A major reason for the Red Sox’ success this season has been their ability to matchup against their opposition’s starting pitcher. Against left-handed starters in the regular season they hit .273 and against right-handed starters .279 – just a six-point difference. When facing Tampa in the ALDS it was a left-handed dominant staff, so the Sox countered with a number of right-handed bats in their lineup and coming off the bench. Against the Tigers in the ALCS things might be a little different.
Detroit’s starting rotation is all right-handers in Anibal Sanchez (Game 1), Max Scherzer (Game 2), Justin Verlander (Game 3) and Doug Fister (Game 4), so it is likely the Red Sox will counter with a heavy-dose of left-handed hitters – for the most part.
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“The strength of this team has been the depth of its roster,” manager John Farrell said. “There are going to be some matchups that we think are more favorable in one case or another. We’ve had the utmost, complete confidence in every guy in our uniform and they’re going to be involved.”
All of the starters are pretty much set and stone with the exception of left field and possibly behind the plate as well as third base. Jonny Gomes started three of the four games against the Rays in left field because of the left-handers the Rays threw at the Sox, but things will likely be different this time around.
Daniel Nava will likely get the nod in left field as the switch hitter is much better from the left side as he is hitting .322 with an on-base percentage of .411 and 10 of his 12 home runs have come from that side of the plate. On the other hand, Gomes is hitting just .258 against right-handers.
The one wild card player is Mike Carp, who didn’t play at all in the ALDS, but is hitting .300 with an on-base percentage of .367 against right-handers. Nava is a career .111 (1-for-9) hitter against Scherzer, so it’s possible Carp could sneak a spot-start in Game 2.
The catching position is where it gets tricky as Jarrod Saltalamacchia is much better against right-handers this season (.294) than back-up David Ross (.167), but Saltalamacchia is coming off an ALDS where he went 3-for-10 with seven strikeouts. Ross is also better defensively behind the plate, so that will be something Farrell will need to take into account.
“There’s a place for him in here as I see it on paper on a couple of situations,” Farrell said of Ross.” We’ll look to mix and match. And it may be a strength of he combination on our side as opposed to facing an opposing pitcher.”
Ross could start against Sanchez in Game 1 as although he is 2-for-11, one of the two hits is a home run and Saltalamacchia has never faced him. Farrell also suggested he and Lester work well together noting the Sept. 3 game at Fenway where Lester, the Game 1 starter, and the Sox beat the Tigers 2-1.
“I’m just going to do what is asked of me,” Ross said. “My role has always been all year to back up Salty and that is what I am going to do. I am sure he is going to get most of the starts and there is no left-hander starter in there. I am going to stay ready and we’re going to talk about how to navigate the lineup … I am just going to be ready; I think that’s all I can do. I think that is what everyone does, just gets themselves ready just in case and then go out there and perform.”
As for later in the games all hands will be on deck as was the case in Game 4 against Tampa with a number of different players coming off the bench as pinch-hitters or defensive replacements. Gomes, Carp and Ross all are possibilities.
Although Carp didn’t see any time in the Rays series he hit .263 with an on-base percentage of .417 and two home runs in the regular season as a pinch-hitter and in a seven game series there will be many pinch-hit opportunities.
"The more opportunities you get to fulfill that role the better off you’re going to feel and the more confidant you’re going to be,” Carp said. “I am riding high, especially getting the opportunity in a series like this as if I am coming into pinch-hit the game is probably on the line.”
One of the players who could possibly be pinch-hit for is shortstop Stephen Drew, like he was in Game 4, as the lefty hit .151 against left-handed relievers in the regular season. Saltalamacchia would be another candidate given his struggles in the ALDS, primarily his strikeout totals.
Using their whole roster and working matchups has been one of the main reasons for the Red Sox’ success this season so look for it to continue in the most important games of the year.
“It’s been a trait of this team and then when we’ve looked to get a productive pinch-hit, it’s because they’ve had some recent activity and we envision that to be the case over the course of the seven-game series,” Farrell said.
Follow Metro Red Sox beat writer Ryan Hannable on Twitter @Hannable84.