Red Sox Thoughts: A Game of Inches Decided the ALCS

The Boston Red Sox are World Series bound; however it was a series that was decided by inches.

This series featured two of the best teams in baseball over the last decade. The two teams got here heavily relying on opposite sides of the ball, the Astros riding their dominant pitching staff and the Red Sox depending on their powerful bats.

The Astros came into the postseason with a league best 3.11 ERA, over a full run lower than the league average. The Red Sox offense led the league in AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and total bases and finished 30 points ahead of the league batting average. The matchup between the Red Sox hitters and the Astros pitchers would come down to who executed their strengths, and fortunately the Boston hitters executed when it mattered most.

Pitch 1: JBJ vs Cole

In the 3rd inning of game 2 Jackie Bradley Jr came up to the plate with the bases loaded and down 2 runs against Astros RHP Gerrit Cole. On the 2-1 pitch, the Astros catcher set his glove for a pitch low and down the middle, Cole then threw a 98 mph fastball a bit more middle than he should have. As you can see here JBJ has had relatively more success on those types of pitches. That success continued as he ripped a 3-run double off the monster that gave the Red Sox a 5-4 lead, and from there, they never looked back as they tied the series at one game apiece.

Pitch 2: Pearce vs Smith

In the top of the 6th inning in a 2-2 game, Steve Pearce stepped into the box against veteran RHP Joe Smith. On only the second pitch, Pearce hit a moonshot homer down the left field line. Once again, where the catcher setup and where the pitch ended up favored the Red Sox hitters big time. As you can see here RHB have been dominating Smiths pitches middle and outside, which is where the catcher setup. Instead the pitch ended up middle-in on Pearce who has handled that pitch with ease as you can see here. This homer gave the Sox the lead, but a one run lead on the road in a decisive Game 3 was not going to be enough.

Pitch 3: JBJ vs Osuna

With a 2 run lead in the 8th inning against a powerful Astros team, I don’t think anyone truly felt safe with that lead. After a clutch bases-clearing double in Game 2, JBJ saved the day again with a grand slam. The Astros catcher set up middle-in on Bradley Jr,a place where RHP Roberto Osuna has overpowered LHB as you can see here and a location that JBJ has struggled getting hits. Instead the pitch rose high and inside, where Osuna has been relatively bad, and JBJ turned on the ball to give the Red Sox a much needed safety net.

Pitch 4: JBJ vs James

After a Game 4 where momentum shifted back and forth, JBJ once again decided to put a dagger in Houston. Rookie RHP Josh James had been lights out with the Astros up 5-4 until the top of the 6th where Christian Vazquez nearly went yard on him. However, a few pitches later, JBJ did go yard on him to give the Sox a 6-5 lead. We see the Houston catcher set up for a pitch low and down the middle, similar to the pitch JBJ gave the Sox the lead on in Game 2. Instead of a 98 mph fastball down the middle, it was a hanging 89 mph slider right down the heart of the plate. As noted earlier JBJ has been very successful here and it paid dividends in Game 4.

Pitch 5: Martinez vs Verlander

The Red Sox were bailed out in the top of the 3rd when Verlander threw a near perfect curveball that appeared to catch the outside corner for strike 3, the umpire saw it differently. Verlander has been dominate using that low and outside curve against RHB as you can see here. Recently Martinez has been struggling on the low and outside curveball as seen here. So Verlander tried to throw that same outside corner curveball and sure enough it sailed high and inside, and Martinez crushed it for his first home run since Game 1 ALDS. That inside corner has been a nightmare for Verlander this season and has been a dream pitch for Martinez.

Pitch 6: Devers vs Verlander

As the SuperCuts commercial says, Verlander does everything in 3’s, and that includes giving up 3-run homers. In the 6th inning with the Red Sox up 1-0 the young star Rafael Devers decided to give the Red Sox some breathing room and launched an opposite field 3-run homer into left field. Verlander tossed a 98 mph fastball to the outside edge where LHB have had success and Devers has also seen success on that pitch. Instead the ball traveled up and in on Devers. This is a place where Devers has tended to strike out, but instead he launched it out of the park giving the Red Sox a cushion.

Everyone says that baseball is a game of inches and that was very clear in the 2018 ALCS. If the Astros pitchers hit their intended location who knows what this series would have looked like, but the Red Sox capitalized on their mistakes and are advancing to the World Series.

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