ALCS Game 6: Here’s what the Red Sox lineup needs to break out of their slump
By Sean Penney
The Red Sox lineup needs to make some adjustments for Game 6
The Boston Red Sox picked the wrong time for their lineup to fall into a slump. After piling up a total of 21 runs in Games 2 and 3 of the ALCS, the Red Sox have scored only three runs over their last two games. They now trail the Houston Astros in this series heading into Game 6 and Boston’s bats will need to wake up in order to avoid elimination.
Runs had been plentiful for this lineup throughout most of this postseason. Boston made hitting the ball out of the park look easy as they piled up a franchise postseason record 20 home runs through Game 3 of this series. That included three grand slams in a span of two games to set an MLB single-series record.
Perhaps smashing all those home runs wasn’t for the best in the long run. As the Red Sox lineup has sputtered through the last two games, we’ve seen a lot of long swings lead to outs. Hitters appear to be trying to do too much at the plate, swinging for the fences instead of trying to get on base.
Manager Alex Cora astutely pointed out when addressing the media on Thursday that his team wouldn’t have hit those grand slams if it weren’t for the players loading the bases.
"“Home runs have come with traffic, right, except the one yesterday,” Cora told reporters, via ASAP Sports. “So, I think we’ve done a good job getting on base. Well, early on, right? I mean, to hit three grand slams, a lot of people got on base before the swing, right?”"
The low point of the series came in Game 5 when the Red Sox were limited to one run on three hits. They weren’t striking out at a high rate, with Astros pitchers punching out only five, but they drew only one walk. Hitters were pressing too much, resulting in overaggressive at-bats that ended too quickly. Astros starter Framber Valdez made it through eight spectacular innings with only 93 pitches.
Red Sox hitters were trying too hard to recapture the home run swings that fueled them earlier in this series but they weren’t able to get the ball in the air. They were frequently on top of the pitch, sending it harmlessly into the ground. Boston registered 12 ground outs and grounded into two double plays.
"“I always said that in the playoffs the difference between hitting .300 and .200 is one swing, right? You go 2 for 10, you hit .200. You went 3 for 10, then you had a great series. No. You got lucky with one swing, and you hit .300.,” said Cora. “I think it’s the quality of the at-bats. It’s just the grinding the at-bats.”"
The Game 5 loss was hardly an example of the Red Sox suffering from bad luck on balls in play. Boston recorded only two outs in the game that had an expected batting average above .250, according to Baseball Savant. A ground out to second base with a 108.3 mph exit velocity from Xander Bogaerts with the bases empty in the fourth (.490 xBA) and a 77.4 mph lineout from Kyle Schwarber with a runner on second in the sixth (.420 xBA).
The Red Sox created a new habit late in the season of signaling a check mark to teammates to celebrate a quality at-bat. This lineup hasn’t been handing out many check marks the last two games.
The key to getting back on track is a commitment to delivering those quality at-bats. Don’t swing at bad pitches that will induce weak contact. Don’t let your swing get too big. Stay within the zone and make solid contact.
Boston has fallen behind early in these last two games and they’ve been pressing to get those runs back with one swing. That’s not their game. The home runs will come when the offense gets clicking but they can’t start swinging out of their shoes trying to force it.
If the Red Sox are going to stave off elimination in Game 6, it’s essential for them to rack up several of those check marks.