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Are there any holes to be punched in these Red Sox?

Oct 4, 2013, 8:31 PM EDT

Division Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox - Game One Getty Images

With the ability to start David Price twice and Alex Cobb once in the next four games, the Rays aren’t sunk after dropping Game 1 to Boston on Friday. The Red Sox, though, seemed pretty unbeatable today with the offense in sync despite four days off and Jon Lester limiting the damage besides a couple of solo homers.

So where are the weaknesses?

Lineup: Boston’s has baseball’s strongest lineup top to bottom, leading the majors in runs scored by 57 (853 to Detroit’s 796). Eight of the nine starters today had OPSs of .770 or better. The only guy who didn’t, third baseman Will Middlebrooks, came in at .805 in 145 at-bats after returning to the majors in August. The minor flaw is that the Red Sox were weaker against lefties, posting a .751 OPS compared to an .818 mark against righties, though that didn’t hurt them today against Matt Moore.

Defense: Second baseman Dustin Pedroia and right fielder Shane Victorino excepted, the Red Sox are more solid than spectacular. Still, Jonny Gomes in left field is the only liability, and he’ll be out of the lineup in favor of Daniel Nava once the series switches to Tampa Bay with the bigger left field in The Trop.

Baserunning: Incredible. Including today’s two, the Red Sox have been successful on an amazing 42 straight steal attempts. With the plodders in the middle of the lineup, the Red Sox aren’t so great at going from first to third or first to home on doubles, but they haven’t made many miscues lately.

Rotation: The Red Sox’s rotation doesn’t match up to Detroit’s, but there also no weak links in a group that includes Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy. While there probably won’t be any postseason shutouts from that group, there also shouldn’t be many early exits. Combined, those four guys had six starts of less than five innings this year, with two of those coming because of injury.

Bullpen: Boston’s biggest flaw would seem to be its vulnerability in the seventh and eighth inning of games. Koji Uehara has been amazing in the closer’s role, but Junichi Tazawa has struggled to serve as the bridge, leaving Craig Breslow as the primary setup guy. A big key to Boston’s postseason hopes could be Ryan Dempster stepping up and assuming a setup role; he pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings after moving to the pen last month and he finished up with a scoreless ninth today.

There are no juggernauts in this year’s postseason, but the Red Sox, with home-field advantage for the duration, would seem to be the best bets to fake it for a few weeks, especially since the frequent off days will lead to a more liberal usage of Uehara in the eighth. Then again, what if their surest thing isn’t so sure? Uehara was arguably the game’s most valuable reliever this year with his 1.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts in a career-high 74 1/3 innings of work. However, his postseason ERA stands at 19.29 because of the three homers he allowed in three appearances for the Rangers two years ago. If he lets the Red Sox down this month, there may be no coming back.

  1. Jack Marshall - Oct 4, 2013 at 8:46 PM

    The speculation about Uehara based on three games two years ago is pretty ridiculous. Yes, relievers who have had great years have on occasion stunk in the post season, but Ue is a veteran, he’s healthy, his control is incredible, and his season, while fantastic, was no fluke. He’s as unlikely a candidate for this scenario as I can imagine, other than Mariano.

  2. peterjohnjoseph - Oct 4, 2013 at 9:01 PM

    Until the last out of the last inning of the World Series (if we get that far), there will still be doubt for these Sox, do mostly to the lack of star power. Throughout the year I’ve heard the question asked month after month “how long will this last”, or “its all going to collapse at some point”, but even as they prove everyone wrong, and finish tied for the best record in the MLB, leading almost all offensive categories you can lead, there is still this feeling of this all being a fluke.

    My only hope is, if we win it without any “stars”, than I sure hope someone on the team gets that designation after. Theres several players that surely deserve it.

    • peterjohnjoseph - Oct 4, 2013 at 9:02 PM

      *due, not do.

    • aceshigh11 - Oct 4, 2013 at 9:19 PM

      “Star power”?

      THAT’S what we’re concerned about now? STAR POWER??

      Screw star power. Where were the big stars on the ’98 Yankees, the winningest team in MLB history, aside from Jeter?

      And besides the fact that lack of star power is a rather asinine way to rate a team…who says there aren’t any stars on the Sox?

      Ortiz isn’t a star? Pedrioa? Lester? Uehara?

      • brandonmauk - Oct 5, 2013 at 12:48 AM

        The ’98 Yankees literally had no weakness. For God’s sakes, they had Scott Brosius batting ninth driving in 98 runs and put up a 121 OPS+. This Red Sox team is definitely the best in the AL when you look at what they’ve done, and their offense is 1-9 a terror. But does that rotation scare you at all? Absolutely not. If the Rays can get Cobb some runs against Buchholz (who has only one bad start all season), they have a great chance of winning this series.

      • aceshigh11 - Oct 5, 2013 at 1:40 AM

        I’m certainly not comparing this Sox team to the ’98 Yankees. They were on another level.

        My point in bringing them up was that the ’98 Yankees were rock-solid top to bottom, and yet, there were very few flashy “star ballplayers” on that team aside from Jeter.

        No A-Rod. No Clemens. Just high-quality, gritty players.

        I see this Sox team as being in a similar vein, although obviously not nearly as great.

        As far as the rotation: hell yes, they’re capable of scaring any team.

        Lester, Buchholz, Lackey and Peavy have ALL shown the ability to pitch like aces this year. No, pitching is not this team’s strong suit, but it’s hardly a weakness.

      • offseasonblues - Oct 5, 2013 at 8:26 AM

        Aces – Why not compare the ’98 champs and the ’13 Red Sox? Using Fangraphs WAR, the ’98 Yankees had a total WAR of 36.1 for offense and 21 for pitching, the 2013 Red Sox, 36.6, and 21.7. Both are in the top 3 in the majors in both categories.

        We’ll see what WAR’s worth, but thanks for making me curious enough to question whether that ’98 team was really “on another level”.

  3. j0esixpack - Oct 4, 2013 at 10:37 PM

    Actually the Sox are a pretty flawed team. While its better to be hitting or not hitting, 12-2 or 3-2, it’s just one win.

    The real magic to this team is that Farrell has them in a mind set where they take NOTHING for granted.

    They may not sweep the series but they will play hard all game no matter what.

    That might be the ultimate difference maker.

  4. gameover78 - Oct 4, 2013 at 11:58 PM

    What a difference a coach can make as well, you can see a HUGE mindset and attitude change from last year. Hell, before the season started, no one was picking these guys to make the playoffs let alone be the best in the league.

  5. keltictim - Oct 5, 2013 at 9:59 AM

    The biggest strength the Red Sox have is one I haven’t really heard discussed all that much. Take a look at how many pitches the sox have forced other teams to throw then look at the next closest team. The sox have ridiculous plate discipline and force opposing pitchers to throw a ridiculous amount. To me right after the beards that is their greatest strength

  6. coloradostupid - Oct 5, 2013 at 10:47 AM

    Listen, in the last series with Detroit in September, the Red Sox demolished and embarrassed Scherzer in a rout. I hoping for a Red Sox Tigers ALCS myself.

    • mornelithe - Oct 5, 2013 at 2:43 PM

      Eh? The Red Sox/Tigers matchup with Lester vs Scherzer ended 2-1, it was the following game Nolasco/Dempster that was the blowout. It wasn’t an embarrassment to Scherzer, as much as it was a dominant performance by Lester who out-dueled the shoe-in Cy Young winner for the AL this year, against the 2nd ranked offense (behind Boston) in the AL.

  7. 18thstreet - Oct 5, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    The Red Sox’ offense struggles against pitchers who pound the strike zone. And against lefties. David Price probably has the upper hand today.

    • ohleee - Oct 5, 2013 at 2:47 PM

      “The Red Sox’ offense struggles against pitchers who pound the strike zone.”

      Exactly. That’s because they see a lot more pitches than any other team in baseball. Which is a great thing…unless they’re facing “pitchers who pound the strike zone.”

      The obvious way to negate those pitchers is to look for the first good pitch and swing.

  8. keltictim - Oct 5, 2013 at 12:04 PM

    18thstreet that’s a little disingenuous. They struggle compared to what they do normally but their “struggles” are still more than enough for the win.

    • 18thstreet - Oct 5, 2013 at 4:56 PM

      Can’t win ’em all. The pitchers who they handle (easily) are the ones who don’t throw a ton of strikes. That’s why I wasn’t that worried about Matt Moore. As good as he is, he walks a ton of hitters. The Red Sox are good at waiting players like that out until they fall behind 3-1 and have to throw strikes.

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