Next Steps for the Boston Red Sox to Win the World Series
Boston's remarkable 2013 season continues, with the St. Louis Cardinals the last obstacle for the Red Sox to traverse as the team looks to win its third World Series Championship since 2004.
It was against the Cardinals, back in 2004, that the team's 86-year-old championship drought—and the dreaded "Curse of the Bambino"—came to an end, with Boston sweeping St. Louis in four games.
Will history repeat itself in 2013, as some believe that Boston is once again a "team of destiny"?
Let's take a look at the steps that Boston can take to make sure that it does.
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
Cut Down on the Strikeouts
The Red Sox struck out 73 times against Detroit in the ALCS, setting a pair of postseason records that the team would be wise to avoid trying to break in the World Series.
First, Boston went down on strikes to Detroit's starting rotation 55 times.
Not only did that number break the LCS record, previously held by the 1991 Pittsburgh Pirates, who struck out 49 times against Atlanta's starters in the NLCS, but it set a single-series postseason record, beating the 51 K's that the New York Yankees had against Arizona's starting staff in the 2001 World Series.
Those 73 strikeouts work out to a ridiculous 34.6 percent strikeout rate for the Red Sox, 14.1 percent higher than the team's regular-season mark of 20.5 percent. Continuing to swing and miss as frequently as they did against the Tigers isn't going to find the Red Sox winning many games in the Fall Classic.
Attack St. Louis' Lineup
Although the Cardinals didn't strike out at as high a rate as the Red Sox did during the League Championship Series, St. Louis swung and missed more often—23 percent of the time—than they did during the regular season, when the team's 17.9 strikeout rate was the fifth-lowest in baseball.
Boston's pitchers weren't quite the strikeout artists against the Tigers that they were in the regular season, averaging 7.13 K/9, down nearly a full K from their 8.03 mark that was MLB's sixth-highest from April through September, but the ability to get the other team to chase pitches is clearly there.
Getting aggressive and challenging the Cardinals' bats early can only help to set the tone for the rest of the game—and increase Boston's chances of taking an early lead.
Take Advantage of Fenway Park
No team in the American League did a better job of protecting its house in 2013 than the Boston Red Sox, who posted a league-best 53-28 record at Fenway Park, second in all of baseball to only the Atlanta Braves, who were slightly better at home with a 56-25 mark.
Over the course of history, we have seen teams take advantage of having the World Series begin on their home turf and get out to a 2-0 lead in the series 53 times. Those teams have gone on to win the Fall Classic 42 times, including 15 times in the last 16 occurrences.
With a 2-3-2 format in the series, the last thing Boston wants to do is head to St. Louis with the Cardinals having a chance to win the series in front of their raucous home crowd. The Cardinals were equally impressive at home as the Red Sox were during the regular season, going 54-27 in the cozy confines of Busch Stadium.
While splitting the first two games of the series wouldn't doom the Red Sox to failure, the team would be in a much better situation if it can head to St. Louis with a two-game lead.
Wake Up the Bats
While Boston leads all playoff teams in runs scored—as it did during the regular season—to say that the team's offense has resembled the fine-tuned machine that plowed through opposing pitching staffs during the regular season would be a flat-out lie.
Obviously, the level of competition increases significantly in the playoffs, but the team's offense, for all intents and purposes, has been sleepwalking through the postseason thus far. Take a look at just how far the lineup has fallen:
Sure, the team is walking a bit more than it did during the regular season, but that's the only area in which the Red Sox have improved in the playoffs—every other category has dropped significantly.
The Red Sox need to get back to what has worked for them over the past six months—out-hit the opposition.
Hit with Runners in Scoring Position
Although the Red Sox weren't quite on the Cardinals level when it came to hitting with runners in scoring position during the regular season, Boston's bats were no slouches when the situation popped up, hitting 278 with a .794 OPS, the third-best numbers in baseball.
Despite heroics from David Ortiz and Shane Victorino in the ALCS against Detroit, the ability to produce when there's a runner on second base or third base has all but disappeared for many of Boston's biggest bats during the playoffs:
|Player||BA w/RISP in Reg. Season||BA w/RISP in Playoffs|
Sure, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Victorino have come through with runners in scoring position for Boston in the playoffs, but the lack of production from the heart of the team's order—namely Mike Napoli, Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia—is a cause for concern.
That trio has gone a combined 3-for-36 with runners in scoring position in the postseason, and while they've driven in 10 runs, think about the number of runs that they left standing on base as a result of their failures to come through in the clutch.
Boston simply cannot afford to have three of its biggest bats remain silent in these situations against the Cardinals—it's time for them to raise their games to another level. If they don't, Boston's chances of beating St. Louis take a significant turn for the worse.