Three ALCS Keys: Red Sox

Over the next three days, writers from Diehard and Indians Ink—a Scout.com website and magazine that covers the Indians—will break down the AL Championship Series. Today: Three ALCS keys for the Red Sox by Diehard's Jerry Beach.

Set up Jonathan Papelbon for the 9th inning
When it comes to Papelbon, Bostonians fall into two camps: Those who believe he's the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera—and those who think he's already overtaken the king. As impressive as Papelbon has been (72 saves with a 1.35 ERA since the start of 2006), don't buy into the hype. Papelbon is very good, but he's no Rivera.

Papelbon has been asked to get a six-out save in his career twice and has blown both opportunities. After he wore down under a heavy workload last year—he had eight saves of more than three outs and 18 appearances of more than three outs before missing the final four weeks due to a shoulder injury—Papelbon was mostly limited to one inning per outing this season. He had three saves of more than three outs and recorded more than three outs in an outing just four times. In comparison, Rivera—who is 11 years older than Papelbon—had 11 saves of more than three outs and tossed more than an inning 13 times.

And while the rules are different in the postseason—Papelbon tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings to earn the win in Game Two of the ALDS last Friday—the Sox cannot ask Papelbon to do with regularity this month what he hasn't done all season. In order to move on, the Sox need their set-up corps—Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen, Mike Timlin and Javier Lopez—to get the ball to Papelbon in the ninth.

John Farrell
Farrell is the rare coach who commands unrelenting respect from his pupils yet manages to coexist with them on a peer level. He hit it off equally with a demanding perfectionist (Curt Schilling), a headstrong 27-year-old who doesn't easily welcome people into his inner circle (Josh Beckett), a Japanese rookie (Daisuke Matszuaka) and a knuckleballer (Tim Wakefield).

But Farrell's real value in this series lies not with what he knows about his pitchers but what he knows about the Indians. Farrell was the Indians' director of player development for four seasons before becoming the Sox' pitching coach last fall, so it's safe to assume he's got an encyclopedic knowledge of the Indians and their young stars and safe to assume the Sox are picking his brain even as you read this.

If Farrell can help Sox pitchers exploit the weaknesses of Indians hitters—and assist likewise with the Sox hitters against the Tribe hurlers—then he might really be the MVP (Most Valuable Person) of this ALCS.

Bottom feeders must produce
The Sox' 3-4-5 hitters—David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell—enjoyed a monster ALDS: The trio hit .454 (11-of-24) with four homers, 10 RBI, 12 walks and three strikeouts. Their success made it easy to overlook the quiet series had by the bottom four batters in the Sox lineup. J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek, Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo hit .214 (9-for-42) with six RBI, four runs scored, two walks and 11 strikeouts. They combined to hit into three double plays and were 3-for-13 with runners on base.

It's a small statistical sample, but one symbolic of the quartet's struggles this season and, particularly, the failure of Drew, Crisp and Lugo to meet offensive expectations (Varitek enjoyed a bounce-back season at age 35 by hitting .255 with 17 homers and 68 RBI). The Sox were deep enough to overcome their underperformance, and 96 regular season wins makes it easy to forget Drew was signed to be the fifth-place hitter and Lugo to bat leadoff (or that Lugo was replacing Crisp, who failed as the leadoff hitter last season).

The Sox can't count on the middle of the order flirting with a .500 average for the rest of the month, particularly against a deep Indians staff. The Sox need to get something productive out of the bottom of the order in order to advance.


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE.

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