The Boston Red Sox set a franchise record Monday night for most runs scored in a road postseason game. So, why should they make any changes to their approach?
Hear us out.
The New York Yankees will start CC Sabathia on Tuesday night in a must-win Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium. The veteran left-hander still can do a lot of things well at age 38 — but fielding his position certainly isn’t one of them.
If you’ll recall, Sabathia made a stink on two separate occasions late last season when the Red Sox tried to bunt their way on base against him, calling the tactic “weak.” He apparently felt Boston’s batters were trying to exploit his less-than-stellar athleticism by making him field his position — which, of course, was exactly what they were trying to do.
After all, Sabathia stands at a massive 6-foot-6, 300 pounds. He’s sustained several mobility-limiting injuries over the years, most recently a hip ailment that sidelined him early in the season, and has wound up on a few low-light reels while trying to throw batters out on bunt attempts and weak ground balls. He has a career defensive runs saved average of negative-29.
Add it all up, and the Sox may be wise to drop down a bunt or two Tuesday night.
For one, the strategy apparently rattles Sabathia, and a successful bunt for a hit may throw the hefty lefty off his game. It’s not like bunting would be too out of character for Boston’s lineup, either: The Sox took a “death by a thousand paper cuts” approach in Game 3, hitting just one home run while racking up 13 singles in a 16-1 rout. This team doesn’t rely on the long ball like many other clubs, so why not play a little small ball?
There’s a counterpoint, of course. The Red Sox changed managers this offseason, and Alex Cora is even more averse to bunting than John Farrell was. They dropped down just seven sacrifice bunts in 2018, third fewest in the majors and two fewer than the nine they recorded in 2017.
Case in point: When Ian Kinsler tried to bunt in his first Boston at-bat this season, Mookie Betts literally admonished him, telling the veteran second baseman, “We don’t bunt. … We rake here.”
Still, the Red Sox have utilized the bunt in this series. In Game 1, Andrew Benintendi bunted for a base hit in the third inning and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Xander Bogaerts. An inning later, Sandy Leon sac-bunted to advance Ian Kinsler after a leadoff single. So clearly Boston has played some small ball en route to putting New York on the brink of elimination.
With a 16-run outburst under their belts, the Red Sox likely will adopt an aggressive approach Tuesday night. But if Sabathia looks sharp out of the gate and runs are a bit harder to come by, Boston could benefit by taking advantage of arguably his biggest weakness.
After all, unwritten rules don’t apply in the postseason.