In the post-season, the little things -- and some big things, too -- mean a lot. That's particularly true in a best-of-five series, where a misstep or two can end the season prematurely. With that said, we look at three keys for the Red Sox as they open the American League Division Series with the Tampa Bay Rays Friday afternoon.
1) Stay true to their approach at the plate.
In 2012, in part because of injuries and the trade with the Dodgers, the Red Sox abandoned their habit of working the count and driving up pitch counts, finishing with an abysmal .312 on-base percentage. This season, they returned to what had worked for them -- seeing more pitches per at-bat, taking walks and making the opposing pitcher work. This will be particularly important in Game 1, when the Sox go up against Matt Moore. Moore can have some difficulty with his fastball command. In his final four starts of the season, he pitched beyond the fifth inning only once.
For most teams, middle relief is a soft spot, and the Rays are no different in that regard. If the Red Sox can wait out Moore and get him out of the game in the middle innings, they can have a crack at Tampa's less successful pitchers, and, in turn, impact the remainder of the series.
If the Sox prove to be too aggressive, on the other hand, Moore (and other starters) can go deeper into games and hand the ball to Joel Peralta and Fernando Rodney, the team's two most dependable relievers.
2) Keep the baserunning aggressiveness in check.
From the start of spring training, John Farrell stressed the need for the Red Sox to be "relentless" in every aspect of their game, down to on the bases. It worked, for the most part, from the very first game, as Jonny Gomes famously scored from second base on an infield groundout. But at times, the Sox got themselves into trouble attempting to take the extra base. They were enormously successful -- and efficient -- in their base-stealing, ripping off 39 straight steals at the end of the season. Even catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia got into the act, with four stolen bases in the final month of the season.
No one is suggesting that the Red Sox stop their aggressive approach, or alter what worked for them for the last six months. But he fact of the matter is, the post-season (italics, please) is (end italics) different. Each out is more precious. And the Rays are pretty good at containing the running game.
So it's one thing for Jacoby Ellsbury or Shane Victorino to run; they've been successful base stealers for a long time. But it could be foolhardy to push their luck by having others run at will, since that will lead to running into outs and taking themselves out of what could potetentially be a big inning.
3) Get length from their starters.
If the Red Sox have a weakness, it would be their set-up relief. Craig Breslow is the only truly dependable arm the Sox have in the eighth inning. Therefore, it behooves the Sox to get lots of innings from their starters, all of whom will be working with sufficient rest. If Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy can give the Sox seven innings, that limits the machinations Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves will have to go through.
With Koji Uehara set for the ninth -- and an out or two in the eighth, if necessary -- that leaves only two to three outs per game where the set-up crew risks the chance of being exposed. On the other hand, if the starters are only getting into the sixth and seventh, Farrell and Nieves will have to do a lot of mixing-and-matching to get those critical outs in the seventh and eighth innings.
The more streamlined the process is -- starter to Breslow to Uehara -- the better the chances the Sox advance.
- Sean McAdam, CSN New England
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