The Red Sox’ potential Game 5 “X factor” couldn’t be any more obvious.
Xander Bogaerts should undoubtedly start Game 5 of the ALCS on Thursday. The only considerations should be who Bogaerts replaces in the starting lineup and where exactly he hits in the order.
John Farrell said after the Red Sox’ 7-3 loss to the Tigers in Game 4 on Wednesday that he hasn’t figured out his starting lineup for Game 5, although he did suggest that Bogaerts could be part of the mix.
“Haven’t made a decision on tomorrow’s lineup,” Farrell said. “But given the way the left side of the infield, we’re struggling a little bit to get production out of that side. So it’s something that’s being considered, for sure.”
Farrell should save himself the hassle that comes with a lengthy deliberation and just act. Jim Leyland shuffled his Game 4 lineup in search of a spark, and it worked out perfectly for the Tigers. Detroit scored more runs in the first four innings Wednesday than it has in the rest of the series combined.
Sure, there’s no guarantee that a shake-up would infuse energy into the Red Sox’ lineup, but given Boston’s ongoing struggle to produce runs, inserting Bogaerts into the starting nine seems like a no-brainer. The Red Sox banged out 12 hits in Wednesday’s loss but managed just three runs because they went 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base. A third of the Red Sox’ hits came from Jacoby Ellsbury, and one knock came from Bogaerts in the ninth inning.
Stephen Drew is hitting .107 (3-for-28) this postseason, including 1-for-13 in the ALCS, and Will Middlebrooks is hitting .174 (4-for-23), including 1-for-10 in the series. The time has come for Farrell to turn to the extremely talented rookie sitting on his bench, especially since Bogaerts has managed to make an impact in his limited opportunities.
Bogaerts has reached safely in three of his four playoff plate appearances. And while he did strand the potential tying run on second base in Game 1 of the ALCS, he also worked two key walks in Game 4 of the ALDS and has scored four runs. It’s all been the result of tremendous poise and much-improved plate discipline. Nothing seems to rattle Boston’s top prospect — not even the big stage of October.
“Very confident, very relaxed,” said Bogaerts, who doubled in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game. “During games, sometimes I sit down and visualize myself hitting balls opposite field, home runs, stuff like that. I came into BP and tried to hit a home run to right field today, but I couldn’t. I just visualize myself hitting balls out of the park but to right field and I almost did.
“It’s all about opportunities. You never know what can happen once you get an opportunity. It’s crazy how this game is, so we’ll see tomorrow.”
While Drew’s struggles at the plate have been a bit worse, Middlebrooks will probably be the casualty if Bogaerts finds his way into Thursday’s lineup. Middlebrooks is just 0-for-2 in his career against Game 5 starter Anibal Sanchez, while Drew is 5-for-22 against the right-hander. Plus, Farrell has shown a ton of patience with Drew, and the shortstop’s glove remains an asset.
Bogaerts became the youngest player ever to record a postseason hit for the Red Sox in Game 4 of the ALCS. The 21-year-old should be given an opportunity to leave a bigger mark in Game 5.