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108 Stitches Newsletter with Alex Speier

Monday, December 11, 2017
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There’s no need to sugarcoat the obvious: The Red Sox will enter the postseason with the worst offense of any of the American League playoff teams, and arguably any of the playoff teams. With 4.89 runs per game this year, the Sox will be the lone AL team in the playoffs that falls short of the five-runs-per-game threshold.

How much significance does that fact carry once the curtain lifts on the postseason? Virtually none.

On Wednesday, the Red Sox offered a reminder that while they might not have been an elite offense over the course of 158 games, they are nonetheless capable of erupting. In their 10-7 win over the Blue Jays (and starter Marco Estrada, who’d given them fits in three prior starts), the Red Sox offered glimpses of an offense capable of producing crooked numbers.

Hanley Ramirez, Mitch Moreland, and Xander Bogaerts all homered. All three have had wildly inconsistent years in terms of their offensive production, but that becomes irrelevant in October, a month that is less about consistency than about timely hot streaks.

Here’s my look at how the Red Sox offense is about to get a do-over starting next week.

To the links!

ABOUT LAST NIGHT: The Red Sox are running on two tracks: One trying to clinch an AL East title, and another trying to set up their roster for the postseason. In Wednesday’s 10-7 victory over Toronto, as Julian Benbow writes in his game story, the Sox made progress on both fronts thanks to a victory that reduced the team’s magic number in AL East to two along with a dominant relief outing by David Price.

Here’s the box score.

Price entered in the middle of the sixth inning and retired all four batters he faced, three by strikeout. In three appearances as a reliever, he’s punched out 10 of 22 batters he’s faced, a nearly Kimbrel-ish 45.5 percent strikeout rate. He topped out at 97.9 miles per hour – the hardest Price had thrown a pitch since August 3, 2015, helping to explain why Blue Jays manager John Gibbons (who used Price out of the bullpen in 2015) described him as a weapon for the playoffs.

The Sox have to manage both Price and righthander Carson Smith carefully, but both have major potential impact, writes Jen McCaffrey of MassLive.com.

Ramirez’s majestic homer – which had an apex of 136 feet – offered a reminder of why the Red Sox remain committed to betting on his October upside. I look at some promising recent signs from Ramirez, as well as his impressive playoff track record.

Bogaerts’ three-hit night continued his strong run from the leadoff spot, writes Chris Smith of MassLive.com.

IN GOOD STANDING: While the Yankees won yet again, beating Tampa Bay by a 6-1 count, the Red Sox’ win lowered their AL East magic number to two. Only one team – the 2009 Tigers – has ever failed to win the division when armed with a three-game lead and four games remaining. Fangraphs gives the Red Sox a 97 percent chance of winning the AL East.

Still, as Rick Porcello tells Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal, the fact that the Yankees have continued to push the Red Sox all the way to the season’s finish line could help Boston keep its edge as it enters the postseason.

None of the elite teams in the American League is losing. The Astros and Cleveland both won, leaving both with 8-2 records over their last 10 contests. As Houston prepares for its four-game series in Boston, it trails Cleveland by one game for the top seed in the American League – though because the Indians have the tiebreaker of head-to-head record, Houston is functionally two games behind Cleveland in the race for home field.

The Astros and Red Sox both will have lots on the line this weekend, writes Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald.

AS THE ROTATION TURNS: Porcello claimed the win but was unimpressive in his final regular season start. He said that he’s prepared to accept any postseason role that the Red Sox have in mind for him, as Chris Mason of CNHI Sports writes.

Whoever from the group of Eduardo Rodriguez, Doug Fister, and Porcello doesn’t make the postseason rotation should nonetheless be on the postseason roster as a long man, writes Evan Drellich of CSNNE.com.

Put another way, the Red Sox might want to leave the door open to something like the 2004 magic carpet ride navigated by Derek Lowe.

TRYING TO GET WHOLE: The Red Sox took their time in putting Dustin Pedroia back in the lineup in hopes of putting him in the best position to remain on the field throughout October. Benbow looks at Pedroia’s successful return on Wednesday night.

Mookie Betts, out on Wednesday with a wrist injury, expects to return to the Red Sox’ lineup on Thursday, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com.

Jackie Bradley Jr. is amidst a 1-for-29 downturn during which he has four walks and eight strikeouts. Nonetheless, manager John Farrell has no plans to alter his usage of the center fielder. Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette examines the value of managerial willingness to ride out slumps.

DAVIS READY TO RUN: Rajai Davis wants his Dave Roberts moment, writes Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald.

He already had his A.I. moment: After Wednesday’s win, Davis delivered an ankle-breaking crossover at the expense of Red Sox reliever Joe Kelly.

BEYOND THE DIAMOND: Christian Vazquez is amidst a breakout year on the field, but away from it, he’s wrestling with the heartache of all that’s transpired in Puerto Rico. I talked to Vazquez about finding refuge at the park as his island continues to try to recover from Hurricane Maria.

Rhiannon Walker of The Undefeated talked with Red Sox CEO/president Sam Kennedy about the Sox’ Take The Lead initiative.

Chris Archer of the Tampa Bay Rays hasn’t taken a knee during the anthem as a form of protest. The pitcher spoke passionately to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times about why he hasn’t – and why he would like to see athletes spending less time focused on protesting the words of the president and more time standing for social justice.

IN SEARCH OF AN UNTARNISHED RING: Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has a World Series to his credit, but his celebration of a 1997 championship with the Marlins proved short-lived as Florida immediately dismantled. That being the case, Dombrowski is eager to win a title that he can defend, writes Scott Lauber of ESPN.com.

MINOR DETAILS: Kevin Boles told Smith that Rusney Castillo showed big league ability in 2017, and will now have to see whether there is an opportunity to match.

Vote now for The Globies sports awards

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @alexspeier.

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