MLB World Series 2018: The Red Sox keep winning even though their best players haven’t been at their best

BOSTON — For the eighth time in 10 postseason games this year, the Boston Red Sox emerged victorious Tuesday night, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 in Game 1 of the World Series. It was a 4-3 game as late as the seventh inning. Eduardo Nunez then broke it open with a three-run pinch-hit home run.

Tuesday’s win gives the Red Sox a 1-0 series lead and improves them to 8-2 in the postseason. The numbers are staggering:

  • Postseason record: 8-2
  • Postseason runs scored: 64
  • Postseason runs allowed: 39

A plus-25 run differential in 10 games is mighty impressive, and yes, that is somewhat skewed by their 16-1 win over the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS. Even aside from that though, the Red Sox have not played a one-run game since Game 4 of the ALDS. They’re not just winning a lot, they’re winning convincingly.

Making this more impressive is that the Red Sox are doing this without their best players playing like their normal selves. Chris Sale is a prime example. He labored through four innings plus one batter Tuesday night and has allowed seven runs in 14 1/3 innings this postseason, which is decidedly un-Sale-like. Sale has thrown only 15.9 percent of Boston’s innings this postseason. Last postseason Justin Verlander threw nearly 25 percent of all innings for the Astros, for comparison.

In Sale’s case, he is clearly compromised to some degree, physically. His velocity is down and he’s had to lean heavily on his slider, and he simply hasn’t looked like himself since going on the disabled list twice with shoulder issues in the second half of the regular season. A night’s stay in the hospital with a stomach ailment surely hasn’t helped matters either. Sale’s really had to gut it out this October.

“I said it a couple times in the dugout, it’s a dogfight,” Sale said following Game 1. “My good job as the starting pitcher is to pitch us deep in the game. I’ve just got to give my team a chance. They picked me up tonight. It’s not exactly how you want to draw it up.”

The Red Sox are winning this postseason without Sale pitching like an ace, or anything close to an ace, really. They’re also winning without Mookie Betts, their offensive catalyst, raising hell atop the lineup. Betts went 1 for 4 with a walk in World Series Game 1 but is otherwise hitting .209/.306/.279 with no home runs in 10 postseason games. He stole his first base of the postseason Tuesday night.

“I just wanted some tacos,” Betts joked after the game. His stolen base won free tacos for the country.

Betts is 3 for 19 (.158) in his last three games and two of his five postseason walks have been intentional. Subtracting out the intentional walks, Mookie has earned his way on base 13 times in 47 plate appearances this October, or 27.7 percent. Betts has of course contributed defensively, but, at the plate, he hasn’t been the dominant hitter he was all during the regular season.

Furthermore, the Red Sox have survived some rather shaky outings from All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel this October. In fact, his ninth inning appearance Tuesday night was his first 1-2-3 inning of the postseason. Kimbrel is 5 for 5 in save chances but gosh, they have been nail-biters. Who can forget Andrew Benintendi bailing him out in Game 4 of the ALCS?

In 7 1/3 postseason innings 14 of the 35 batters Kimbrel has faced have reached base for a .400 on-base percentage. That includes a three-appearance stretch in which 12 of 23 batters reached. Kimbrel and the Red Sox believe they’ve corrected a pitch-tipping issue — Kimbrel has retired six of seven batters in his last two outings — so perhaps he’ll be better going forward. Earlier in this postseason though, he was a mess.

“I talk about tipping and stealing signs and all that, but there were some really good takes. And all of a sudden his hands are somewhere else, and they’re not taking that breaking ball,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said following Game 1. “So for him, he has to feel good about it.”

The Red Sox won Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday and they’ve been thoroughly dominant this postseason, winning eight times in 10 games. They’ve done that with a compromised Chris Sale, a somewhat slumping Betts, and a cardiac closer in Kimbrel. Those are three of Boston’s best players who’ve been at something less than their best in October.

The BoSox have been able to be so successful despite that because their roster is deep and because they’re getting those key surprise contributions needed to win in the postseason. Brock Holt for the cycle in ALDS Game 3. No. 9 hitter Jackie Bradley Jr. was named ALCS MVP. Nunez clocked a clutch pinch-hit homer Tuesday. Even when the team’s best players have faltered, the Red Sox have had others pick up the slack.

“I think it’s the guys we have. It’s kind of the culture, the tone that (Cora) sets, as well,” Sale said earlier this week. “Guys show up, work hard, play hard, then we go home. There’s not a whole lot of other things that we’re looking to get out of this other than winning. I think when you have an entire group of players, coaching staff that’s just committed and dedicated to winning and that’s No. 1, 2 and 3 on the depth chart, I think that’s a result of that.”

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