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.

Game 2 is going to be the poster child for pace of play arguments this winter

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Zach McAllister #34 of the Cleveland Indians is relieved by manager Terry Francona during the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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In August, it was reported that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred would like to implement pitch clocks, like those in use in the minor leagues for the past two seasons, to improve the pace-of-play at the major league level. You can bet that last night’s Game 2 will the lead argument he uses against those who would oppose the move.

The game was moved up an hour in order to get it in before an impending storm. By the time the rain finally started falling the game had been going on for three hours and thirty-three minutes. It should’ve been over before the first drop fell, but in all it lasted four hours and four minutes. It ended in, thankfully, only a light rain. The longest nine-inning game in postseason history happened a mere two weeks ago, when the Dodgers and Nationals played a four hour and thirty two minutes. There thirteen pitchers were used. Last night ten pitchers were used. Either way, the postseason games are dragging on even for those of us who don’t mind devoting four+ hours of our night to baseball. It is likely putting off more casual fans just tuning in for the Fall Classic.

It’s not all just dawdling, however. Yes, the pitchers worked slowly and a lot of pitching changes took place, but strikeouts, walks and the lack of balls in play contribute to longer games as well. We saw this both last night and in Game 1, which was no brisk affair despite each starting pitcher looking sharp and not working terribly slowly. Twenty-four strikeouts on Tuesday night had a lot to do with that. Last night featured 20 strikeouts and thirteen — thirteen! — walks. It’s not just that the games are taking forever; the very thing causing them to drag feature baseball’s least-kinetic forms of excitement.

But no matter what the cause for the slower play was — and here it was a combination of laboring pitchers, the lack of balls in play and, of course, the longer commercial breaks in the World Series — Manfred is likely to hold Game 2 up as Exhibit A in his efforts to push through some rules changes to improve game pace and game time. So far, the centerpiece of those efforts is the pitch clock, which has proven to be successful and pretty non-controversial in the minor leagues. It would not surprise me one bit if, at this year’s Winter Meetings in Washington, a rule change in that regard is widely discussed.

Kyle Schwarber is the feel-good story of the 2016 postseason

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after hitting an RBI single to score Ben Zobrist #18 (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Most baseball fans and even the Cubs had resigned themselves to most likely not seeing Kyle Schwarber in game action until spring training next year after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler back in early April. Schwarber suffered a fully-torn ACL and LCL in his left leg.

To the surprise of everyone, including manager Joe Maddon, Schwarber was cleared by doctors to play if the Cubs wanted to put him on the World Series roster. So they did. And, boy, are they glad they did it. In preparation, Schwarber saw over 1,000 pitches from machines and pitchers in the Arizona Fall League.

Schwarber essentially crammed for the final exam and unlike most students who do it, it has panned out well thus far. No one was expecting him to look outstanding against Indians ace Corey Kluber in Game 1, but in his first at-bat — his first in the majors since suffering the injury in April — Schwarber worked a 3-1 count before eventually being retired on strikes. Schwarber came back up in the fourth and drilled a Kluber sinker to right field for a two-out double.

In the seventh inning, facing one of the American League’s two scariest left-handed relievers in Andrew Miller, Schwarber worked a full count before drawing a walk. During the regular season, Miller walked exactly one lefty batter. Schwarber made it two. Schwarber would face Miller again in the eighth, going ahead 2-1 before ultimately striking out. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk and a double in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss. Considering the circumstances, that’s amazing.

Schwarber continued his great approach in Game 2 in what turned out to be a 5-1 victory. He struck out against Trevor Bauer in the first inning, but returned to the batter’s box in the third inning and singled up the middle to knock in the Cubs’ second run. Schwarber made it 3-0 in the fifth when he singled up the middle again, this time off of Bryan Shaw, to make it 3-0. Facing Danny Salazar in the sixth, Schwarber drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second base with two outs. Finally, he struck out against Dan Otero in his eighth-inning at-bat, finishing the evening 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and a walk.

But now, as the Cubs return to Chicago for World Series Games 3, 4, and 5 at Wrigley Field, they have to contest with National League rules, a.k.a. no DH. Will Maddon risk Schwarber’s subpar defense to put his dangerous bat in the lineup? Even if Schwarber is not put in the starting lineup, he can at least serve as a dangerous bat off the bench late in the game when the Indians send out their trio of relievers in Shaw, Miller, and closer Cody Allen. At any rate, what Schwarber has done already in the first two games of the World Series is mighty impressive.