Why the Rays beat the Red Sox

The good

The heart of the order. In the regular season, no one or two batters carried the team. The strength was the depth of the roster, including the entire lineup and the bench. But in the ALCS, the heart of the order stepped up and delivered. In Game 1, the 2-5 hitters (BJ Upton, Carlos Pena, Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford) went a combined 2-13 with three walks, five strikeouts and no RBI. The Rays lost 2-0. In the next four games (78 plate appearances), that group hit .405/.474/.957 (1.430 OPS). The Rays went 3-1.

Right-handed lineup. During the regular season the Rays struggled against lefties going 40-41 against left-handed starters. Many thought the Rays needed to add a right-handed bat before the trading deadline. But in the postseason, the Rays are now 3-1 against lefties. In addition to the historic runs by BJ Upton and Evan Longoria, a big reason for the newfound success against lefties is the emergence of Rocco Baldelli and Willy Aybar as legitimate offensive threats. Against lefties, Joe Maddon goes with Baldelli in right and Aybar at DH. In the ALCS, Baldelli and Aybar hit a combined 10-25 (.400) with three home runs and 10 RBIs (1.223 OPS).

Back end of the rotation. James Shields pitched well in Game 1, but the Rays were 0-2 in his starts. Matt Garza showed glimpses of greatness in the regular season, but seemed to finally put it together in the ALCS. Garza, who has the stuff to be a dominant strikeout pitcher, only struck out 6.3 per nine innings in the regular season. In two starts against the Red Sox, he upped that to 14 strikeouts in 13 innings, allowing only eight hits and two runs. Andy Sonnanstine gave the Rays more than could have been hoped during Game 4 at Fenway when he worked into the eighth inning and gave up only one run in the first six innings.

But the biggest start for the Rays actually came in a loss. Many questioned Joe Maddon’s decision to move Scott Kazmir up to Game 5 at Fenway. Lost in the Game 5 comeback was Kazmir’s strong start (6IP, 2H, 0R). Kazmir struggled with his mechanics down the stretch and rarely looked comfortable on the mound. His Game 5 start may have been the turning point for the young hurler.

David Price. During the regular season, the Rays’ MVP may very well have been the bullpen. But in the ALCS, that group struggled. Prior to David Price’s appearance in Game 7, the bullpen combined to allow 11 runs in 19.2 innings on 20 hits and 16 walks with 19 strikeouts. And in the biggest moment in the history of the Rays, Joe Maddon called on David Price, who began the season in single-A. With the bases loaded in the eighth inning, Price came on and struck out JD Drew to end the threat and then struck out two in the ninth for his first career save.

The bad

The bullpen. 17 walks in 21 innings. Part of the credit goes to the Red Sox, a team that knows the importance of being patient. But the once dominant crew lost its swagger and the biggest culprits were Dan Wheeler and Grant Balfour. During the regular season, Balfour became just the fourth relief pitcher ever to post more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings and allow fewer than one base runner per inning with an ERA below 1.70. But in the ALCS, he only struck out one in 2.1 innings, giving up five runs on five hits and four walks.

The defense. Overall, the Rays still played solid defense in the ALCS. But after going errorless in the first three games of the series, the Rays committed six miscues in the final four games. And even then, it was two errors in particular that hurt the Rays. Errors by Evan Longoria in Game 5 and Jason Bartlett in Game 6 both led to runs for the Red Sox.

James Shields. It is hard to put Shields in this category, but normally a team cannot afford to go 0-2 in starts by their ace. Shields did pitch well in Game 1, but struggled with his changeup in Game 6. A pitcher like Shields relies on getting swing-and-misses with the change. During Game 6, Shields threw 29 changeups with only four swing-and-misses.

The telling

Closer. Since Troy Percival went on the DL, Joe Maddon has not named a closer, with Dan Wheeler receiving the majority of the chances. But after Wheeler struggled during the comeback in Game 5, Maddon chose to go with Wheeler early in Game 7 and then brought David Price in for the final four outs. Maddon will still go closer-by-committee, with an eye towards matchups, but don’t be surprised to see Price in the ninth inning during the World Series.

BJ Upton’s shoulder. Upton played most of the regular season with a tear in the labrum of his shoulder. The injury will require offseason surgery. While Upton was cleared to play, he admitted that he was often hesitant to swing hard and would even take pitches in certain areas for fear of making the injury worse. That fear appears to be gone in the postseason. During the regular season, Upton hit a home run every 59 at-bats. During the postseason that number is now once every seven at-bats.

The regular season. The Rays won the regular season series with the Red Sox 10 games to eight. Many in Red Sox Nation said the regular season didn’t matter. The goal should just be to make the postseason. Two of those wins came in a late-season series at Fenway with first place on the line. The Rays were 0-7 at Fenway prior to those games, and the two wins proved to the team that they could win in Boston. The Rays would go on to win the AL East and win two of the three games at Fenway in the ALCS. And is there any chance the Red Sox might have liked having Game 7 at home?

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