Keys for Struggling Boston Red Sox to Win ALCS and World Series Berth

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Keys for Struggling Boston Red Sox to Win ALCS and World Series Berth
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Mike Napoli scores Boston's first run of Game 4 on a Jarrod Saltalamacchia single in the sixth inning, making the score 7-1.

The recent offensive dry spell for the Boston Red Sox could not have come at a worse time.

Despite being the early AL playoff favorites to meet the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, the Sox have not been producing at the dish during their American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers.

The Red Sox were the MLB's best offensive team during the regular season but have scored just 10 runs in their four ALCS games. 

Tied with the Tigers at 2-2 in their ALCS, the Red Sox relied on the late-game heroics of Game 2 (video below) and a stellar pitching performance by John Lackey in Game 3 in their two wins.

Big Papi is a hero once again in Game 3 of the ALCS, hitting a game-tying grand slam on the first pitch he saw from new pitcher Joaquin Benoit.

For a Red Sox team that hit .277 during the regular season, a .237 team average in the postseason—including .186 in the ALCS—has been disappointing. Fortunately for Boston, its pitching has stepped up this postseason, as opponents are managing to only slightly outhit them with a .234 average.

We saw in Game 4 on Wednesday night, however, how badly and quickly a game can turn when a pitcher like Jake Peavy is not on his A-game.

The Tigers pitching staff has been responsible for most of Boston's offensive woes of late.

The Red Sox are an all-around team. They would not have gotten this far in the postseason and be favored to play in the World Series if they were not. However, their strength is run production, and they definitely cannot rely on outpitching the Tigers.

A simple table I made illustrating discrepancies between the starting pitching of Boston and of Detroit. Most glaring is that Boston has less than half as many strikeouts and more than twice the ERA. Also, Detroit's lowest individual strikeout total (Fister's 15) is still higher than Boston's best (Lackey's 14).

Red Sox starters like shortstop Stephen Drew, who is hitting .107 in the postseason, and third baseman Will Middlebrooks (.174) need to contribute more at the plate.

There is no need for manager John Farrell to hit the panic button just yet. The Tigers are a good team, so it should not be a shock that they are knotted in the series, but there is room for Farrell to make a change or two.

Drew and Middlebrooks are already hitting eighth and ninth, respectively for Boston, so they cannot be dropped any further. At risk of weakening his defense, Farrell might change things up a bit and give Xander Bogaerts a chance at shortstop. Although he only has four at-bats in the playoffs so far, Bogaerts has speed and could provide that "spark" teams always talk about.

Evan Drellich of MassLive.com notes that Bogaerts is eager to get some playing time: "That's what you want. You want to play as many games as possible to help your teammates. I'll leave the decision to them. If I'm in, I'm in. If I'm not, I'll be ready to go."

Whatever Farrell decides, the Sox need to right their ship on offense before their hopes dwindle any further, because their pitching cannot do it alone.

Lester has been pitching well and so has Lackey, but both have shown in the past that they are prone to less-than-ideal performances from time to time. There is even a website dedicated to Lackey's haters. Meanwhile, asking any more than a quality start from either Buchholz or Peavy at this point seems unrealistic.

Unfortunately for Boston, the Tigers pitching is not going to help the cause of the Red Sox. All four mound starters for Detroit are capable and do not make many mistakes or walk many hitters. Red Sox hitters should be looking to increase the pitch counts of Detroit's starters in order to get to the Tigers bullpen, which has been shaky of late, sporting a 4.73 ERA in postseason play.

 

*Statistics courtesy of MLB.com.

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