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Against All Odds, Red Sox Take Down Rays and Advance to the ALCS

Boston Red Sox NLDS

The Red Sox won their American League Division Series despite being heavy underdogs, continuing a trend from the regular season.

On Monday night, the Boston Red Sox walked off on the Tampa Bay Rays for the second straight night to win the Division Series three games to one.  Facing the team with the best record in the American League, the Red Sox never seemed fazed.  Despite losing the first game and blowing multiple leads in the series, the BoSox persevered on Marathon Monday to upset the AL favorites.

Who Needs Projections?

Very few people in the baseball world gave the Red Sox much of a chance in the series, just like the whole season.  At the well-respected baseball analysis website FanGraphs, only 11 of their 28 writers picked the Red Sox to win the Wild Card Game.  Boston proceeded to easily knock out Gerrit Cole and the New York Yankees, ending their archrival’s season.

For the ALDS, only four of those 11 thought the Red Sox would beat the Rays, but the ZiPS projection system gave the Sox a fighting chance of 48.5%, higher than other models.  At FiveThirtyEight, their MLB Predictions put the Red Sox as underdogs in each individual playoff game, ranging from 35%-47% depending on the starting pitchers.

The Red Sox current success looks even better compared to preseason expectations.  After an awful 2020 season left them last in the division, most people thought the Sox would be an average team, at best, this year (FiveThirtyEight’s average simulation gave them 80 wins).  Their own front office was only slightly more optimistic, projecting 86 wins and an outside shot at a Wild Card berth.

I do not mean to pick on articulate blogs that I read everyday.  I did not expect the Red Sox to upset the Rays, either.  Tampa cruised to the AL East title with eight more wins than Boston, but they did not win when it mattered most.  A scrappy Sox team reminiscent of the 2013 champs are making a full-team effort to defeat more talented ones.  When the franchise is not expected to win the World Series, something magical happens to bring the roster and fan base together.

How Boston Did it, What Comes Next

With each hitter taking turns to play hero in a deep lineup, Enrique Hernandez stepped up with a sacrifice fly to score Danny Santana for the winning run.  The clincher came one day after Christian Vasquez hit a walk-off home run, proving the Red Sox do not need to rely solely on their superstars to score runs.

That is not to say the stars took the series off.  Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Kyle Schwarber each have two home runs in the playoffs, including the Wild Card game.  Those three plus Hernandez and J.D. Martinez all have an OPS well over 1.000 in five games, with Alex Verdugo not far behind at .913.

With the return of manager Alex Cora, the Red Sox have been playing with a lot of confidence all season long.  “I mean, here we are surprising everybody but ourselves,” Hernandez said after the game. “We knew in spring training we had the team to make it this far and here we are.”

That self-assurance will have to carry over to the ALCS.  They will be underdogs again, facing the dangerous Houston Astros.  In a rematch of the 2018 ALCS, the Red Sox have to deal with a balanced lineup even deeper than their own, with no easy outs.  Houston’s one weak hitter is Martin Maldonado, one of the best defensive catchers in the game.

The Astros pitched better than many expected this weekend against another good lineup in the Chicago White Sox.  Amid new baseless cheating allegations, the ‘Stros clinched in Chicago amid a raucous crowd, so they will be ready for the Fenway noise.  The Red Sox have their work cut out for them, but Cora happens to know his next opponent well, serving as the Astros bench coach before becoming manager.

Unfinished Business

Regardless of what happens going forward, the Red Sox have already dramatically exceeded expectations, even their own.  But the people in the locker room will tell you, beating the Rays was only Step 2 in winning it all.  Be careful betting against a motivated team like the Red Sox.

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