Before a pitch had been thrown in October it was clear that the American League representative would be the favourites in the World Series. We now know that the Boston Red Sox will be that team. The Red Sox have cruised to the World Series, winning 3-1 against the Yankees and 4-1 against the Astros. This is despite the obvious strength of the American League postseason teams.
Boston are now even bigger favourites than they were before, after the way they brushed aside the second and third best teams in baseball this season. The Red Sox success this postseason has come about with timely hitting and excellent base running.
Despite the power surge in modern baseball it seems that you need a different approach to be successful in the postseason. Many of the World Series winners in recent years have excelled at not striking out. The Astros led baseball in not striking out in 2017 and so did the Royals in 2015. The Red Sox have shown that they have this different approach. They were in the top five for avoiding strikeouts this season. Boston’s ability to make contact combined with their 125 regular season stolen bases (third most in baseball), shows that they can play smallball and manufacture runs when needed.
Fundamentals sets the Boston offense apart
Strikeouts increasing over the last few years and by avoiding this outcome the Red Sox have set themselves apart from many of the other competing teams. A prime example of this is J.D. Martinez. With 146 strikeouts in the regular season, Martinez was the team leader in this category. However, he also provides massive power with 43 home runs this year.
Khris Davis and Giancarlo Stanton are two other power hitters that played for postseason teams. They both hit similar numbers of home runs to Martinez but they struckout 175 and 211 times respectively. Similar hitters to Martinez strikeout at a much higher rate than he does which gives the Red Sox an edge in the postseason.
By reducing their strikeouts Red Sox hitters increase their chance of advancing a runner that is on base. It also allows them to have longer at bats so they can force dominant starters out of the game earlier.
Aggressive base running has also given the Red Sox an advantage. By stealing bases or just taking an extra base on a hit, Boston has repeatedly put starting pitchers in stressful situations early in games. Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi provide speed at the top of the lineup and have contributed to Boston scoring multiple runs early in most of their games this postseason. Gaining an early advantage has been crucial for Boston, in fact they have scored first in all of their wins and scored in the first inning in four of their nine games.
By taking an extra base the Red Sox quickly transform an innocuous situation into an opportunity to score. By having above average speed all the way down the lineup they can maximise the limited opportunities that you get against postseason pitching.
Red Sox success could change the game
A combination of old-fashioned smallball and new-style home run power has carried the Red Sox to their best regular season ever and possibly another world series title. Speed has been disappearing from the game as power has increased but the Red Sox have shown that a balanced offense is still the best way to be successful.
Boston are massive favourites to win the world series, particularly with a rested Chris Sale. If they do we could see other teams try to add speed to their lineup and an increased value placed on Hitter’s strikeout rates.