Boston Red Sox: 5 Bold Predictions for the Postseason
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The Boston Red Sox sit alone atop the American League East standings and look poised for another deep postseason run. As the faithful of Red Sox Nation know all too well, the season is not over yet.
However, with the Red Sox disastrous stretch behind them (how can we forget a 2-10 start), it might be time to start looking ahead to everybody's favorite time of year, Soxtober. Here are five bold predictions about the Red Sox fall fortunes.
5. Jonathan Papelbon Will Not Give Up a Run in October
With Jonathan Papelbon primed for a big postseason Red Sox fans will enjoy a lot of the closer's patented fist pumping, maybe for the last time.
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Jonathan Papelbon has a a history of postseason success, failing to surrender a run in his first 25 postseason innings. However, in the Red Sox last postseason appearance in 2009, Paps gave up three earned in only two innings pitched. Some say he had it coming, but it began to look as if the Red Sox closer had lost a step over the last couple of seasons.
Whatever Paps lost in '09 and '10, he's found it again this season. Papelbon's ERA is a satisfactory 2.85, but it's his other numbers that will blow you away.
His .913 WHIP is his lowest since 2006, when he posted a lights-out sub 1.00 ERA. His 70 strikeouts in 53.2 innings is good for an 11.7 strikeout per nine, his highest since he averaged 13.0 in his rookie season.
Hitters have been absolutely baffled by the right-hander, mustering only a .204 BA and a .545 OPS in 200 AB. Many people have speculated as to why, after two disappointing seasons, the sudden return to dominance?
One of the answers is control. Papelbon has surrendered only eight walks this season, a staggering improvement considering he yielded over 50 in the previous two seasons combined.
Another may be motivation. Entering free agency in the winter, Papelbon is setting himself up nicely to receive a lucrative multi-year contract, perhaps unlike any we've ever seen for a reliever. Whether it is the Red Sox on the other side of the negotiating table or not, Papelbon is going to get paid this offseason.
Papelbon's 2011 performance, coupled with his contract status, is sure to yield big dividends—and a bunch of ninth inning zeros—for the Red Sox this postseason.
4. Mike Aviles Will Play a Pivotal Role for the Red Sox
Aviles was acquired on July 30th for infielder Yamaico Navarro and a minor league pitcher.
When the Red Sox acquired infielder Mike Aviles at the trade deadline this season, most fans were scrambling to find out "Who is this guy?". For those of you who had heard of him, kudos, but I'd bet that nobody believed he would make much of a difference.
Since his arrival in Boston, all Aviles has done is contribute. In 17 games he's hit .321, scored eight runs, gone a perfect four for four in stolen bases and played five different positions.
In order to make the postseason roster as a reserve, a player needs to be able to perform a specific skill. Aviles does that and then some. A right-handed hitter, Aviles can pinch hit for lefties, play good defense in the infield and the outfield and run in a pinch.
What's more is Aviles' attitude. When Francona asked him if he could play right field, Aviles responded by saying, "(There's) one thing you need to know about me—I'm arrogant and I'm confident." Aviles started in right for the first time in his professional career that day.
Aviles is the kind of guy that doesn't shrink in the spotlight. In high leverage situations throughout his career, Aviles is 12 for 15 in stolen bases. He's also hit well with runners on base, posting an OPS two points lower than his career mark.
Aviles is going to find himself in some big spots in the postseason, and more often than not look for him to come through.
3. Adrian Gonzalez Will Hit Under .150 for One Postseason Series
Adrian Gonzalez's hot and cold bat may lead to some mixed results this postseason.
The Red Sox most valuable player this season is up for debate. But I don't think you would get much argument if you said Adrian Gonzalez. John Henry and company's new toy has done nothing but impress in his first season in Boston.
As Carl Crawford knows all too well, coming into an atmosphere like Boston and succeeding is no easy task. Gonzalez has thrived in the spotlight and put himself right in the middle of the race for the American League MVP.
That being said, there is reason for concern with the Red Sox first basemen as well. Gonzalez's only postseason appearance came in 2006, and although he hit .357, his Padres lost in four games to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Gonzalez, despite his greatness, has lacked consistency at times this season. Although he's put up more multi-hit games (by a lot) than anyone in baseball, he's also managed to collect his fair share of 0-fors. That inconsistency, plus his limited postseason experience, may lead to a few games where Adrian fails to perform up to expectations.
I'm not saying he's going to completely flop for the entirety of the postseason (I would bet he bats .400 in a series too), but don't be surprised, or alarmed, if he throws up a couple consecutive 0-4's. He is human, after all (well, at least we think).
2. J.D. Drew Will Get a Big Hit for the Red Sox in the Playoffs
At the age of 35, Drew has seen a precipitous drop in his production during the 2011 season.
Disclaimer: I am a self-admitted J.D. Drew apologist.
J.D. Drew's reputation in Boston has been marred by what most believe to be a "bad" contract. However, by comparison, $14 million a year has been a fair wage given Drew's performance, with the noted exception of the 2011 season.
Since Drew signed in '07, free agent contracts have escalated quickly. Notable players who've received contracts greater than Drew's salary include: A.J. Burnett for $16.5 million in '09-'13 (4.82 ERA with the Yankees), Jason Bay for $16.5 million in '10-'13 (.703 OPS with the Mets), Andruw Jones for $15 million in '08 (.505 OPS in 200 ABs) and Vernon Wells for $18 million in '08-'14 (.764 OPS since signing). And the list goes on.
Granted, all these terrible signings are not a defense for the Drew contract. But his stats are. From 07'-'10, Drew posted an .OPS of .853, good enough for second place amongst AL outfielders over that stretch. Notable outfielders Drew is ahead of include Curtis Granderson, Torii Hunter, Nick Markakis and Ichiro.
Drew's defense has also been excellent, saving an estimated 28 runs more than a replacement right fielder in his previous four seasons in Boston.
2011 has been a major disappointment for Drew as he's battled old age, injuries and an overall decline in skill. However, since coming into the fold in '07 Drew has been as clutch as any Red Sock, posting a postseason OPS of .795 and collecting 19 RBI in 28 postseason games.
Terry Francona seems to think that he has one more hot streak left in him, and even I'm skeptical about that. However, when the Sox need Drew the most, he will deliver.
1. Carl Crawford Will Single-Handedly Win a Game for the Red Sox
Carl Crawford can do a little bit of everything, although Red Sox fans have only seen a glimpse of the perennial All-Star's unbelievable talent in 2011.
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From one corner of the outfield to the next, the Red Sox have not had the production they expected from J.D. Drew and Carl Crawford this season.
That being said, I still believe that Crawford, like Drew, will play a key role in the Sox's October campaign. Although Crawford got off to an abysmal start this season (.659 OPS in the first half), he has picked it up of late, showing flashes of the player that terrorized Red Sox Nation for a decade in Tampa.
In August Crawford has posted an OPS of .792, much closer to his career average. He's also been more aggressive on the base paths, collecting five steals in his last 23 games.
Crawford has the tools to completely take over a game. He can beat out an infield single, swipe two bags and then score without having the ball leave the infield. He can also beat you with the long ball, and did I mention he is regarded as one of the best left fielders in baseball?
Despite all his struggles, expect Crawford to have one of those "WOW" games in the postseason, making all prior grievances, at the very least, forgivable.