MLB – ALDS: WHAT HAPPENED TO BOSTON & TEXAS??

I have been in a bit of shock since both the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers were ousted so quickly from each of their American League Division Series this season.

These were the two best teams in the AL (or so I thought) and both were just swept 0-3.

How did this happen?

Red Sox

The last time Boston was in the post-season, they went on to win the World Series (2013).

But, this year, it didn’t happen that way.

Other than taking an early lead in Game 1 of the ALDS vs Cleveland, the Red Sox were completely dominated by the Indians and lost the series in 3 straight games.

Granted, this Red Sox team of 2016 wasn’t perfect.  The starting pitching staff was above average, but not great overall.  And, their bullpen has had its struggles.

But that offense has been spectacular…

During the regular season, Boston finished with 836 RBIs (the next closest team had 90 runs less), 878 runs (that’s 101 runs more than any other team) and led the league in Hits, Doubles, Batting Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging, Total Bases, Extra Base Hits & OPS.

Yet during the ALDS, they only scored 7 total runs against the Indians and were held down to a .214 BA as a team.
Everyone struggled:

  • Leading AL MVP candidate Mookie Betts went 2 for 10, 0 HRs, 0 RBIs, .200 AVG.
  • Dustin Pedroia, SS went 2 for 12, 0 HRs, 0 RBIs, .167 AVG and 5 strike outs.
  • David Ortiz, DH went 1 for 9, 0 HRs, 1 RBI, .111 AVG.
  • Jackie Bradley Jr. (an All-Star) – 1 for 10, 7 strike outs.
  • Xander Bogaerts – (an All-Star) – 3 for 12, 4 strike outs.

So, what went wrong?

First, Indians Manager Terry Francona employed a brilliant strategy of combining his average starting pitching staff with bullpen aces to surprisingly dominate that prolific Boston lineup.

We’re talking about an Indians starting pitching staff that are collectively decent, but no real aces.  And by the way, they lost their #2 and #3 starting pitchers due to injuries.

In Game 1, for example, Francona started Trevor Bauer whose ERA during the regular season was 4.26.  In the ALDS, he lasted just 4 2/3 innings, but held down the Sox lineup enough so that Francona could bring in 3 different relievers (Andrew Miller, Cody Allen & Bryan Shaw) to record the last 13 outs for a 5-4 win.

During Game 2, Corey Kluber started, but had not pitched in 10 days prior due to an injury.  No matter.  He was lights out allowing just 3 hits, 3 walks and 7 strikeouts to help Cleveland win 6-0.

For Game 3, Josh Tomlin started and despite a 4.40 ERA, pitched 5 decent innings by striking out 4 and gave up 2 earned runs.  Luckily, the bullpen again was clutch, including gigantic lefty former Yankee Andrew Miller who some have described as a “weapon”.  Boston lost that game 3-4 to complete the sweep.

Perhaps esteemed ESPN baseball analyst, Timmy Kurkjian, summed it up best during a recent Baseball Tonight podcast regarding Cleveland pitchers: “[They] should not have had that kind of dominance over the Red Sox, but they did.”

But, it wasn’t just the pitching that was effective against the Red Sox, Cleveland’s hitters exploited Boston’s inability to succeed in the post season as well.

No, they didn’t blast their way through to big wins, but the bottom on the order did just enough clutch hitting to get the job done.

And, just like their hitters, Boston’s pitchers looked flat-footed and not able to push through the tough moments.

Take Boston RH, Rick Porcello.  In Game 1, he allowed 5 runs in 4 1/3 innings.  This, after he was 13-1 with a 2.97 ERA at Fenway this year.

David Price, the Red Sox lefty, allowed 6 hits and 5 earned runs for his start in Game 2 and a 13.50 ERA.  Granted, he has not done well in the 6 ALDS series he’s pitched in or the entire post season for that matter, but this is a Cy Young Winner, multiple season All Star and former MVP candidate.

And, Clay Buccholz only managed to last 4 innings, giving up 2 runs in the process.

Were the Red Sox “exhausted”, as some critics have suggested because they looked so banal and were so incapacitated by the Cleveland Indians?

Or, could it have had something to do with David Ortiz’s retirement tour and all the attention that received?

Likely, it came down to the fact that Boston lacked a collective drive and chemistry that the Indians so clearly have.  This could be an indication of a coach lacking the ability to motivate the talent obviously there.  How else do we explain a team with such proven potential being obliterated by a club with glaring holes at crucial positions?

On the other hand, Indians Manager Terry Francona has said he feels his club has something “special”.  It is evident that he and his players have created a special bond over the 4 years he has been their coach.

Of course, all this Cleveland fervor could have been started by Indians beat writer Paul Hoynes.

If you haven’t heard the story, Hoynes’ Sept 17 column basically included the Indians’ post-season obituary after they lost their #2 & #3 starting pitchers.  There was an uproar, but it seems to have motivated the team to prove him wrong.  The proof may be in the fact that Corey Kluber walked up to Hoynes during the ALDS champagne celebration and said, “Thanks”.

Ultimately, this magic elixir that the Indians have found and that I have so often talked about on my blog is igniting a passion that is dangerous for the Cubs if the Indians make it to the World Series this year.

Rangers

Another improbable ALDS series sweep was that of the Toronto Blue Jays over the Texas Rangers this week.

And, just like Boston, I did not see this coming.

The bottom line is that Texas’ starting pitching staff was unexpectedly awful.  And, that can’t happen against an explosive pent-up Blue Jays lineup that wanted to beat them bad and on their turf.

Look at Game 1:  In the pre-game ceremonies, the Texas crowd booed Toronto OF Jose Bautista incessantly.

Remember, he’s a player who has a recent string of run-ins with this Rangers club, including the emphatic and oft criticized bat flip last October during the Game 5 ALDS clincher vs Texas and the bench-clearing fight in May when he was punched in the face by Texas 2B, Roughned Odor.  Odor wound up suspended for 7 games.

Clutch as always, Bautista drove in four runs during this game, including an RBI single in Toronto’s five-run third off lefty starter Cole Hamels who looked terrible and ended the game with 6 ER, 6 Hits and 7 Runs.  The Rangers lost that game in a blowout 1-10.

In Game 2, Texas RH, Yu Darvish was worse than Hamels.  He allowed 5 Hits, 4 HRs, and 5 ERs and was yanked after 5 innings.  It was one of the shortest games in his career, the most HRs he’s ever given up in a game, and it became the first time the Blue Jays ever hit 4 HRs in a post season game, let alone vs 1 guy.

According to an ESPN article dated Oct 7, 2016, all 4 of Toronto’s home runs against Darvish came off fastballs.  “Darvish allowed 7 home runs on 823 fastballs thrown during the regular season (0.9 percent). The Blue Jays hit 4 home runs off Darvish’s 48 fastballs Friday, which is nearly 10 times his regular-season rate.”

So, Hamels and Darvish combined to allow 12 runs (11 earned) in a total of 8.1 innings over the first 2 games.  In the Rangers’ playoff history, no two pitchers had ever combined to allow this many runs.  They were supposed to be the Rangers’ aces and the team’s biggest advantage, yet just like Boston, the Rangers pitchers looked lackluster, to say the least.

Game 3 went into the 10 inning for the decisive sweep.  Rangers’ starter Colby Lewis was pulled in the 3rd inning after he allowed 5 Runs and 2 HRs in the same inning.  The bullpen couldn’t recover; Toronto’s offense was just too much for them.  It ended in a walk-off with the Blue Jays completing the sweep 7-6.

The Rangers offense also fell flat.  During Game 2 alone, Texas stranded 13 baserunners, a club record for most in the post season.  And, it wasn’t as if Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ wasn’t vulnerable.  Happ allowed 6 hits in 5 innings.

On the other side, the Blue Jays’ offense did what Boston’s was supposed to do.  That powerful lineup plowed past anyone Texas threw at them.  In the ALDS, they hit 10 home runs 3 games.  Incredible.

Toronto’s stand-out contributors were Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. They combined to hit .378 with 3 homers, 11 RBIs and a .730 slugging percentage in 37 at-bats.

Meanwhile, the Rangers 3 big game hitters Ian Desmond, Carlos Beltran and Adrian Beltre combined to bat .194 with one extra-base hit and three RBIs in 36 at-bats.

Personally, I didn’t think Toronto’s spark would come back.  Their offense struggled down the stretch and they finished the season at 89-73, just barely over .500, and 4 games behind Boston in the AL East.

But it seems they may have been fueled in the ALDS by the past conflicts they had with Texas to put that chip back on their shoulder and on their way to the ALCS versus the Indians.

Going forward, I have no idea which team will win the AL and go to the World Series.  I’m still baffled about why Boston & Texas performed so badly when they seemed to have the advantage on paper.

That is the amazing thing about sports.  We can guess all we want as to who will win, but ultimately, we don’t have crystal balls.

One thing to say for Toronto, though.  They have the hitters that could challenge the Cubs, the best national league team and presumably destined to play in the World Series.

Then again, the Indians are propped up on chemistry and belief.  That is a mighty powerful weapon.

Heck, this is going to be an interesting 2016 World Series if the Cubs make it through.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

 

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