BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox bounced back from back-to-back AL East last place finishes and won the division. There should be a good feeling in New England for that alone.
However, and rightly so, Sox fans want more. Not only is David Ortiz’s final season an added bit of motivation, but the American League is wide open. No one team appears as solid as the Cubs do over in the National League.
So, as the Red Sox get set to begin the postseason, here’s a closer look at four keys for Boston to emerge victorious over the Indians and head to the ALCS:
1. Hit, Hit, Hit
This Red Sox team was built to hit. Boston led the Major Leagues in runs (878), average (.282), OBP (.348), SLG (.461), OPS (.810), extra base hits (576) and doubles (343). They finished fifth in homers with 208. They also were the first Red Sox team to feature three players with 30-plus home runs and 100-plus RBIs (Ortiz, Betts, Hanley).
If they are going to win this series then they must hit. Ortiz looked rested and relaxed at Tuesday’s workout following an incredibly busy final week of the regular season. He’ll be the focal point on the TV broadcast, but the key may be the bats around him — Pedroia, Bogaerts, Betts, Hanley, Bradley Jr., etc. If they do what they did in the regular season, then the Sox have a good chance to emerge victorious.
2. Porcello & Price — That’s Nice!
Your biggest X-factor? The 1-2 slots in the rotation. Rick Porcello and David Price combined to go 39-13 in the regular season, but are 0-9 with an ERA around 5.00 in starts in the playoffs. Now is a good time to crack the win column or just give the Sox “quality starts.” They don’t need to be lights out, just good enough to give their offense a chance.
There have been examples of guys struggling early in their careers in the postseason only to kick it back the other way. Sox fans should hope that’s the case, especially with Price.
3. Close It With Confidence
In 6.2 postseason innings, Craig Kimbrel has given up one hit. That’s the closer the Red Sox need in these playoffs, not the one who had a mechanical hiccup last week. Kimbrel was brilliant from August 1 through September 22, notching 11 saves while giving up just one earned run and only one hits. If he’s at that level, he’ll be just what Dave Dombrowski ordered.
If he’s the guy that gave up six earned runs with six walks over three innings in his final four appearances, then it will be Koji Time… or elimination time.
4. I Need A Hero
The 2013 Red Sox had so many players step up and seize the moment when it counted. Remember, Ben Cherington solidified the 2012 last place finishing Sox with some key veterans and it paid off.
Of course, David Ortiz led the way with his Game 2 ALCS grand slam and his .688 World Series batting average, but there was more. Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Johnny Gomes, David Ross, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew, and Jacoby Ellsbury all provided timely hits. Those are needed, starting as early as the ALDS, to win in the postseason.
On the flip side, Jon Lester and John Lackey formed an incredible 1-2 atop that World Series winning rotation three years ago while Koji was unhittable in the ninth.
Those players were your heroes. Those kind of performances will be needed again.
Finally, I don’t know about you, but it’s going to be real interesting to see what David Ortiz can do. I wouldn’t pitch anywhere near him if I’m an opposing manager, and with that premise, is there any real chance of him lighting it up again?
But it should be a blast to watch Ortiz and all the drama unfold. After two years away from playoff baseball, make sure you enjoy it and soak in every second.