Going into the final week of the Major League Baseball (MLB) regular season, the Boston Red Sox were fighting for a Wild Card spot. This was a team that was very far ahead in first place of their division before a swift collapse following the All-Star break. The collapse could be attributed to how at the trade deadline the Red Sox did not address what the team needed. They needed starting and relief pitching help. Instead, they relied on what they had and settled for getting outfielder Kyle Schwarber, relief pitcher Hansel Robles and reliever Austin Davis. Davis and Robles would provide some pitching help but not nearly enough to be consistent enough to fully address their pitching woes. Schwarber would add to their strong offense, but he can’t exactly pitch. Another reason for their collapse was how one of their best relievers completely collapsed in the second half. Closer Matt Barnes was an All-Star for the first half of the season, but in the second half he was statistically a below-average pitcher. This collapse led many to believe that the Red Sox may have squandered their chance to make a strong return to the playoffs two years after trading away their best player, outfielder Mookie Betts. So, after a very back and forth month of September that saw them beat the American League (AL) leading Tampa Bay Rays but lose to the Baltimore Orioles who were the worst team in the AL, the Red Sox were sitting in a tough position to get a Wild Card spot. After being behind in two of the games against the Washington Nationals in the final series of the season, the Red Sox would come back in both games to barely secure a Wild Card spot. Some people believed that the Red Sox were lucky to even be in the playoffs.
The AL Wild Card game was set to be one for the ages. Not only was it between two teams in the same division, but two teams that have one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports. In the 2021 AL Wild Card game, the Red Sox faced off against the New York Yankees. Both teams had just barely gotten into the postseason even with the large amount of talent they had on the roster. The Yankees had made significant improvements at the trade deadline, but ultimately struggled down the stretch. However, even with the Yankees recent struggles, they were still favored in the Wild Card game because they were starting one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole was set to start the game for the Yankees. In 2020, Cole was given one of the biggest contracts for a pitcher in baseball history, so the Yankees were basically paying him to pitch in these big moments. Starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi, on the other hand, was pitching for the Red Sox. Eovaldi had a solid season but was not nearly as good as Cole. The Red Sox were the home team and were playing in their famous Fenway Park where the atmosphere was electric. After a clean first inning from Eovaldi, the Red Sox took control of the game. Third baseman Rafael Devers walked with two outs in the inning and brought shortstop Xander Bogaerts to the plate. At the end of the regular season, Bogaerts had struggled significantly. According to MLB.com, he only hit .241 in the last month of the season. This is not terrible, but not up to the standards for one of the best offensive shortstops in all of baseball. All his struggles did not matter at that moment as he sent a hanging changeup to center field for a two-run home run. That home run nearly sealed the game for the Red Sox. Schwarber would add onto the lead in the third inning with a solo home run of his own to make the score 3-0. After 50 pitches and only two innings completed, Cole was out of the game. The man who was paid so much money to pitch in these key games had collapsed in just two innings. For the rest of the game, the Red Sox were in the driver’s seat. They would score three more runs in the game, with all of them coming from clutch hits from outfielder Alex Verdugo. In the game, Bogaerts would score two runs and have two runs batted in (RBI). He also walked two times, meaning he got on base three times in the game. According to MLB.com, Eovaldi not only outshined Cole, but he also limited a very good offense to just one run and four hits through five innings. Eovaldi and Bogaerts led the team to victory even though they may not have had the best recent stretch of games. They played their best baseball when it mattered most.
After the Wild Card win, the Red Sox had to face the top seed of the AL in the American League Division Series (ALDS). The Tampa Bay Rays stood between them and the American League Championship Series (ALCS). During the regular season, the Rays were arguably a top three team in all of baseball. They were nearly at the top of the league in most pitching categories and were top ten in most hitting categories. According to Oddshark, the Rays were the favorites from the AL to win the World Series, while the Red Sox were the least favored team. So going into the ALDS, the Red Sox were the clear underdogs. In the playoffs, teams that have very good pitching have had the most success in the playoffs. Most recently, the Nationals won the World Series in 2019 behind their three-headed starting pitching monster of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. Even their fourth starter Anibal Sanchez was an above average pitcher, according to Baseball Reference. The Red Sox, on the other hand, have not had great starting pitching this season. Even though their offense was incredible, it wasn’t projected to be enough to lead them to series wins in the playoffs. With the predictions against them, the Red Sox proceeded to Tampa Bay to play the first game of the series. In game one against the Rays, the Red Sox’s worst fear came to life. The offense was not able to outweigh their pitching issues. They got nine hits in the game but could not score a run. This lack of offense did not help as starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez and reliever Nick Pivetta struggled and allowed five runs. Ultimately, the Red Sox would lose game one 0-5. In game two, the offense bounced back. They scored two runs in the top of the first inning, however starting pitcher Chris Sale struggled and gave up five runs in the bottom of the first inning. After one quiet inning, the Red Sox tied the game after back-to-back home runs from Bogaerts and Verdugo. With that momentum, the Red Sox would score another 10 runs in the remaining innings of the game. Outfielder Kike Hernández erupted in the game as he had five hits in his six at bats. He had three doubles and a home run leading to three RBIs in the game. Designated hitter J.D Martinez also added on four hits with one of them being a home run. The offense easily allowed the Red Sox to remain in the series even after their ace struggled in the first inning. Pitcher Tanner Houck also contributed greatly to the team win as he pitched five innings and allowed only one run. In game three, the Red Sox traveled back home but did not get a clean first inning as Eovaldi allowed a two-run home run to outfielder Austin Meadows. However, the Red Sox quickly cut the deficit to one with a solo home run from Schwarber. With the crowd behind them, the Red Sox eventually tied the game on a Hernández single and then they would take the lead behind a single from Devers. Hernández would extend the lead to two with a solo home run in the fifth inning. Then the Red Sox worst fear came back. In the top of the eighth inning the Rays would tie the game on a home run from young superstar shortstop Wander Franco and an RBI double from outfielder Randy Arozarena. The lack of solid pitching had come back to hurt the Red Sox again as the game ultimately was tied following the completion of the ninth inning. After a poor game one, Red Sox manager Alex Cora would go back to Pivetta to keep the game tied. This decision proved to be a very good one as Pivetta would pitch four clean innings as he kept the game tied all the way to the 13th inning. In the top of the 13th inning, Pivetta pitched out of the inning without a run due to rule technicality associated with balls going out of play. But with that lucky break, it was the Red Sox’s chance to win the game. They would indeed win the game after a walk off two-run home run by catcher Christian Vázquez. This would prove to be a huge win for the Red Sox as the Rays invested so much into the game and lost. Game four was a similar story. Devers put the team up three runs with a home run and Verdugo and Martinez extended the lead after that with RBI hits of their own. Then the pitching collapsed again. Meadows would have an RBI groundout to put the Rays on the board and Franco then hit a two-run home run to cut the Boston lead to two. Then again in the eighth inning, the Rays would score two more runs to tie the game. After the game was tied, Cora sent in young reliever Garrett Whitlock. According to MLB.com, Whitlock had a very good season after being taken from the Yankees by the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft. But at that point in the top of the eighth inning, he needed to stop the bleeding and make sure the game was tied. He ended up doing just that. Whitlock would pitch the eighth and ninth innings without allowing a run. These two innings were crucial in giving the Red Sox a chance to end the series. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Red Sox came to bat with the chance to knock out the best team in the AL. The inning started off strong with a single from Vázquez and a bunt from second baseman Christian Arroyo to put Vázquez at second base. A single from pinch hitter Travis Shaw then moved Vázquez to third base. The winning run was 90 feet away. Then came the man of the series. Outfielder Kike Hernández stepped to the plate with the winning run on third base. Hernández already had a hit in the game but none of those at bats mattered. Everything was riding on that one moment. On the second pitch of the at bat, Hernández crushed a ball to deep left field that was caught by Meadows, but it got the job done as the run from third scored and sent the Red Sox to the ALCS.
So, what makes the Red Sox a dangerous team to face in the postseason? It is not their pitching. Although the team got great outings from Pivetta, Eovaldi, Whitlock and Houck, the pitching is not their strength. If anything, their pitching is hurting them more times than not. Their relievers blew the lead twice in the eighth inning in the series against the Rays. What makes them dangerous is their incredibly explosive offense. Their offense is so explosive because everyone is a threat. Their main starting lineup consists of Schwarber, Hernández, Devers, Bogaerts, Verdugo, Martinez, outfielder Hunter Renfroe and Vázquez. Each player can dominate a game. Schwarber had a strong series, but his true offensive talent was shown when he hit 16 home runs in a single month. Hernández was by far their best player in the series, and he wasn’t even their best player in the regular season. Devers was probably their best offensive player in the regular season, and he continued to be an offensive threat in the ALDS. In game four he had three hits, three RBIs and a home run. Bogaerts had plenty of clutch hits and even had that big home run against Cole in the Wild Card game. Martinez had .467 batting average in the series with two hits in game four. Verdugo was incredibly clutch as he drove in six runs in the series. Renfroe may not have had the flashiest series, but he had 31 home runs in the regular season. Vázquez hit a walk-off home run. All these players have incredible offensive potential and they displayed it in their series against the Rays. Not only did they show their offensive prowess, but they also showed it against one of the best pitching teams in all of baseball. If the Red Sox can score runs in bunches against the Rays, they can do it against anyone. Even with all this offensive firepower, there is still a chance that they get blanked in a game, like in game one against the Rays. However, there is too much talent on the team for them to get shut down consistently. They may score zero runs in one game and then score 10 in the next. If one day Bogaerts doesn’t get a hit, Devers may pick up the slack and hit two home runs. No team wants to face the Red Sox anymore because they know if their pitching is perfect then there is a chance that the game just ends up in a back-and-forth offensive battle, considering both sides will likely have poor pitching. If that happens, there are few teams that can match the offensive talent that the Red Sox have. Additionally, the Red Sox are just “lucky” to be here. The team is likely going to be the underdog for the rest of this postseason. There is likely going to be less pressure on them and more on their opponent. This underdog mindset makes them a scary team to face. They may be an underdog in the series, but every day they have a chance to blow you out with their overpowering offense. The Red Sox are turning away from what normally leads to success in the postseason and that makes them scary to face. On Oct. 15, the Red Sox will face off against the Houston Astros in game one of the ALCS.