15 in the series, and the second basemen were only 3/20 with 7 strikeouts.
  • ·        Chris Sale lasted only four innings in the first game with his fastball sitting in the low 90s.
  • ·        Sale was hospitalized with a stomach ailment that caused him to miss his scheduled start in Game 5, forcing David Price to start on only three day’s rest.
  • ·        Rick Porcello allowed 4 earned runs in only 4 innings pitched in his lone start.
  • ·        Craig Kimbrel walked four, gave up four hits and allowed four runs in four innings pitched.
Taking all of the above into consideration, you would probably think the Red Sox had once again been bounced from the postseason by the defending champs.  Instead, they are four wins away from their fourth World Series Championship in the past 14 years.

First year manager Alex Cora is running this team with all the guile and savvy of a seasoned veteran, and hardly looks overwhelmed by the pressure of the postseason.  Virtually every button he has pushed in the latter half of the season and in the playoffs has paid dividends.  He has utilized starters Porcello, Sale and Nathan Eovaldi to pitch in the eighth inning in high-leverage hold situations to supplement a bullpen that has been surprisingly good after struggling over the final month of the season.

Utilizing starters to pitch in relief in the playoffs is nothing new.  But in the past this has traditionally happened when a dominant ace returns to pitch an inning or two or three in a Game 7.  Using a third or fourth starter in a Game 1 or Game 2, who is slated to start a game later in the series, is somewhat unusual and may be unprecedented.  Look for this trend to continue in the World Series, though now that Cora has utilized this tactic in both the ALDS and ALCS, the element of surprise has been negated.

Cora has also done a masterful job of juggling players at first base, second base, third base, and catcher, playing match-ups and/or going with the hot bat.  A perfect example of this occurred in the final game of the ALCS when Cora chose to go with Mitch Moreland, who has been nursing a hamstring injury since the first game of the ALDS, over Steve Pearce, who had been performing well and producing both offensively and defensively.  Moreland got the nod thanks to his good numbers against Astro starter Jason Verlander, and Moreland produced with a pair of hits in the clinching game.

Finally, which of the following is the better feel good story – David Price winning his first postseason game as a starter, or Jackie Bradley, Jr. winning the ALCS MVP trophy? 

Give credit to Price.  He continued to take the ball when Red Sox fans everywhere were ready to drive him to Logan after he lasted only 1 2/3 innings in his start against the Yankees in the ALDS.  Whether as a sign of confidence, or because he had no real alternative, Cora stuck with Price as the number two starter.  After the Red Sox lost Game 1 of the ALCS, Price battled the Astros in what amounted to a must win Game 2 for the Red Sox.  But the dark cloud continued to hang over Price when Cora pulled him with the lead before he could finish the fifth to have a shot at his first postseason win as a starter.  Price stunned us all in the clincher, and is slowly earning the admiration of Red Sox fans with the class by which he has handled himself along the way.

Speaking of perseverance, has anyone demonstrated it this season more than Bradley?  His offensive struggles during the season were epic.  Bradley turned it around over the second half and batted a respectable .269 after the All-Star Break.  Though Bradley batted only .200 in the ALCS, going 3 for 15, he certainly made the most out of those three hits.  A bases loaded double, a grand slam, and a two run homer, all in the latter innings and with two outs, produced nine RBI and blew open close games.  Timing is everything in life.

Random Thoughts - World Series Edition

The Red Sox have fooled the prognosticators so far (this author included) by getting through the first two rounds without major contributions from either of their MVP candidates or their ace pitcher.  Can we expect that trend to continue?  The Sox have been bailed out so far by the clutch performances of Bradley, Devers and Eovaldi, but the superstars need to step up at some point and come through with a big hit or shutdown mound performance.

Now that we have reached the World Series, the network coverage will switch from the cable outlets of TBS and FS1 to the Fox Network.  Broadcasters Joe Buck and John Smoltz are a solid team and generally present the game with a mix of professionalism, enthusiasm and neutrality.  However, with the World Series also comes a nation of viewers who are casual fans at best and may not have seen either team play all season. Because of this, we will be subjected to rehashing of otherwise well-known factoids, such as the fact that Mookie Betts is a world class bowler and has bowled several perfect games.  You can also be certain that it will be mentioned at least once that Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen was an undrafted free agent catcher who converted to pitching when he was unable to hit in the minors.

With the Red Sox unable to utilize the DH in the National League park, either Bradley or Benintendi will be the odd man out to keep Martinez’ bat in the lineup.  Mookie Betts has been working out at second base, fueling speculation that Cora may be considering playing Betts there in the games in Los Angeles.  Betts is one of the best right-fielders in the game, and while his offense has not been up to par so far in the postseason, his defense factored significantly into the ALDS.  Hopefully his infield workouts are only gamesmanship on the part of the Red Sox, or preparation for emergency late inning switches.

Don’t be surprised if Steven Wright is added to the playoff roster.  With potential double switches in the National League park, additional pitching depth may be needed.  The question is, who is left off to make room for Wright?  Blake Swihart has made only cameo appearances so far, and would appear to be the guy on the outside looking in.  Or he may end up as the World Series MVP.  I just don’t know anymore.


Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_BSoT.

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