The four days between the end of the regular season and the start of the Division Series Friday may seem like too much for the players, who are accustomed to the everyday nature of the regular season. Instead of playing day after day, the Sox have been trying to stay busy -- and sharp -- while they await the winner of the Cleveland-Tampa Bay wild card game.
It's far from ideal for the players, and the organization has taken steps to ensure that the same malaise that tripped up the 2006 Tigers, the 2007 Rockies and the 2012 Tigers doesn't take the Red Sox players off their game. While the players fidget, the down time has been a boon for others in the organization. In particular, the coaching staff, scouts and Baseball Operations department has used the time to focus on some baseball minutiae, in an effort to best prepare the players.
Over the course of the season, those resources were used to help the Red Sox become the second-most efficient defensive team in baseball, and to aid the Red Sox becoming as successful on the bases as any team in either league. The attention to detail goes on this week.
"I'm sure when these games start,'' said Jonny Gomes, "those guys are going to have every single [aspect taken care of]. Whatever happens, I don't think it's going to catch any of us off-guard. I think that just goes to show, from the coaching staff down, how much these guys pay attention to detail and how much every minute, every hour spent in this clubhouse is never wasted. It's [all about] preparation.'' Until this season, for instance, the Red Sox never deployed some of the extreme shifts put on for left-handed hitters, a positioning that has become the rule rather than the exception throughout the game.
But third base coach Brian Butterfield has made it his focus, and the organization's own metrics reveal that the shifts had saved nearly 10 runs through the first two-thirds of the season. One member of the organization, while noting that exact numbers are difficult to come by, estimated the shifts saved the Red Sox approximately a dozen runs over the course of the season.
Four Red Sox position players -- Dustin Pedroia; Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Jacoby Ellsbury - finished either first or second at their respective position in defensive runs saved, in part because of positioning. "A lot of that [data] is generated internally, by our coaches,'' manager John Farrell said. "Our prepration for the playoffs is going to more in depth. But it's not going to be drastically different from what we do for every series.''
Indeed, while most teams hold a meeting -- one for the pitchers, one for the position players -- at the start of each series in the regular season, the Red Sox hold pre-game meetings to game-plan before every series, striving for the most complete and up-to-date information. Just another facet that was improved because of advance scouting and preparation. "The game's changed because of technology,'' said Farrell, "so it behooves you to take advantage of what's available.''
The area most affected is baserunning. The Sox were third in stole bases and were thrown out the fewest times in the American League. When the season ended, the Sox had been successful in their last 39 attempts in a row, the best such streak for any team dating back to at least 1951. And it wasn't just Jacoby Ellsbury, who was 52-for-56 over the season. By the end of the year, the Sox were even using lumbering catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who swiped four in five tries, to run when the opportunity presented itself.
"What I've done over the past couple of days,'' said Torey Lovullo, who oversees much of the baserunning information,"is to watch video in my hotel room of the Cleveland pitchers I'm not so familiar with [the Sox haven't played the Indians since June 1]. I was also doing it with the Texas guys that we haven't seen in a while. Now, that shrinks. I'll wait until [we know who we're playing], but what [this week] has given me is more time, in a relaxed environment, to where I'm not getting distracted and I can focus. "What's good about it is, I know what kind of information these guys want and I can get really, really specific with it.''
On Thursday, there will be planning, and more meetings and details, all of it designed to give the players ever last possible edge and advantage. "It still comes down to the players,'' emphasized Farrell. With more than a little help from the coaches and scouts.
- Sean McAdam, CSN New England
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