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Despite Game 1 loss, positive signs abound for Red Sox

By Mike Axisa | Baseball Writer

Elite base-running is one thing the Red Sox have going for them in the ALCS.
Elite base-running is one thing the Red Sox have going for them in the ALCS. (USATSI)

More ALCS: Game 1 quick hits | Game 1 grades | Who has the edge?

BOSTON -- The Red Sox dropped Game 1 of the ALCS to the Tigers by the score of 1-0 on Saturday night, putting them in an early series hole with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander lined up to start the next two games for Detroit. That's not exactly an ideal position.

Even though Boston was held to just one hit, the game very easily could have gone either way. The tying run was in scoring position and the go-ahead run was at the plate when Xander Bogaerts popped up for the final out. So, despite the loss, there were still plenty of positive signs for the Red Sox on Saturday night. Let's run them down.

Offensive Pressure

These seems silly considering they were one-hit, but the Red Sox forced the Tigers to throw a ton of pitches -- 164 overall, 4.69 per plate appearance -- and got into the bullpen early. Detroit's bullpen had the fourth worst ERA (4.01) and fifth worst WHIP (1.34) in the league during the regular season, and while pitching staffs do shrink in the postseason (teams usually only use their very best relievers), you'd much rather face the likes of Al Alburquerque and Phil Coke in the middle innings than Drew Smyly, Jose Veras and Joaquin Benoit in the late innings.

The Red Sox left an awful lot of borderline pitches in the hands of home plate umpire Joe West in Game 1, and most of them did not go their way. Rob Drake rotates behind the plate for Game 2 and PitchFX data indicates he has slightly favored hitters when calling balls and strikes over the last three years. Scherzer is no easy assignment, but Boston showed their usual military-style plate discipline on Saturday night. With not Joe West behind the plate, the result in Game 2 may be more base-runners and hitter-friendly counts.

Quality Pitching

Oh, by the way, the Tigers scored just the one run in Game 1. The Red Sox pitching staff did a pretty great job against the best non-Red Sox offense in the league. Detroit had nine hits but six were singles, and one of their three walks was intentional. They had just four runners reach third base overall. Clay Buchholz, he of the 1.74 ERA (and 4.3 WAR in only 16 starts) during the regular season, gets the ball in Game 2 with the same strong bullpen behind him. The Tigers have only scored 18 runs in their six playoff games, including just 10 outside of ALDS Game 4. They aren't exactly tearing the cover off the ball.

Strong Defense

Depending on which defensive stat you prefer, the Red Sox were at worst a slightly-above average defensive team and at best an elite defensive team during the regular season. Their glovework was on full display in Game 1, whether it be Will Middlebrooks cutting Omar Infante down at the plate on the contact play or Mike Napoli firing to second to snag the lead runner wandering too far off the bag or Stephen Drew saving two runs with an over-the-shoulder catch in shallow center field.

On any given day, the Red Sox field above-average defenders at second base (Dustin Pedroia), shortstop (Drew), center field (Jacoby Ellsbury) and right field (Shane Victorino). Middlebrooks and Napoli are solid on the infield corners and backup catcher (and Game 1 starter) David Ross is one of the top catch-and-throw catchers in the game. He's thrown out a well-above-average 39-percent of attempted base-stealers in his career, including 41-percent in 2013 and 42-percent from 2012-13. Boston has shutdown defenders all over the field and that makes life even tougher for the Tigers offensively.

Elite Base-Running

Not only did the Red Sox steal the fourth most bases (123) in the game during the regular season, but they had by far the highest success rate (87-percent) in baseball. They ended the season with 39 straight successful steal attempts and have gone 8-for-9 in the postseason so far. That includes two steals in two attempts in Game 1. Ellsbury led baseball with 52 steals (in 56 attempts, 93-percent success rate) while Victorino and Pedroia chipped in 21 and 17, respectively. Postseason pinch-runner Quintin Berry is a perfect 28-for-28 at stealing bases in his big league career.

Furthermore, the Tigers were the second worst team in baseball at shutting down the running game, throwing out just 18-percent of attempted base-stealers. Only the Nationals were worse. Starting catcher Alex Avila thwarted just 15 of 88 steal attempts (17-percent), an impossibly low rate. Sanchez and Verlander aren't exactly known for controlling the running game while Scherzer and Doug Fister do an okay job. Unlike the Tigers, who are as station-to-station as a team can be, the Red Sox can create runs with their legs and that will serve them well through the remainder of the ALCS.

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