The best offense in baseball in the regular season continued to decimate elite opposing pitching staffs in the postseason. After the Red Sox offense dominated an Astros team that had a historically good season in the ALCS, the team continued the pattern with a sustained attack against a Dodgers team that led the NL in ERA, mashing its way to an 8-4 victory in Game 1.
The Red Sox jumped on Clayton Kershaw for two runs in the first and five runs over four-plus innings, then kept the pedal down against the Dodgers’ bullpen. Once again, the Red Sox displayed the sort of offensive versatility that has given opponents headaches through the postseason, with the team using a contact-oriented approach in conjunction with aggressive baserunning against Kershaw, then exploding late with an Eduardo Nunez three-run homer against reliever Alex Wood.
The Red Sox have scored at least seven runs five times this postseason, tied for the sixth most in big league history. They have shown the ability to beat elite righties (Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole) and lefties (Kershaw), to score against starters and relievers. That consistent offense has allowed for a surprising stampede through the postseason to date, with Boston now possessing an 8-2 record in October against elite competition.
With the win, the Red Sox took a 1-0 advantage in the race to four wins. The Game 1 winner has gone on to take the championship in 70 of 114 World Series (62 percent), as well as in 12 of the last 15 (80 percent) and 17 of the last 21 (81 percent).
Other Game 1 takeaways:
■ The Red Sox found something against Kershaw: Dodgers lefthander Clayton Kershaw seemed like a tough first draw for the Red Sox, a team that had the lowest average in the majors (.168) against lefthanded breaking balls and that had the second lowest slugging percentage against such pitches.
Yet Boston hunted Kershaw’s slider. The Red Sox collected five of their seven hits off of Kershaw’s slider, and they swung at 24 of 39 (61 percent) sliders thrown by the Dodgers ace. That contrasted with the team’s patient approach against both his fastball (swings at 11 of 27, 41 percent) and curveball (swings at 3 of 13, 23 percent).
Clearly, the Red Sox figured out something that allowed them not just to recognize Kershaw’s slider but to attack it. The result was an ambush with two first-inning runs on three straight hits, both an early-knockout (Kershaw lasted just two batters into the fifth) and a five-run yield.
■ Benny and the lefts: Andrew Benintendi went 4 for 5 with three singles and a double while driving in one run and scoring three more, becoming the third Red Sox player ever with four hits in a World Series game. (He joined Jacoby Ellsbury in 2007 and Wally Moses in 1946.)
Yet as impressive as it was for Benintendi to collect four knocks, the identity of the pitchers against whom he collected the hits made the achievement all the more impressive. He delivered hits in all three at-bats against Kershaw, joining Christian Yelich (2015) and Matt Carpenter (2014) as the only lefthanded hitters ever to collect three hits in a game against the Dodgers ace. Benintendi later added a double on a well-placed flyball down the left field line against lefthanded reliever Julio Urias, giving him four hits against lefties in a single game for the first time in his career.
■ Devers has been an offensive constant: Rafael Devers has made eight playoff starts. With a run-scoring single off of reliever Ryan Madson in the fifth inning, he has now driven in a run in all of them — the longest streak ever to start a player’s postseason career, and tied with Lou Gehrig, Alex Rodriguez, and Ryan Howard for the longest such streak ever.
■ Cora can do no wrong: While Devers had a strong game (1 for 2 with a single and a walk), manager Alex Cora made the decision to pivot to the righthanded hitting Eduardo Nunez in the bottom of the seventh against lefty Alex Wood.
Nunez rewarded the decision by jumping Wood’s second pitch of the game for a three-run homer to left — continuing a yearlong pattern of excellence by the Red Sox against relievers based in no small part on the team’s careful funnel of information to prepare for opposing bullpen members.
■ A different Sale, but no more effective: In his only ALCS start, Chris Sale set off alarms with his pedestrian velocity and inability to throw his signature slider for strikes. He averaged 92 miles per hour on his fastball, and got just four swings-and-misses on his breaking ball.
Against the Dodgers, Sale showed restored power (93.7 m.p.h. on his four-seam fastball) and his slider once again proved a weapon (nine swings-and-misses). But while he threw harder and delivered more strikes, Sale wasn’t much more effective in the World Series than he was in the ALCS, allowing three runs on five hits (including a long solo homer by Matt Kemp on a fastball over the plate) and two walks in four-plus innings. He walked two and struck out seven.
And while his velocity took a step forward, the actual quality of his fastball largely did not. He elicited just two swings-and-misses on his fastball, and with his velocity mostly around 94 m.p.h. rather than the upper-90s, the disciplined Los Angeles lineup did not chase it out of the strike zone — thus leaving Sale vulnerable by having to work in the strike zone with his fastball, the strength of the Dodgers.
In short, Sale is still a far cry from his typical dominance, at a time when he presumably has just one start left this year.