BOSTON -- For the Red Sox, the regular season has been an historic joyride in which the proud franchise has climbed to heights never seen before.Backed by rookie manager Alex Cora, the Sox broke the team record with 108 wins. Mookie Betts had one of the finest all-around seasons for
BOSTON -- For the Red Sox, the regular season has been an historic joyride in which the proud franchise has climbed to heights never seen before.
Backed by rookie manager Alex Cora, the Sox broke the team record with 108 wins. Mookie Betts had one of the finest all-around seasons for a Boston player and won the batting title. J.D. Martinez has been a hitting machine, belting 43 homers and driving in 130 runs. Chris Sale has been a beast when healthy. David Price is back to being a top starter.
But now comes the challenging part, and what the Red Sox hope will be the most rewarding part.
The playoffs are coming, and you must have questions. In that spirit, we've decided to answer them.
Q: Who will the Red Sox face, where and when?
A: One thing is for certain: The Red Sox will open Game 1 of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park on Friday. They will play either the Yankees or the Athletics, who will face off in the AL Wild Card Game on Wednesday at Yankee Stadium at 8 p.m. ET on TBS.
Q: How have the Red Sox fared against the Yankees and Athletics this season?
A: The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry has more than lived up to expectations this season from a head-to-head standpoint. The Sox won the season series, 10-9. Both teams have been better at home, which is why the Red Sox should feel good about having home field. The Sox are 7-3 against the Yankees at Fenway. New York is 6-3 in the Bronx.
:: ALDS schedule and results ::
If it feels like you haven't seen the Athletics forever, it's because you haven't. The clubs played a three-game series in Oakland from April 20-22, with the Sox taking the opener and the Athletics winning the next two. That series is remembered best for A's lefty Sean Manaea becoming the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter against the Red Sox since Chris Bosio in 1993. Manaea is out for the rest of this year and likely all of next season after having arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder this month.
The A's played at Fenway from May 14-16, winning the first two before Boston took the finale. At the time, Cora pumped up Oakland as one of the emerging teams in the AL, even though it hadn't established itself yet. He wound up being right. You can bet the Red Sox are doing a lot more scouting of the A's than the Yankees this week due to familiarity reasons.
Q: How will Cora line up the rotation?
A: Sale will start Game 1, followed by Price in Game 2 and Rick Porcello in Game 3. If a Game 4 is necessary, the Sox will go with Nathan Eovaldi or Eduardo Rodriguez. Eovaldi, who hasn't allowed an earned run against the Yankees in 16 innings since joining the Red Sox, would probably get the nod against New York. But Rodriguez could get the chance to start against Oakland, a team he is 2-1 with a 2.33 ERA against in his career. Rodriguez nearly spun a no-hitter against the A's in 2016.
Q: Why might the Red Sox be best served with Eovaldi as a starter and Rodriguez in the 'pen?
A: For starters, Eovaldi gives the Red Sox more left-right balance. He has also been the more effective starter of late. And then there is this: Rodriguez has a chance to give Cora a very impactful lefty arm out of the bullpen -- something the Red Sox haven't had all season. A good recent example is the way Felix Doubront thrived as a reliever in the 2013 postseason.
Q: How many playoff games have Boston's starters won collectively?
A: The answer is zero. Sale (one playoff start), Price (nine starts) and Porcello (four starts) are a combined 0-11 with a 6.18 ERA as postseason starters. However, there's no reason all three starters can't change that trend this October. Price was dominant out of the bullpen last October and is champing at the bit to change the narrative that has haunted him for years.
Q: How will Cora deploy his bullpen in the ALDS?
A: The bullpen has been an adventure for weeks, with roles hard to define for Cora based on lack of consistency. Expect Cora to lean on closer Craig Kimbrel more than he did in the regular season, bringing him on in the eighth inning when necessary. Look for knuckleballer Steven Wright, who has been outstanding since returning from the disabled list, to pitch with the game on the line.
Ryan Brasier, a terrific find from Japan, should also play an important role. Matt Barnes dealt with left hip inflammation for most of September, but he is one of the team's best setup men when healthy. Rodriguez gives Cora a potentially dominant lefty. One wild card is that Eovaldi will likely be available in the bullpen in Games 1 and 2 before moving to the rotation for Game 4.
Q: How does the lineup look for the playoffs?
A: The following spots are locked down: Betts (RF), Martinez (DH), Xander Bogaerts (SS), Andrew Benintendi (LF), Jackie Bradley Jr. (CF). However, there could be some mixing and matching in the other four spots.
It is unusual for a top contender not to have a primary catcher by this time of year, but the Red Sox really are mixing and matching with Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. The latter provides the most upside from an offensive standpoint, but none of the three catchers have good numbers at the plate. Leon is the best defender of the three, and he will probably start the most games. With the three catchers, Cora can be aggressive when it comes to pinch-hitting.
At third base, Rafael Devers has finally started to regain his stroke at the plate, and he should start against righties. Eduardo Nunez, provided he is healthy, should man the hot corner against lefties. Ian Kinsler will get most of the reps at second base, but Brock Holt might make an occasional start against a tough righty. Mitch Moreland has not had a good second half at the plate, which is why Steve Pearce could get some starts at first, particularly against lefties.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.