Our first AL Division Series is in the books, and the Red Sox will be moving on to await the winner of Thursday's Game 5 between the Tigers and Athletics in Oakland. Boston dispatched the Rays pretty easily, though Tampa Bay put up one hell of a fight in the final two games of the series at Tropicana Field. Here are five observations from watching the series.
1. If that was David Price's last start as a Ray, he didn't go out like an ace.
Price's start last Monday against the Rangers in the AL Wild Card tiebreaker was awesome. He put the team on his back and threw a complete game, allowing two runs on seven hits to help send the Rays to the Postseason to take on the Indians in the Wild Card playoff game. But once the Rays got in the Postseason, Price made just one start. In game 2 at Fenway, Price wasn't great, allowing seven runs in seven innings. The Rays fought back three times in this game, getting to within 2-1 in the second, 5-3 in the sixth, and 6-4 in the seventh, but Price kept kicking the can further and further down the road. Those struggles, combined with his unfortunate Twitter rant after the game, might cast a shadow over his brilliance that pushed Tampa Bay into the Postseason.
2. Boston doesn't need to hit homers to score runs.
The Red Sox homered just twice in this series – and both were by David Ortiz in Game 2. However, despite that pair of longballs, Boston still scored 26 runs and hit .286/.390/.414 in their four game series win over the Rays. Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, and Ortiz all posted OBPs of over .500 in the series, and when you've got three of your top four hitters on base that often, you don't need to smash the ball over the fence. Dustin Pedroia, sandwiched between Victorino and Ortiz in the lineup, drove in five runs despite collecting just four hits over the course of the series. Mike Napoli only had two hits, but walked four times, setting up Jarrod Saltalamacchia to drive in three runs (despite striking out seven times in ten at bats). Sure, the home run is a guaranteed way to score runs – but consistently putting runners on base is a better approach when you're facing a staff that isn't overly homer-prone.
3. Boston's bullpen has effectively turned the game into a six inning affair.
In the series, the Red Sox bullpen allowed two runs in 11 innings, with one of those runs being the improbable walk off homer by Jose Lobaton in Game 3 off of Koji Uehara. The relievers struck out 12, walked two, and allowed just seven hits. A dominant bullpen can really help take the sting off of disappointing outings, like the ones the Red Sox got in Games 2 and 3 from John Lackey and Clay Buchholz. Giving the crew an extra couple of days of rest heading into Sunday's Game 1 is something won't hurt either going forward.
4. Walks told the whole story of the series.
During this regular season, Tampa Bay's hitters walked in 9.4% of their plate appearances – the highest rate in the majors. In the series with the Red Sox, that number fell to 7.7%. Contrast that to the Rays' pitching staff, who walked 12.5% of the hitters they faced in the series, up from 7.9% during the regular season. That massive shift in walk rates on each side of the game might have been the most significant cause for the Rays' loss.
5. John Farrell didn't need much out of his bench – but he will.
The Red Sox bench players were very quiet during the series. Backup catcher David Ross went 1/5. Daniel Nava started two games and went 1/5, being replaced in left field by Jonny Gomes in Game 3. Quintin Berry got into one game as a pinch runner and stole a base. Mike Carp got one at bat and struck out. Xander Bogaerts was the lone exception, scoring once as a pinch runner in Game 3 and walking twice and scoring a run in Game 4. They're going to need more production out of those guys to beat either the Tigers or Athletics, and I'd expect Carp to get more playing time in the ALCS since both teams are loaded with righties in the rotation.