If there were any lingering doubts about the Boston Red Sox and their chances of running away with their American League Division Series after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 12-2 in Game 1, their performance in Game 2, a 6-4 victory, should have provided the answer. Where their 12-run explosion in Game 1 was not totally unexpected, given the Red Sox have a history of using big run-scoring innings to propel them to victory, the way in which they supported their starting pitcher John Lackey was a little bit of a surprise.
All season the Red Sox offense had withheld from John Lackey the usual amount of run support they provided with other starting pitchers and had made a habit out of losing as many games started by Lackey as they won; the Red Sox went just 14-15 when Lackey started a game this season.
One of the biggest tests for the Red Sox offense this postseason would be how they handled Lackey's starts. Would they continue to treat a Lackey start as a throwaway game in which they could not be bothered to perform up to their usual high standards or would the urgency of the postseason lead them to gift Lackey with more run support? The answer, at least based on Game 2, looked to be the latter.
While Lackey was in the game, the Red Sox hitters scored all six of their runs, providing Lackey with more than enough run support. For the game, the Red Sox combined to hit .333 BA/.361 OBP/.667 SLG with a .429 wOBA. Both in terms of getting on base and hitting with power the Red Sox hitters excelled during Saturday's contest, collecting 11 hits, six of which went for extra bases, drawing two walks, and continually taking advantage of their run-scoring opportunities (2.38 RE24).
Providing most of the power for the Red Sox on Saturday was designated hitter David Ortiz, who belted two solo home runs in what was his first multi-home run game in the postseason. Interestingly enough, though, it was not Ortiz who was the most valuable Red Sox hitter.
That distinction goes to center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who made positive contributions in three of his four plate appearances. Ellsbury singled and then stole second base in his first appearance in the game; he advanced to third base on a throwing error by Rays catcher Jose Molina. Then he drove in a run with a double in his second plate appearance. He later singled in his third plate appearance. Not until his fourth plate appearance, during which he struck out, did the Rays pitching staff finally keep him off the base paths.
Ellsbury finished the game with a win probability added of 0.173 and was involved in three of the six runs the Red Sox scored.
The six runs scored by the team in support of Lackey were desperately needed, too, as Lackey was nowhere near his best during his 5.3 innings on the mound. Lackey conceded four earned runs, issued three walks, gave up seven hits, hit one batter, and generally put in a tremendously disappointing performance. He was simply too easy to hit on Saturday and made winning the game more difficult for his teammates since he posted a win probability added of -0.041.
Even so, with the support given Lackey by the Red Sox offense, his unimpressive display on Saturday, made a little troubling by the fact he also had a mediocre end to the regular season (4.98 ERA and left on base percentage of 61.3 percent in September/October), the Red Sox are still up 2-0 in the best of five series. At this point, their winning the series seems to be an inevitability.