The health and effectiveness of Clay Buchholz will be one of the most important aspects for the Boston Red Sox this postseason. He will likely be penciled in for Game 3 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay following Jon Lester and John Lackey, who will pitch in Games 1 and 2, respectively.
After missing nearly three months, Buchholz was still able to finish with a 12-1 record and an ERA of 1.74. He managed to squeeze in four starts as a final tune up for the postseason and looked great while doing so. The only questions that remain unanswered are whether Buchholz can stay healthy for the entirety of the postseason, and if he can get the same feel and confidence for his pitches that he had early on in the year.
As long as it took him to get back to the mound, I’d be really shocked to see him suffer any setbacks from the injury at this point. The Red Sox may have been overly cautious with their approach to Buchholz, but he came back at almost the perfect time to get a month’s work of starts under his belt. He threw 24 innings in September while allowing 18 hits and 5 earned runs. Buchholz allowed zero runs in two of those four starts, but he did struggle with control at times, walking 7 batters.
Buchholz is undeniably the ace of the Boston Red Sox. The luxury the Sox have is their depth at the position. When a team’s ace can start the third game of a playoff series, it’s clear something is going right. But don’t get it confused, if the Red Sox dreams of a World Series are to come true, they need Buchholz at his very best.
Perhaps the streakiest hitter Boston fans have ever seen, Mike Napoli will need to find that groove to keep the Red Sox line up running smoothly and David Ortiz a happy man.
When Napoli is on point, it puts a dangerous weapon behind Big Papi that forces teams to throw strikes to him. For example, during a terrible August where Napoli hit .208 with a dreadful .329 OBP, it was no coincidence that Ortiz also struggled, managing just seven XBH’s, with a .269 avg. and an OPS of .792, by far his worst month of the season. Then, when Napoli surged in September hitting .333 with an OPS of 1.227, Ortiz followed suit with a blistering month of his own, hitting .293 with an OPS of .992. and 16 XBH’s.
The stats don’t lie. The Sox attempted to shuffle the line up during Napoli’s struggles by putting a number of different guys in that five spot, but neither Carp, Gomes, Nava, Salty, or Middlebrooks had the same effect on pitchers as Napoli when he’s hot.
Ortiz has been given 27 free passes this year, that’s 8 more then Miguel Cabrera, simply because pitchers feel safer taking their chances with whoever is behind him. But if the man behind him is a confident Napoli, teams better think twice before putting Ortiz on.
It’s a 3-2 game and the Red Sox are leading heading into Tampa’s half of the 8th inning. Who’s the trusted guy to come in to be the bridge to get to Koji Uehara? The answer is Craig Breslow.
When the year began, Joel Hanrahan was the closer, Junichi Tazawa and Uehara were a dominant pair of set-up men, Andrew Bailey was another late inning guy, and Craig Breslow was kind of lost in the mix.
Well, not anymore. Breslow has earned the trust of fans, ownership, and management to be the guy who can pitch a clean 8th inning. He can face righties, or lefties, he can pitch one inning, or multiple, you see, his versatility all year has been the reason he finds himself in such a prominent role for the postseason.
Breslow had a phenomenal year appearing in 61 games with a 1.81 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 33 strike outs. In his last 25.2 innings pitched, Breslow has given up just a single run, holding opponents to next to nothing in every category.
His most important stat, however, might be that he’s only allowed three home runs on the year compared to Tazawa who has served up nine bombs. I want my set-up man to give the closer a chance, and while Tazawa has not been terrible, Breslow has outperformed him. His ability to get the ball in Uehara’s hands will be a huge factor for the Red Sox this postseason.