Red Sox Postseason Preview: Five Questions Crucial to Playoff Success

Filed in Featured, Headline, Sports by on October 4, 2009 1 Comment

It seems like every October, the Red Sox find themselves once again matched up in the ALDS against the Angels and their fast-paced, small ball ethos. If history is any indicator, the Sox should have no problem vanquishing their familiar foe—they sent the Angels packing in round one in ’04, ’07, and ’08—and moving on to the Championship Series where they would likely face the juggernaut Yankees who, barring a monumental collapse or a roster-wide case of the plague, should have no problem punching their ticket to the ALCS.

As Boston closes out the season today, its time to look ahead and ponder some lingering questions about the postseason roster. Listed here, in no particular order, are five pressing issues the Sox must address in order to meet with playoff success.Red Sox B

With Varitek struggling and V-Mart thriving, who will start behind the plate?

No question, the mid-season addition of Victor Martinez has greatly helped Boston make it to the postseason. Yet his injection into the lineup presents the awkward question of what to do with team captain Jason Varitek, whose offensive production continues to lag. Varitek is still regarded as one of the game’s best signal callers, but in games against good offensive teams, like the Angels and Yankees, the Red Sox will need all the runs they can get. Against left handed pitching, David Ortiz would likely be out of the lineup, allowing Martinez to bat as the DH. Against righties, Varitek could still catch while Martinez moves to first and Kevin Youkilis slides across the diamond to third base. The Sox have had some success with the latter format already, though it raises the next question of what to do with Mike Lowell.

Can Mike Lowell stay healthy—and contribute?

Lowell’s injured hip might have kept Boston from reaching the World Series last year. Every swing brought a visible wince, and Lowell’s production was almost nonexistent as the Sox were nudged out in game seven of the ALCS. If Lowell can stay healthy, he should split time at third with Youkilis while Martinez plays first base. But if the hip flares up and Lowell has to sit out again this year, the Red Sox will need big performances from the rest of the team to fill that gap—and with Lowell’s .290 batting average and vacuum cleaner glove out of the mix, it will be a huge gap to fill indeed.

What role, if any, will Manny Delcarmen play in the postseason?

Something is terribly wrong with Manny Delcarmen. The previously lights-out reliever has struggled monstrously this year, blowing leads, letting close games slip away. It’s a miracle now when he gets an out. The Red Sox are hesitant to throw him in a game with the stakes this high, though luckily for them nearly everyone else in the bullpen has been great. Boston also has the luxury of pitching three closers—Wagner, Saito, and Papelbon—to finish off games. No other team has three closers, let alone All-Stars at that position, in their pen.

Who will be the backup middle infielder?

Nick Green has been out since September 16 with a slipped disk in his hip; Jed Lowrie is fast, but struggling at the plate; veteran Chris Woodward has seen almost no playing time. Whoever gets the nod would warm the bench under a cloud of concerns. Hopefully Alex Gonzalez pulls his own weight, and his backup will only be needed late in games as a pinch runner.

Which Matsuzaka—May-June, or September-Present—will show up for the postseason?

Before going on the disabled list for all of July and August, Matsuzaka had an ERA of 8.23 and his control issues were, well, out of control. Since returning in September, he has lowered his ERA by about 2.5 points in just five starts while posting a 3-1 record. In his first start since returning from the DL, he pitched six shutout innings in a win over the Angels. Boston needs him to continue his recent string of strong outings to support the solid starting trio of Beckett, Lester, and Buchholz.

Bonus Question: Can the Red Sox advance to the World Series?

It’s always too early to tell. The Red Sox have rolled over the Angels in recent years, somehow always finding a way to win against some very talented LA squads. New York (again presuming the inevitable) would be much, much tougher come round two. With their jaw dropping roster and superhuman play of late, the Yankees look unbeatable. The Red Sox definitely have a shot at advancing, though the odds are stacked against them. The realist in me says an ALCS exit in six against the Damn Yankees, but the fan in me says the Sox sweep straight through to November.

Photo credit: H. Michael Karshis

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  1. M says:

    Ignoring the bonus, that’s either four questions and a statement, or someone dropped a question mark along the way.

    Grammar checking aside, great work as always, Jonathan.

    – A faithful reader

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