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Did David Ortiz's Heroics Simply Mask Red Sox's Underlying Offensive Issues?

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Did David Ortiz's Heroics Simply Mask Red Sox's Underlying Offensive Issues?
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

When David Ortiz hit a game-tying grand slam for the Boston Red Sox in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series against Detroit, it was a defining moment in a game otherwise dominated, once again, by the Tigers' starting pitching.

But Ortiz's heroics also highlighted another point that needs to be mentioned: The Red Sox have played as poorly on offense the last four games, dating back to the Division Series against Tampa Bay, as they have all year.

Including those games in Tampa, the Red Sox scored a grand total of eight runs on 16 hits and 21 walks before Ortiz's slam. They also had 49 strikeouts during that time. One of those runs came on a wild pitch by Joel Peralta.

Via MLB Advanced Media

In B/R's official playoff picks before the postseason started, I picked the Red Sox to go to the World Series thanks largely to their offense.

It was the best in baseball this season, and it wasn't particularly close.

The Red Sox finished first in runs scored (853, 57 more than Detroit), on-base percentage (.349, three points higher than Detroit), slugging percentage (.446, 12 points higher than Detroit), doubles (363, 41 more than St. Louis), total bases (2,521, 30 more than Detroit), extra-base hits (570, 46 more than Baltimore), second in batting average (.277), fourth in stolen baseys (123) and fifth in baserunning runs added (11.3), per FanGraphs.

No team in baseball can match those numbers.

If you want to play a game of small ball, the Red Sox have the team to do that with guys like Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino at the top of the lineup. If you want to play home run derby, they had eight players with at least 12 home runs. 

Yet we haven't seen anything close to that in this ALCS, save for that one home run by Ortiz.

Sure, there were little glimmers here and there, like Dustin Pedroia's double off the monster in the sixth inning of Game 2 that got the Red Sox their first run of the series. 

Overall, though, this has been a clinic by Detroit's starting pitching. Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer made the Red Sox look like the Astros.

What is the biggest reason for Boston's offensive woes?

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What makes that so fascinating is that the Red Sox, in addition to the offensive numbers we already cited, are not prone to striking out. They have individual players who will swing and miss (Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Stephen Drew), but overall their players work counts and put the bat on the ball (Ellsbury, Victorino, Pedroia, Ortiz).

Let's keep in mind that the Red Sox put up those numbers in the best division in baseball, where four teams finished over .500. They didn't have any cupcakes on the schedule like the Tigers did taking on the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox.

If you want to blame Detroit's bullpen for Game 2, you are certainly welcome to. That has been the biggest area of concern for Jim Leyland all year, and it reared its ugly head on Sunday. But this was the same unit that held the Red Sox to one hit and five strikeouts in three innings the previous night.

So what's the problem? Why, all of a sudden, have the Red Sox stopped doing what they did so well all season?

One factor is that there is a vast difference in the caliber of pitching between the regular season and postseason.

For instance, the Tigers and Red Sox played seven games this season. Anibal Sanchez didn't start any of them. In fact, the 29-year-old has only faced Boston once in his career, as a rookie in 2006. 

Via MLB Advanced Media

This Sanchez is a completely different pitcher, throwing harder than ever (93 mph) with a much better breaking ball. We can partially excuse Boston's performance because of that.

But to look so completely inept against Scherzer, who did defeat the Red Sox earlier this season with a seven-inning, two-run, six-strikeout effort in June, leaves a lot more room to doubt this lineup.

Scherzer is capable of making teams look bad, but to handle the best lineup in baseball like child's play speaks volumes about how on he is and how off the Red Sox are.

One thing the Red Sox are notorious for is taking pitches. They aren't going to swing at a pitch until it's in their zone, which can lead to a lot of elevated pitch counts if the starter isn't on early. Look at Sanchez, who walked six in addition to striking out 12 in Game 1 before leaving after six innings.

Scherzer exploited that, to a point, by throwing first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 25 hitters he faced and getting 15 called strikes.

If you put a lineup behind in the count right away, it doesn't matter how good they are; their odds of success go down dramatically. The Red Sox had a .965 OPS on the first pitch in 2013. Their OPS was just .677 after the count was 0-1.

Ortiz finally figured out that taking pitches isn't the way to go, swinging at a first-pitch changeup from Joaquin Benoit just over the glove of Torii Hunter and into the Boston bullpen.

That may have changed the entire series, with the teams heading to Detroit tied at 1-1 instead of Boston facing an 0-2 hole.

Of course, with Justin Verlander on the mound for Game 3 coming off a series against Oakland during which he racked up 21 strikeouts with just six hits, two walks and no runs allowed in 15 innings, would any of us be surprised to see another five innings of no-hit baseball?

The Red Sox didn't break out of this offensive slump so much as they masked it for just one day. We'll soon find out if things really have changed or not.

 

Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.

If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter with questions or comments.

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