BOSTON — Let’s not sugarcoat it. The Red Sox’ offense simply didn’t deliver Saturday, and there’s no room for moral victories, especially when the opposing team nearly tosses a no-hitter in Game 1 of the ALCS.
But Boston’s bats must stick to the plan despite just one hit, 17 strikeouts and eight men left on base.
There might be some moving parts Sunday. Mike Carp could be inserted into the starting lineup for Mike Napoli, who is 1-for-13 in his career against Game 2 starter Max Scherzer, and Xander Bogaerts could even get the nod at third base over Will Middlebrooks. But the Red Sox’ offensive approach is unlikely to change despite Saturday’s disappointing showing, and that’s quite all right, as it’s a formula that’s perfect for toppling the Tigers. It simply didn’t work out in Game 1.
The Red Sox only mustered up one hit in Saturday’s 1-0 loss, and it came with one out in the ninth inning. The Sox also failed to put the leadoff man on in any of their nine trips to the plate. Boston did, however, drive up starter Anibal Sanchez’s pitch count early and get to the Tigers’ bullpen, which is exactly what they’ll need to do throughout the rest of the series.
“We have eight men on base, I think. Characteristic of this team all year is to build a pitch count. I thought we were doing that with Sanchez, 50-plus [pitches],” John Farrell said after the loss. “But the idea is to get to the bullpen, and as we went through that, any time we had a man on base, he would get a strikeout when needed. But I wouldn’t say patience working deep counts was the reason why we didn’t get a hit until the ninth.”
Sanchez walked six batters over his six no-hit frames, which forced his pitch count to soar to 116 before Jim Leyland turned to the bullpen to begin the seventh. The Red Sox had chances to score in the first, second and sixth innings against Sanchez despite being held hitless, and a big reason why was their continued patience at the plate. The problem was that Boston just couldn’t produce the timely hits that we’re so accustomed to seeing this season, whereas the Tigers benefited from a two-out RBI single from Jhonny Peralta in the sixth inning.
“Again, two-out base hit was the difference in this one tonight,” Farrell said. “To chase a very good starter after six innings, I thought we succeeded in that right. We’re down a run. That game is still very much in the balance with every time we come to the plate. … We set out — we achieved what we set out to do and that was to get in the bullpen in the middle innings, and unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
The Red Sox have used a patient approach that’s aimed at driving up starters’ pitch counts all season, but it’s particularly important against the Tigers, who boast the league’s best rotation yet a suspect bullpen. To the Tigers’ credit, the relief combination of Al Alburquerque, Jose Veras, Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit got the job done Saturday. However, the Red Sox will certainly take their chances against Detroit’s bullpen — which ranked 24th in ERA, 23rd in WHIP and 23rd in walks per nine innings during the regular season — over the team’s fearsome rotational foursome. That’s especially true for Games 3 and 4, when Scherzer and Justin Verlander look to flex their muscles against the Red Sox’ sputtering offense.
October isn’t a time for excuses. It’s also not a time for knee-jerk reactions, and the Red Sox were one two-out knock away from making Saturday’s dismal offensive showing appear a little less awful on the surface. Runs aren’t going to come easy in the ALCS, but they’re more likely to come eventually if the Red Sox maintain the offensive approach that’s been the bread and butter of their 2013 turnaround.