L.A. needs to solve Boston's deep, talented, relentless lineup

ByDavid Schoenfield ESPN logo
Thursday, October 25, 2018

BOSTON -- The five Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers who appeared in Game 1 of the World Series faced 38 batters, threw 139 pitches and learned over 3 hours and 52 minutes that this is not going to be easy.

Not that they expected to waltz into Fenway Park and spin two shutouts.

During the regular season, the Boston Red Sox had the best offense in the majors, leading everybody in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. "We've been doing this all year, especially in the postseason," Brock Holt said after the Red Sox beat the Dodgers 8-4 on Tuesday, pounding out 11 hits and the five hardest-hit balls of the game. "We've been giving good at-bats, not going out of the strike zone. We have a lot of guys who can get the job done and a lot of guys who have stepped up."

That was the big lesson from the first game. This lineup is deep, talented, relentless and shows absolutely no fear with two strikes. J.D. Martinez hit two rockets and Mookie Betts reached base twice, but Andrew Benintendi chipped in with four hits, three of them off Clayton Kershaw, and when Martinez was intentionally walked with the score 5-4 in the seventh inning, Eduardo Nunez came off the bench after Xander Bogaerts struck out and delivered the decisive blow with a three-run home run.

"It's a really, really good offensive team over there. This is going to be a dogfight," Dodgers second baseman Brian Dozier said.

Said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts: "I thought we pitched them OK, but that's a good offense over there."

The Red Sox attacked Kershaw right out of the gate: 14 pitches into the game it was already 2-0. "That was huge for us," Holt said. "I'm sure there were some nerves, but when you get up like that right away, it's like, 'OK, this is just baseball.'"

Indeed, the Red Sox seemed locked in on their game plan against Kershaw. They got five hits off his slider -- more than Kershaw had allowed in any one start this season, no surprise since batters hit just .179 against his slider in the regular season. Four of those hits were over 100 mph.

Red Sox bench coach Ron Roenicke had high praise for hitting coach Tim Hyers after the game and the team's success against Kershaw and the four relievers who followed. "That's as good a job as I've seen of a guy breaking down a pitching staff," he said.

Benintendi didn't want to give away any state secrets about their approach against the three-time Cy Young winner. "Obviously we're facing a guy who's one of the best of all time," he said. "And a lot of guys didn't have a lot of experience off of him; the first time a lot of us have faced him. ... Just (wanted) to get him in the zone and try not to chase. I don't want to say too much. We'll probably face him again. But we swung at strikes for the most part."

The preparation is certainly vital, but this is simply a better lineup than the Braves or the Brewers, the Dodgers' first two playoff opponents. Check out some regular-season rate stats (with pitchers removed):

Those numbers may seem small, but a few percentage points mean a lot in a sport where marginal differences are important. Especially compared with the Brewers, the Red Sox strike out a lot less and swing-and-miss a lot less. As my colleague Sarah Langs pointed out, the Red Sox have scored 32 of their 64 runs this postseason with two outs. That's 50 percent of their runs, compared with 38 percent in the regular season. They just don't give you a chance to breathe.

The Red Sox have power, but they're not selling out for power at all costs. Dodgers pitchers did manage to record 12 strikeouts, but even that wasn't easy. The Red Sox still hit .250 (5-for-20) with two strikes compared with a regular-season average of .200. Sure, 4-for-20 is .200, so we're talking one hit, but one hit can be huge.

Consider Benintendi's double off Julio Uriasto lead off the seventh. He had swung and missed at two four-seam fastballs. Urias tried to sneak another four-seamer past him, but Benintendi blooped a ball to left field. Joc Pederson should have caught it, but it glanced off the tip of his glove. Statcast data gave the hit only a 20 percent hit probability, but you know what the hit probability is when you strike out? Zero.

How do the Dodgers cope with all this in Game 2?

They have to keep Betts and Benintendi off base. After all, it's a lot easier to pitch to J.D. Martinez if nobody is on base. Betts actually hasn't been tearing it up in the postseason, hitting .209/.306/.279 without a home run.

Get ready to match up with Steve Pearce, Martinez and Xander Bogaerts with right-handed relievers. Assuming that Alex Cora rolls out the same lineup against Hyun-Jin Ryu, those three will hit 3-4-5. You probably won't see Ryu face them a third time through the order if the game is close. Roberts actually pulled Kershaw when this group came up in the fifth (after Betts had walked and Benintendi singled), but Ryan Madson couldn't escape the jam and both inherited runners scored.

The Dodgers are carrying 12 pitchers. Use them. It's hard to fault Roberts for any moves in Game 1. I guess he could have pulled Wood for a right-hander after Nunez hit for Devers -- but Cora may have countered with Brock Holt. Boston's bench may not be quite as loaded as L.A.'s, but there are still enough options in there with Nunez, Mitch Moreland and Holt that it's not that easy for Roberts to get the platoon advantage out of the bullpen.

Shut down the bottom of the lineup. Devers and Nunez combined for two hits, a walk and four RBIs in the six-hole. Weak-hitting catcher Sandy Leon chipped in two hits and while neither one figured in the scoring, that was two potential outs you had to find somewhere else.

Figure Kenley Jansen for two innings and then kind of work backward from there.

The most likely way to beat the Boston offense, however? Your offense better put up some crooked numbers.

Related Video