Division Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox - Game One

Are there any holes to be punched in these Red Sox?


With the ability to start David Price twice and Alex Cobb once in the next four games, the Rays aren’t sunk after dropping Game 1 to Boston on Friday. The Red Sox, though, seemed pretty unbeatable today with the offense in sync despite four days off and Jon Lester limiting the damage besides a couple of solo homers.

So where are the weaknesses?

Lineup: Boston’s has baseball’s strongest lineup top to bottom, leading the majors in runs scored by 57 (853 to Detroit’s 796). Eight of the nine starters today had OPSs of .770 or better. The only guy who didn’t, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, came in at .805 in 145 at-bats after returning to the majors in August. The minor flaw is that the Red Sox were weaker against lefties, posting a .751 OPS compared to an .818 mark against righties, though that didn’t hurt them today against Matt Moore.

Defense: Second baseman Dustin Pedroia and right fielder Shane Victorino excepted, the Red Sox are more solid than spectacular. Still, Jonny Gomes in left field is the only liability, and he’ll be out of the lineup in favor of Daniel Nava once the series switches to Tampa Bay with the bigger left field in The Trop.

Baserunning: Incredible. Including today’s two, the Red Sox have been successful on an amazing 42 straight steal attempts. With the plodders in the middle of the lineup, the Red Sox aren’t so great at going from first to third or first to home on doubles, but they haven’t made many miscues lately.

Rotation: The Red Sox’s rotation doesn’t match up to Detroit’s, but there also no weak links in a group that includes Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy. While there probably won’t be any postseason shutouts from that group, there also shouldn’t be many early exits. Combined, those four guys had six starts of less than five innings this year, with two of those coming because of injury.

Bullpen: Boston’s biggest flaw would seem to be its vulnerability in the seventh and eighth inning of games. Koji Uehara has been amazing in the closer’s role, but Junichi Tazawa has struggled to serve as the bridge, leaving Craig Breslow as the primary setup guy. A big key to Boston’s postseason hopes could be Ryan Dempster stepping up and assuming a setup role; he pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings after moving to the pen last month and he finished up with a scoreless ninth today.

There are no juggernauts in this year’s postseason, but the Red Sox, with home-field advantage for the duration, would seem to be the best bets to fake it for a few weeks, especially since the frequent off days will lead to a more liberal usage of Uehara in the eighth. Then again, what if their surest thing isn’t so sure? Uehara was arguably the game’s most valuable reliever this year with his 1.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts in a career-high 74 1/3 innings of work. However, his postseason ERA stands at 19.29 because of the three homers he allowed in three appearances for the Rangers two years ago. If he lets the Red Sox down this month, there may be no coming back.

The Cubs’ NLCS finish was one for the history books

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Chicago Cubs fans hold a sign after the Chicago Cubs defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Cubs obliterated the Dodgers in Game 6 of the NLCS, riding nine shutout innings to their first pennant win since 1945. Here’s what you should know about their historic finish:

  • By virtue of the Cubs’ 71-year World Series drought, Jon Lester and Javier Baez became the club’s first and only postseason MVPs in franchise history. The World Series MVP award was first distributed in 1955, while the NLCS MVP awards have been issued since 1977.
  • Lester and Baez are also the first co-MVPs of the Championship Series since the 1990 Reds celebrated left-hander Randy Myers and right-hander Rob “Nasty Boy” Dibble following the team’s ninth pennant win (per MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch).
  • Anthony Rizzo’s fifth inning solo shot in Game 6 tied him with Miguel Cabrera, Alex Gonzalez, and Kyle Schwarber for the most postseason homers hit at Wrigley Field, with three (per Comcast SportsNet’s Christopher Kamka).
  • Rizzo and Willson Contreras’ home runs were the first Clayton Kershaw had given up in the playoffs since Game 4 of the 2015 NLDS. The twin blasts also accounted for a fifth of the total home runs Kershaw had given up in 2016.
  • Clayton Kershaw’s Game Score of 33 was not only the lowest the left-hander had put up since the start of the 2015 season, but the lowest the Cubs had seen from an opposing pitcher in the postseason since 1989. During Game 4 of the 1989 NLCS, Giants’ right-hander Scott Garrelts pitched 4 2/3 innings with eight hits, four runs, and two homers en route to a 6-4 loss and a 33 Game Score.
  • By contrast, Kyle Hendricks’ Game Score of 86 was the third-highest among Cubs’ postseason starters, ranking just below Jake Arrieta’s 11-strikeout complete game during the 2015 wild card tiebreaker and Orval Overall’s three-hitter in Game 5 of the 1908 World Series.
  • The last major league season to feature an ERA leader on the Cubs’ roster was 1945, also the last season in which the Cubs rode to the World Series. In 2016, the MLB ERA leader is Game 6 winner Kyle Hendricks (2.13 ERA); in ‘45, it was left-hander Ray Prim (2.40 ERA), who capped a dominant year with a loss against the Tigers in Game 4 of the World Series and blown save in Game 6.
  • Not to be overlooked in the lefty’s gem on Saturday night: Hendricks and Aroldis Chapman combined to face the minimum number of batters, at 27. According to MLB Stat of the Day, only the 1956 Yankees had also faced the minimum batters in a postseason game, though they did it with just a bit more panache.
  • With Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Albert Almora Jr., Javier Baez, and Addison Russell penciled into the lineup, the Cubs became the first MLB team to utilize five starters under 25 years old to clinch the NLCS (also via MLB Stat of the Day).
  • If you want to talk postseason drought, the Cubs-Indians World Series will set a precedent for combined championship-less streaks, at 174 years between the two clubs (per ESPN Stats & Info).
  • Speaking of unpleasant streaks, there’s this: with the Dodgers’ loss in the NLCS, they’ve now gone to the postseason four consecutive times without participating in a World Series showdown. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, that’s a first in major league history.


The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder: