Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Red Sox-Rays Breakdown

The Boston Red Sox, proud owners of the best record in the American League, are moving on to the ALCS. As for the Tampa Bay Rays, winners of four straight elimination games before last night's defeat, their season is finally over.

Just one day after losing Game 3 of the ALDS in heartbreaking fashion (to Jose Lobaton, of all people), the Red Sox rebounded to win Game 4 by a score of 3-1 and take the series. They won behind a stellar pitching performance from Jake Peavy (5 and 2/3 innings, one run allowed, no walks), great bullpen work from Craig Breslow and opportunistic offense that scraped together three runs on Joel Peralta's wild pitch, Shane Victorino's infield single and Dustin Pedroia's sacrifice fly.

Even on a night when Boston's bats were quiet (six hits--all singles) they still created lots of traffic on the bases via eight walks and a pair of hit batters.  The Sox struggled to capitalize on their many scoring opportunities, leaving 10 men on base which, had they lost, would have been incredibly frustrating. Thankfully, three runs proved to be enough.

But Boston also owes plenty of credit to the Rays, who shot themselves in the foot with numerous defensive mistakes throughout the series. When you keep gifting extra outs and baserunners to the best offense in baseball, you're going to pay the price. It was strange to see Tampa Bay's typically airtight defense unravel like that, and you have to wonder if the Rays would have another game to play tomorrow had they been able to execute in the field.

Then again, it's not entirely fair to pin their first round exit solely on the miscues of Wil Myers, David DeJesus, and co. Tampa's vaunted starting rotation tanked, with Matt Moore and David Price stinking up the joint in Boston and Jeremy Hellickson lasting just six batters into Game 4. But even if they had pitched better, Tampa Bay still would have been hard-pressed to win given struggles at the dish. The Rays scored 12 times in the four games, primarily because they got next to nothing from their three best hitters. Myers went 1-for-16 with a .243 OPS, Evan Longoria did nothing outside of his three-run homer in Game 3 and Ben Zobrist had just two hits in the series.

The bottom line is that everything that could go wrong for Tampa Bay did go wrong, all at the worst possible time. Their top hitters slumped, their aces got shelled, and their fielders made costly errors. Even Joe Maddon, a tactical genius and probably the smartest manager in baseball, made some questionable moves (such as riding Price too long in Game 2 or letting Fernando Rodney anywhere near these ballgames). But that's the downside of playoff baseball and small sample sizes in general. Every mistake is magnified. There's no margin for error.

While it's true the Rays didn't do themselves any favors, it's also important to remember that the better team won. The Red Sox were clearly the superior team over the course of the regular season, and they proved that again here in the ALDS. Boston didn't commit any errors. Every starter made it into the sixth inning. The bullpen allowed just two earned runs in 11 innings of work. Their lineup scored 26 runs in four games against one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and did so with only two home runs (both off the bat of David Ortiz in Game 2). The Sox, successful in six of their seven stolen base attempts (with the lone CS coming on a botched hit-and-run), were smart and aggressive on the basepaths.

Boston is a ballclub that can hurt you in a lot of ways. Whoever wins Game 5 in Oakland tomorrow night will find that out soon enough.

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