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.