The Red Sox are up two games to none on the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS, and they have yet to use their best starting pitcher.
This is something you already know, of course, but it’s incredible enough that it bears repeating. What’s perhaps more notable is that this turn in the rotation comes out of strategy, and not necessity. Clay Buccholz did not have to wait until Game Three to pitch because of any do-or-die situation, as Francisco Liriano did in Pittsburgh. In fact, if John Farrell had elected to start him in Game One, there would’ve been relatively few eyebrows raised across New England.
Yet instead, we saw the equally deserving Jon Lester go in Game One, followed by the Fenway-friendly John Lackey tacking on David Price in Game Two. That second pitching matchup was a gutsy call by Farrell. Conventional wisdom says you want your ace (or co-ace) against the other team’s top guy, and there was no way to predict the Red Sox would beat up Price the way they did. Lackey didn’t exactly wow with his performance, but he did enough to let the Sox’ offense do their thing, and Boston now sits in the catbird seat.
Should the Red Sox pull out a victory today, you’ll likely here a narrative about how the pitching-heavy Rays were trounced by the superior offensive team. While that’s obviously true, it hardly tells the whole story of the 2013 Red Sox.
The Red Sox finished the regular season first in the majors in runs scored, first in OBP, first slugging percentage and first in stolen base percentage. They have the deepest lineup and the deepest bench in the postseason. I’m not trying to take anything away from an incredibly talented offense: it’s clearly the strength of this team.
That being said, Boston finished 14th in ERA in the regular season, with a team mark of 3.79. The Rays, with their vaunted one-two of Price and Moore and solid supporting staff, finished 12th with an ERA of 3.74. Boston’s K/9 for the season sat at 8.01, while the Rays finished just ahead with a K/9 of 8.05. Teams hit for significantly more power against the Red Sox than the Rays, but the point here is obvious: it’s not as the if the Red Sox can’t do some pitching themselves.
This is doubly true now, as the Red Sox, in my opinion, have the second-deepest rotation, second only to Detroit. They also have the best closer in the playoffs (along with Craig Kimbrell, to be fair), and a solid enough set-up crew to get the job done.
So if Buchholz dominates like he’s capable of dominating on Monday, perhaps this habit of viewing the Red Sox as nothing more than an offensive juggernaut will end. And if Buchholz’ past performance against the Rays is any indication, there’s a good chance that may happen.
Here’s a look at how the Rays’ projected starters have performed against Buchholz in their careers.
|David DeJesus, LF||14||.364||.500||.455|
|Wil Myers, RF||0||–||–||–|
|James Loney, 1B||8||.167||.375||.167|
|Evan Longoria, 3B||38||.206||.289||.294|
|Ben Zobrist, 2B||42||.111||.238||.139|
|Matt Joyce ,DH||27||.273||.370||.318|
|Desmond Jennings, CF||20||.235||.278||.294|
|Yunel Escobar, SS||21||.188||.350||.375|
|Jose Molina, C||23||.318||.333||.364|
The fearsome combination of DeJesus and Molina has faired well against Buchholz, as has the dangerous Joyce. But otherwise, Buchholz has owned the most prominent hitters in the Rays lineup.
As we saw first hand against Price and Moore, past success is certainly no guarantee of future success. But given Buchholz’ dominant season and his track record against Tampa Bay, it’s hard not to be excited today if you’re a Red Sox fan.
If Buchh pitches like he can, just remember that this team isn’t built solely on offense: it can shut you down, too.