The American League East battle between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays is one of the most intriguing division-series matchups. The Red Sox led the majors in runs scored during the regular season; they have a ton of firepower in their lineup.
Even with all the bats the Red Sox have, David Ortiz’s play is going to be the difference in winning or losing against the Tampa Bay Rays. Boston was just 39-41 in games Ortiz didn’t drive in a run during the regular season.
Big Papi led the team in batting average, home runs and RBI. Slowing the Red Sox down begins with curtailing Ortiz.
The onus will fall on the Tampa Bay Rays' talented left-hander Matt Moore in Game 1. The Rays will be hoping he can set the tone.
This is just one of four division series set to begin Thursday and Friday. Take a look at the playoff bracket.
(1) Boston Red Sox vs. (5) Tampa Bay Rays
(2) Oakland Athletics vs. (3) Detroit Tigers
(1) St. Louis Cardinals vs. (4) Pittsburgh Pirates
(2) Atlanta Braves vs. (3) Los Angeles Dodgers
Each series has a catalyst whose performance will determine his team’s success or failure. Here’s a look at the one player(s) who will be most valuable in the other three series.
Both the Tigers and A’s have the types of rotations that can shut the opposing side down. Detroit led the majors in quality starts and the A’s were eighth. This series could very well feature three or more pitchers' duels.
If the starters cancel each other out, the bullpen depth could become the key to victory. A’s closer Balfour has 38 saves this season; he only blew three opportunities all year, but one of them came against the Tigers on Aug. 29.
If Balfour is shaky in this series, it will severely handicap the A’s ability to advance.
Likewise, the Tigers must get solid pitching from Joaquin Benoit. He struggled in the final week of the season. He blew two save opportunities in five days. If either of these teams has a late lead, the play of the closer will obviously be huge.
The playoffs are new territory for most of the Pirates. The team needs its superstar to be dynamic and impacting. Playing sound defense and being a factor on the basepaths would help to increase McCutchen’s impact on the series. The Pirates are 15-5 in games where McCutchen steals a base. In 18 games against the Cardinals, McCutchen didn’t swipe a bag and the team finished 9-9 against their NLDS foe.
McCutchen is a five-tool player. He needs to show his speed in the series against the Cardinals to be a difference maker.
Yasiel Puig has cooled off considerably since his mammoth start. He hit just .214 in September, and the Dodgers need another bat in the lineup to provide some pop. Adrian Gonzalez has been the team’s most consistent performer, but he needs protection in the lineup. Matt Kemp has been shutdown for the playoffs per Dylan Hernandez of The Los Angeles Times and Andre Ethier has been reduced to pinch-hit duty of late, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, so the Dodgers really need another hitter to step up.
Hanley Ramirez is a player the team should be able to count on. Ramirez has returned to his run producing ways in 86 games this season. He's clubbed 20 homer runs and driven in 57.
The Braves have the lowest team ERA in the majors. The more potent bats the Dodgers have on hand, the better. With Puig crashing down to earth, Kemp and Ethier out or limited, Ramirez needs to elevate his game even more to keep the lineup formidable.