Red Sox vs Dodgers: Five key factors to watch in this World Series
By Sean Penney
One of the biggest questions teams face in the World Series is how to handle the designated hitter position. The National League doesn’t use the DH, forcing American League teams to ditch that spot in favor of pitchers stepping to the plate. While some may favor this old-school approach for the strategy it invokes, the rules put the AL at a distinct disadvantage. This is particularly true for a team like the Red Sox that has a primary DH as the linchpin of their lineup.
How will the Red Sox fit J.D. Martinez in the lineup for Games 3-5 in Los Angeles?
One theory being floated around is that Mookie Betts could move to second base to allow Martinez to play right field. Betts came up through the minor league system as a second baseman, moving to the outfield only because his path to the big leagues was blocked by Dustin Pedroia at the time. Aside from six innings at the position earlier this season, Betts hasn’t played second base since 2014.
He fields grounders as part of his pregame routine and there’s no doubt he’d be prepared if asked to switch positions yet it would be a significant risk to have Betts play a position he hasn’t been familiar with for years in the biggest games of his career. Even if he holds his own at second, he’s still a downgrade from former Gold Glove winner Ian Kinsler. Boston also loses the advantage of having the best right fielder in baseball. Replacing Betts with Martinez in right is a massive downgrade.
The Red Sox could bench Jackie Bradley, shift Betts to center field and put Martinez in right. Andrew Benintendi is also capable of moving to center with Martinez going to left if they prefer. This is how the Red Sox typically handled their alignment in the 57 games Martinez spent int he outfield this season, making it the most likely solution. Either scenario still weakens the outfield defense and deprives the Red Sox of the ALCS MVP.
Lefties Kershaw and Ryu will start the first two games of the series at Fenway, where Boston will have the DH available. Expect Bradley to sit against the lefty Hill in Game 4, although he’ll still be used as a defensive replacement and/or pinch-runner late in games if the Red Sox have a lead. He could also sit against Kershaw in a potential Game 5.
That leaves only Game 3 against Walker Buehler as the only road game against a right-handed starter. Bradley should be starting if the Red Sox aren’t facing a lefty. Perhaps this is the spot where they experiment with Betts at second base? It’s not a viable long-term strategy but they could make it work for at least part of one game.
It’s either that or they start Martinez on the bench in that game, allowing manager Alex Cora to deploy him strategically midway through the game. Maybe he hits for the pitcher and remains in the game as part of a double-switch. It may cost him at least one at-bat but it may be worth it to avoid weakening their defense for an entire game.
Cora will have to get creative to maximize Martinez’ bat without costing his team on the defensive end. He’ll make it work but there’s no doubt that the rules put Boston at a disadvantage.