The Boston Red Sox marched into the postseason with baseball's best record, the most runs scored in the regular season and the highest on-base and slugging percentages in the league. Boston then dispatched of the Tampa Bay Rays rather soundly in the ALDS, hitting .286 as a team and scoring 26 runs.
Somewhere between the end of the ALDS and the start of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers, the Red Sox offense disappeared. Boston's batting average has dipped an even 100 points through four games in the ALCS. It's .186.
They've scored only 10 runs in four games, but managed to win two of them. Their victories were a 6-5 walk-off in Game 2 (which included that instant-classic David Ortiz grand slam) and a 1-0 thriller in Game 3 (in which Mike Napoli hit that well-timed go-ahead dinger).
Considering their woes offensively, the Red Sox are actually in really good shape in the series, heading into Thursday's Game 5. If they can manage to get hot with their bats, they'll only need to win two more games to advance to the World Series. They could just as easily be in a three-game hole at this point.
If the Red Sox are going to turn things around — and they very well can — here are five things they'll need to do:
1. Get more production out of Big Papi. You might still be thinking "Wow. Grand slam. Postseason hero." But that game-changer from Game 2 is Ortiz's only hit in the ALCS so far. He's hitting .067 and has only managed two walks. (btw, go read this piece from Yahoo Sports' Nick Cotsonika about why Ortiz isn't sweating his slump).
2. Shane Victorino needs to limit his strikeouts. Victorino, the Red Sox's No. 2 hitter, has struck out seven times in the series. That's the same number as Mike Napoli, and Victorino's job isn't to take big hacks while trying to hit the ball out of the yard. Victorino hasn't walked yet in the series and only has one hit. Leadoff hit Jacoby Ellsbury has been Boston's top hit-producer so far — including four on Wednesday night — but having Victorino right after him, not producing, is hindering the Red Sox.
3. Do something about the left side of the infield. Between them, Stephen Drew and Will Middlebrooks have two hits in the series.They have only seven combined hits in the postseason, period. Manager John Farrell talked after Game 4 about shaking things up over, but didn't promise anything. Maybe Xander Bogaerts will spell one of them? Lineup shakeups are cool now, might as well.
4. Try to get some walks. In four games against the Rays in the ALDS, the Red Sox walked 20 times. Through four games in this series? Eleven. Not what a team that led baseball in on-base percentage wants to see. The Tigers have been pitching great, so this isn't as easy as going to the store and ordering "more walks, please." But in a series that's going to continue to be close, getting whatever base runners you can, especially when the other team is giving them to you, is crucial. Not to mention it puts more stress on those Tigers pitchers. Let's also remember that six of those walks came in Game 1 against Anibal Sanchez, who is also starting Thursday's Game 5. It might be time to preach patience at the plate.
5. More Daniel Nava. Nava isn't a "star" for the Red Sox, but he had a really good season. He hit .303/.385/.445, and that OBP is second to only Ortiz among the team's regular players. Nava wasn't an everyday player, but he did appear in 134 games and was fifth on the team in hits. Sounds like a guy to have in the lineup, right? Not necessarily. He's played in just two ALCS games, getting two hits and six at-bats. Need a spark? He might be one.
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