MLB playoffs: Against good pitching, American League teams look for run-scoring edge
The Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics, and Tampa Bay Rays all have home run hitters in their lineups. But all four teams can score in other ways, too.
The best in the American League begin their quest Friday to get to the World Series as the MLB Divisional Playoff round begins. What players and storylines will decide the outcome of this year’s postseason?Skip to next paragraph
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The Detroit Tigers return to the playoffs in search of a title after being swept in last year's World Series, while the Oakland Athletics look to build on two straight postseason trips. The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays also look to impress after missing out the previous season.
The best record in the league belonged to the Boston Red Sox, who rebounded with flair after posting their first 90-loss season since 1966. The Red Sox feature the most potent offense in the league, and bounce-back seasons for John Lackey and Jon Lester give the Sox enough balance to make a run this postseason.
While their offense is statistically impressive, pay attention to the discipline Sox hitters exhibit at the plate. This year’s Red Sox team saw far and away the most pitches of any team in the league, 900 more than the second place Twins, and swung at the fewest pitches in the league, taking their bats off their shoulders only 43.6% of the time. Part of their success comes from strategy, but Mike Napoli will tell you the Sox are just being themselves.
“That’s just how guys are,” Napoli told Sports Illustrated. “Grind out at bats and pass it onto the next guy.”
This uncanny ability to run counts high and chase starting pitchers early in games has paid off for an offense that might lack the star power of rosters like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit have. If the playoffs are all about pitching, the Red Sox offense is the most prepared to go into this postseason and successfully put runs on the board.
From one of the most recognizable rosters in the league to one of the least, the AL West champion Oakland Athletics come into the playoffs featuring few household names. Yet despite this, the A’s were extremely impressive throughout the season, consistently pitching well and plating runs, finishing one game behind the Red Sox in the AL standings.
Josh Donaldson has been one of baseball’s breakout stars this season, and figures to lead the A’s offense this postseason, leading the team in batting average, runs and RBIs. More impressively however, was his 8.0 Wins-Above-Replacement (WAR), which was far greater than that of Miguel Cabrera and trails only Mike Trout’s for tops in the American League.
According to baseball-reference.com, WAR looks at the number of wins a team can expect with one player over his replacement.
"The idea behind the WAR framework is that we want to know how much better a player is than what a team would typically have to replace that player. We start by comparing the player to average in a variety of venues and then compare our theoretical replacement player to the average player and add the two results together."
Trout was no stranger to Donaldson’s value this season, telling MLB.com, “He plays the game hard. You don't see even an inning that he takes off. He plays great defense, and he's a gamer. He's stepping up big for them.”
A team that has made a living getting more from less, Donaldson and the A’s will be underdogs in their playoff series but that should not bother a team that is used to getting overlooked. Look for the A’s to put a good fight in and advance if they catch a few breaks.