The good news for the Boston Red Sox is that with their 4-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Thursday, the club is now one win away from reaching the World Series. For the best team in baseball during the regular season, a trip to the World Series will be a fitting and deserving end. So important is making it to the World Series for the Red Sox that they probably will not mind if they have to use some lackluster wins to make it there. Therefore, Thursday's victory will still be a cause for celebration and excitement among the players on the team even if the victory arrived in completely ordinary fashion.
Outside of outscoring the Tigers by one run to win the contest, there was very little in the actual performance of the players on which the Red Sox could hang their hats. The offense was not overpowering in the slightest and actually underperformed their run expectancy for the game. Red Sox hitters combined for a decent hitting line of .278 BA/.316 OBP/.444 SLG with a .322 wOBA, but only finished the game with an RE24 of -0.79 as they left almost a full run stranded on the base paths; stopping them from scoring more runs were their struggles hitting with runners in scoring position, only garnering two hits in nine at-bats.
Where the Boston Red Sox did excel was in concentrating their hits in one inning, which always improves the chances of a team scoring runs. Mike Napoli led off the second inning with a towering solo blast to give the Red Sox a 1-0 lead in the game and opening the floodgates for his fellow teammates to storm through. Their storming took the form of reaching base on an error (Jonny Gomes) and then after Stephen Drew struck out, three straight hits by Xander Bogaerts, David Ross, and Jacoby Ellsbury to bring the Red Sox run total to three runs in the second inning.
Napoli led a run-scoring charge for the Red Sox in the third inning as well, but there were none of his teammates were capable of following his example during that frame. Thus, Napoli was left to score the only Red Sox run of the fourth inning after he led off the inning with a double, advanced to third base after a Gomes groundout, and came home to score following a wild pitch by Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez.
The Red Sox threatened to score again in the ninth inning, which would have extended their one-run lead and given closer Koji Uehara more breathing room during his save opportunity, but three plate appearances with a runner on third base yielded the Red Sox nothing despite having a run expectancy high of 1.44 in the inning.
Yet, even with the offense not fully realizing its potential, outside of Mike Napoli, the four runs held up even with a couple of the Red Sox pitchers struggling to prevent runs. Starter Jon Lester went 5.1 innings and was charged with only two earned runs, but he had to battle constantly to avoid allowing even more. Out of the 24 batters Lester faced, 10 worked their way on base (seven hits, three walks), and it was only Lester's ability to get crucial outs that averted disaster.
While his 3.38 ERA for the game suggested that he was in control throughout, the true story is told by his 5.40 expected fielding-independent ERA. Without better defense behind him and Miguel Cabrera's glacial running pace, Lester would have probably given up a couple more runs.
Lester's successor in the contest, reliever Junichi Tazawa, was even more ineffective without the benefit of rising to the occasion during his multiple high-leverage plate appearances. The first batter Junichi Tazawa faced, Brayan Pena, singled off the first pitch Tazawa threw and drove in Victor Martinez for the second Tigers run of the evening. As Martinez was a base runner Tazawa had inherited from Lester, he was not charged with allowing an earned run, but he should have been.
Tazawa was eventually charged with an earned run he could call his very own, though. After giving up two straight hits, positioning the Tigers with runners on first and third bases and no outs, Tazawa induced Miguel Cabrera to ground into a double play that drove in the Tigers' third run of the game.
Tazawa's departure subsequent to the Tigers scoring their third run also signaled the end of any good chances the Tigers had to score runs. Relievers Craig Breslow and Koji Uehara combined to retire the last seven Tigers batters of the evening in order and secure the 4-3 victory for the Red Sox.
Only one victory in the next two games is necessary for the Red Sox to move on to the next step in backing up their regular-season supremacy with postseason supremacy. Since both games will be at Fenway Park, it is difficult to envision a scenario where the Red Sox do not advance to the World Series.