With a break in the action between Games 2 and 3 of the World Series, it seemed like a good time to get some insider insight as the festivities shift to the warmth of Dodger Stadium. The Red Sox lead the Fall Classic, 2-0. Game 3 will be played tonight,
With a break in the action between Games 2 and 3 of the World Series, it seemed like a good time to get some insider insight as the festivities shift to the warmth of Dodger Stadium. The Red Sox lead the Fall Classic, 2-0. Game 3 will be played tonight, with righty Rick Porcello taking the ball for Boston against L.A. righty Walker Buehler.
MLB.com beat reporters Ian Browne (Red Sox) and Ken Gurnick (Dodgers) asked each other three pressing questions about the opposing team.
Browne: Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has taken some criticism for not having three of his best hitters in the lineup for Games 1 and 2. Is that a fair critique, and how much can a new lineup against the Red Sox's right-handed starters over the next two games give Los Angeles a jolt?
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Gurnick: To a point, that's fair, although it is completely in keeping with the platoon system Roberts stuck with through most of the second half of the regular season, which is when the Dodgers played their best baseball. It also implies that the players he has used aren't to blame. Nonetheless, it meant he left the bats of Player Page for Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson (who combined for 85 home runs this season) on the bench until right-handed relievers appeared.
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One could argue that the platoon system worked against softer competition, as the Dodgers never played a team as relentless and balanced as the Red Sox. Probably the most valid criticism isn't that Roberts didn't start his lefties, but that he has remained loyal to right-handed hitters like Enrique Hernandez, who has struggled all month, even against left-handed pitching. Los Angeles also has gotten no production from either of its catchers --Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes -- and that's not the manager's fault.
Gurnick: Boston coaches Tim Hyers and Ron Roenicke have coached for the Dodgers and know many of their players' strengths and weaknesses. To what extent do you believe they have helped craft the Red Sox game plan for attacking Los Angeles?
Browne: I think Hyers -- Boston's hitting coach -- has definitely had an impact because of his deep knowledge of what makes the Dodgers' lineup tick. As the assistant hitting coach for Los Angeles last year, Hyers was in the trenches with these guys every day, and he knows exactly how they think. The Red Sox utilized bullpen coach Craig Bjornson in the same way in the American League Championship Series, because he served in that position for the Astros last year. Not only can Hyers offer tips about the Dodgers' hitters, but he also said after Game 1 of the World Series that he helped tip his hitters off about Clayton Kershaw's tendencies.
Of course, the postseason is all about adjustments, so now we will see if the Dodgers can counter how Boston attacked them the first two games.
Browne: This is obviously a highly pressurized start for Buehler, and most Red Sox fans haven't seen much of him. Please give us an idea of what makes him tick. Do you think he is the starter who can get the Dodgers back in the Series?
Gurnick: Management trusted him to start Game 163, a tiebreaker to decide the National League West against the Rockies, and Los Angeles won. It trusted him to start Game 7 of the NLCS, and the Dodgers won. See a trend here? Buehler is the real deal. Yes, he's a rookie, and the game sped up on him in the second inning of his NL Division Series start in Atlanta. But he also was sturdy enough to quickly regroup and eat three more innings. His arm is electric.
Buehler will overpower average hitters, and good ones occasionally barrel him for extra bases. He's not just heat, as he can throw a curveball for strikes and quickly developed a mid-80s slider that has turned into a very effective offspeed pitch, much the way Kershaw did in his second season. Buehler was tough enough to pitch with broken ribs. The icing on the cake is his confidence, which initially annoyed teammates until they saw that he backed it up on the field.
Gurnick: Small sample, but the Boston bullpen has outperformed the Dodgers' relief corps so far. Is it that dependable, or is it just a small sample?
Browne: The Red Sox's bullpen felt a little bit like Rodney Dangerfield entering this postseason. They did finish fourth in the AL in bullpen ERA, yet there was this perception that their bullpen was a disaster waiting to happen. That chip on their collective shoulders didn't hurt Boston. Relievers like Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly have always had plus stuff, and they've taken their games to another level in October. Ryan Brasier -- who was in Japan at this time last year -- has allowed one run over 7 2/3 postseason innings.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora also deserves a lot of credit for aggressively using starters in the bullpen. You saw this with Porcello in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees and Game 2 of the ALCS against Houston. You saw it again with Nathan Eovaldi in Game 5 against the Astros, and again in the first two games of the World Series. The only issue Boston had in the bullpen earlier this postseason was a string of shaky performances from closer Craig Kimbrel. But thanks to ex-Dodgers great Eric Gagne spotting a tipping problem by Kimbrel, the righty has looked tremendous the last three times he's pitched. What the Red Sox are doing in the bullpen right now does look sustainable for the rest of the World Series.
Browne: I'm sure you noticed the kind of push Fenway Park gave the Red Sox in the first two games. Can the Dodgers feed similarly off their home crowd, and how much might the warm weather help them?
Gurnick: Yes and yes. L.A. crowds aren't laid back when it comes to a show, and they can get pretty loud. The Dodgers have been accused of playing to the competition level, and any energy the fans can provide to extract total effort is a plus. As for the weather, at least the Dodgers won't have that as an excuse. They seriously seemed to be bothered by the Boston chill.
Gurnick:Andrew Benintendi hit .175 with one RBI in 17 games against Tampa Bay. What do the Rays know that the Dodgers don't?
Browne: The Rays were able to throw off a lot of hitters this season with their "bullpening" approach. Lineups had a hard time getting comfortable because Tampa Bay was very hard to plan for. The Rays also happened to face the Red Sox multiple times this season when Benintendi was slumping. I think it was more a case of catching him at the right time. I don't think the Dodgers have been flawed with their approach against Benintendi. They are finding out that he has a highly-advanced approach for a 24-year-old.
Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez get most of the accolades when it comes to Boston's lineup, but Benintendi is displaying on the biggest stage how invaluable he has been to the team all season. The eight-pitch walk by Benintendi against Hyun-Jin Ryu was perhaps the biggest at-bat the Red Sox had in Game 2.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.