The Red Sox lost the battle that was Game One on Thursday, but they have not lost the war that is the American League Division Series matchup against the Rays. Winning three of four from Tampa Bay will be no easy feat, but it’s far from impossible. Of course, to do so, some players are going to have to step up. And so for this week’s staff roundtable, we give our X-Factor for the series. (Note that most of these answers did come before Game One was played.)
The X-Factor in this series is Xander Bogaerts. We obviously all saw what an impact he can make in the Wildcard game. However, this is not recency bias. This team has always been at its best when Bogey is tearing the cover off of the ball. When he struggled, the Red Sox got swept by the Yankees, lost two of three to the 52-110 Baltimore Orioles, and then had to win essentially in spite of him in Washington.
Bogaerts bats right after some combination of Hernandez, Schwarber, and Devers. Those three will be on base plenty which will give Bogaerts plenty of opportunities to do damage. If he can swing a hot bat as he did in the first half, this team will put plenty of runs on the board. We’re going to need some early leads to take down the first-place Rays.
Are you ready for the Hunter Renfroe revenge series? We all know that Renfroe has a cannon of an arm in RF but he has hit extremely well against the Rays this year. In his 39 PAs in the Trop, he has hit five doubles, 2 home runs, and is batting .289. In Fenway, he is hitting .389 with six doubles, and two home runs. To really get this Red Sox offense going, they need to get the bottom half of the order going and I think our man, Hunter Renfroe is going to have a huge series.
The Red Sox’ X-Factor for the ALDS is Eduardo Rodriguez. E-Rod is getting the ball in Game 1, and it’s essential that he shows up and starts the series off with a bang. He’s had a very up-and-down season, having starts where he looks like an ace and then following those up with duds. I strongly believe that his season’s ERA of 4.74 is not indicative of the kind of player he is, but it’s about time he proves it on the field. There’s no better time to do that than the playoffs. If Rodriguez is able to propel the Sox to a Game 1 victory, Sale and Eovaldi line up very nicely for Games 2 and 3. (Ed. Note: X-Factor doesn’t always mean good!)
As seen with the Wildcard game on Tuesday, Xander Bogaerts’ ability to be the Bogaerts that everyone knows and loves is one of, if not the most important factor of this series. Bogaerts has been struggling as of late, slashing only .156/.308/.156 with a 42 wRC+ and .237 wOBA over the last three series of the regular season. Clearly, pitching will be very important this season, but as displayed on Tuesday, Bogaerts’ contributions tend to ignite the team as a whole and give them a better chance to win the game overall. Due to his ability to impact all games of this series, Bogaerts finding his rhythm has the chance to impact this team the most, and hopefully he can find his groove and provide the spark that they need to at least steal a few from the Rays, and even win the series.
Garrett Whitlock. There are plenty of weak spots to point to with this Red Sox team (as well as plenty of strengths), but the bullpen is perhaps the biggest question mark. That type of shortcoming can be especially magnified in the playoffs, so the Red Sox need everyone pitching at their best. Whitlock has been one of the Red Sox’s most reliably effective relievers, especially with Matt Barnes’ late season swoon (which may have cost him an ALDS roster spot). However, Whitlock also dealt with an injury right at the end of the season, and its unclear how that might affect him during the postseason. If he’s still the guy with the dynamite fastball and ice water in his veins that he was before the injury, then the Red Sox have a bullpen stalwart to lean on and that will make a huge difference.
With respect to the “How healthy is J.D. Martinez?” question, my X-Factor for the Red Sox is which version of Bobby Dalbec we will see. For the first four months of the season, I wondered if/when he would get sent down, which came even more to the forefront once the Kyle Schwarber trade happened. From August 8th to September 21st, a span of 34 games, Dalbec posted a slash line of .340/.426/.802 with 12 HR, 36 RBI, and perhaps most importantly, a K% of only 23%. He had an outrageous 218 wRC+ over these six weeks.
Since that date, including the Wild Card game, Dalbec is 2-for-24 (both home runs) with no walks and 11 strikeouts. He struggled mightily with hard fastballs up in the zone against right-handers throughout Tuesday night’s game and for much of the season. Perhaps the left-handed McClanahan will be the change that Dalbec needs in game one, but don’t be surprised to see him on the bench against the hard-throwing right-hander Shane Baz in game two.
I believe the most crucial player in this upcoming series is Rafael Devers. He managed to carry the Red Sox to a game that clinched a playoff spot, and there is no reason to believe that he can’t recreate some of the crucial moments we saw from him over the course of the season, let alone that single game. Boston’s offense has been hit or miss (quite literally) and should players on the team ahead of Devers find a way to reach base, it’s not far-fetched to feel confident in his ability to drive in runs. His solid campaign still had some blatant question marks, particularly his defense. Not only does he need to continue riding high on his recent power binge, but continue to make plays that can and should be made. One defensive miscue could set Boston up for trouble against a lethal Rays lineup, which is something that the fan base and especially Devers hope is not in the forecast for the third baseman.
After coming through with three clutch RBI in his first career postseason game in Tuesday’s Wild Card Game win over the Yankees, I believe Alex Verdugo will emerge as the X-Factor for the Red Sox in their ALDS clash with the Rays. Verdugo may be inexperienced when it comes to October baseball, but proved throughout the regular season that he can deliver in crunch time when a game is on the line.
On top of that, of the 13 pitchers the Rays are carrying on their ALDS roster, only two are left-handers. Against right-handed pitching this season, Verdugo slashed .321/.392/.501 while hitting 11 of his 13 home runs and collecting 51 of his 63 RBI. I obviously think this will play into the left-handed hitting Verdugo’s favor, so I’m expecting him to make an impact in this best-of-five series.
The X-Factor in the ALDS is none other than the X-Man himself. Xander Bogaerts ended the season in a bit of a funk but turned it on for the Wild Card game. Paired with Devers and Schwarber- and hopefully a healthy J.D. Martinez - Xander is the glue that holds the offense and defense together. He mans shortstop and he hits.