Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Keys to Each Team Winning ALDS Game 3

Ely Sussman@@MrElyminatorCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2013

Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Keys to Each Team Winning ALDS Game 3

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    The Tampa Bay Rays head home to Tropicana Field for Game 3 of the ALDS gasping for life as the Boston Red Sox try to complete a series sweep. Monday's victory will most likely go to the team that recognizes the following keys and adjusts its game plan accordingly.

    Changes in venue and probable starters account for the differences between these make-or-break factors and those that we emphasized prior to Game 1 and Game 2.

    However, as is the case for every playoff matchup, responsibilities lie with the competing pitching staffs, position players and managers. May the advantage go to whoever reads more Bleacher Report prior to the first pitch at 6 p.m. ET!


    *Stats provided by and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

Boston Red Sox: Clay Buchholz Returning to Form After Extended Rest

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    Starting pitchers are creatures of habit. Barring issues with health or overall effectiveness, they expect to take the mound on four or five days' rest, and they condition themselves accordingly.

    However, the spread-out scheduling of the MLB playoffs changes everything.

    As a result, right-hander Clay Buchholz will pitch on Monday after nine days of idleness.

    For comparison's sake, John Lackey was on 10 days' rest going into Game 2. He allowed four earned runs and 11 baserunners in 5.1 innings for one of his least effective outings of the year (fifth-worst in terms of game score).

    Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell generously called it "a blue collar night on the mound," NESN's Ricky Doyle reports. The reality is that this ALDS would be all tied up if the bullpen and lineup hadn't bailed Lackey out.

    His velocity was fine, but he suffered from shaky command. In general, going so long without facing live batters makes it more difficult for a pitcher to repeat his delivery.

    The Red Sox surely hope that Buchholz avoids those mechanical issues.

Tampa Bay Rays: More Delmon Young October Magic

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    We can all agree that Delmon Young is a mediocre regular-season player.

    From 2011-2013, he batted .266/.301/.404, which amounted to a 91 OPS+. Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers posted comparable stats in that time frame, but at least he added considerable value as a baserunner and defender. Young, meanwhile, was such a liability in those aspects of the game that the Philadelphia Phillies released him midway through this past summer.

    With that said, Young deserves credit for redeeming himself when it matters most.

    In 25 games played during the 2011-2013 playoffs, he has a .286/.333/.604 batting line with nine home runs. The replacement-level designated hitter won 2012 ALCS MVP honors and was among the few Detroit Tigers to have any offensive success against the San Francisco Giants in the ensuing World Series.

    More recently, his solo blast in last week's American League Wild Card Game put the Tampa Bay Rays ahead for good.

    Don't you just love small sample sizes?

    The Rays pitchers cannot be expected to silence Boston's prolific bats on Monday. They'll need several runs of support, and that means Young has to continue producing under the bright lights of October.

Boston Red Sox: Waiting for Alex Cobb to Falter

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    The Boston Red Sox scored early and often against Matt Moore and David Price, but that won't necessarily be the case on Monday.

    Alex Cobb of the Tampa Bay Rays takes a while to get used to. Batters facing him for the first time in a game combined for a .208/.274/.301 slash line this season. Cobb was just as dominant the second time through a lineup (.202/.250/.322).

    Tim Britton of the Providence Journal insists that's because of his pitch variety:

    Cobb uses his fastball — typically a two-seam sinker, though he’ll occasionally throw a four-seam — less than 50 percent of the time. (Moore and Price use their fastball 63 and 54 percent of the time, respectively.)

    Instead, Cobb relies on a hybrid changeup/splitter. He throws it nearly one-third of the time, including to right-handers (a rarity for right-handed pitchers). He also mixes in a curveball about a quarter of the time.

    During the first 75 pitches of his starts, Cobb only walks 6.3 percent of the opposition. However, that practically doubles to 11.8 percent once his pitch count climbs beyond that. Due to a combination of batter adjustments and deteriorating command, he also surrenders a lot more hard-hit balls beginning with pitch No. 76. A spike in the BABIP against him reflects that.

    If at first they don't succeed, the Red Sox shouldn't be deterred.

Tampa Bay Rays: Stellar Infield Defense

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    By getting late movement on the fastball and disguising his changeup/splitter, Alex Cobb generates a lot of soft contact. Only three active starters have a higher career ground-ball rate (min. 300 IP).

    Cobb owns the best strikeout rate in the Tampa Bay Rays rotation since returning from the disabled list in mid-August, but that's not going to mean much in this matchup.

    As previously mentioned, the Boston Red Sox mashed Tampa Bay's top left-handers in Games 1 and 2. Now that Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz have the platoon advantage and Daniel Nava cracks the starting lineup, they'll continue putting balls in play.

    To help Cobb survive deep into the night against a patient foe, Evan Longoria, Yunel Escobar and the Rays infield must be flawless with their defensive chances. That means avoiding errors and, more importantly, eliminating baserunners by turning double plays whenever possible.

Boston Red Sox: Riding Koji Uehara in Final Innings

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    Since the All-Star break, Koji Uehara has been the best pitcher in the majors.

    Including his Game 2 appearance, the Japanese right-hander has allowed only 10 baserunners in the past 33 innings. One run has crossed home plate against him in that two-and-a-half month span.

    The Boston Red Sox should not hesitate to use Uehara for multiple innings if they get a lead. He's especially excellent versus the Tampa Bay Rays (0.00 ERA, 15/2 K/BB in 11 appearances this season) and specifically at Tropicana Field (0.00 ERA, 16/2 K/BB in 12 career relief appearances).

    So what if ensuring a sweep demands a lot of pitches from the dominant closer? He'll get ample rest before the ALCS gets underway, as the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics enter Monday in a 1-1 series tie.

Tampa Bay Rays: Bold Brilliance from Joe Maddon

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    Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon consistently goes against the grain.

    The 59-year-old amused his players during the season by inviting penguins and pythons into the clubhouse (not on the same day). He promoted Delmon Young to everyday duty mere weeks after the team added him off the scrap heap, and he implemented more dramatic defensive shifts than anybody else in the majors.

    The playoffs haven't changed him at all.

    In Game 163, when the Rays needed to beat the Texas Rangers to secure a playoff berth, Maddon elected to stay with David Price for all nine innings, even though his top relievers were available. Two days later, the team again took a slim lead into the final stages of a must-win game. Maddon inserted left-hander Jake McGee to face Cleveland's Ryan Raburn, unconcerned with the fact that Raburn slaughtered lefties—.308/.403/.617 batting line—in the regular season.

    Both those risks paid off.

    If the two-time AL Manager of the Year wasn't willing to step outside the box, Tampa Bay would have never overcome its talent deficit to make it this far. Maddon better have something big up his hoodie's sleeves to extend this series.