Analysis

3 keys for the Red Sox to win their crucial home series with the Yankees

The Red Sox need to clean up their play in the field and see one of their best hitters get his swing back.

Bobby Dalbec Red Sox
Bobby Dalbec commits an error against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday. Chris O'Meara/AP
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The Red Sox came into this week’s series against the Tampa Bay Rays nursing a half-game lead for the AL East’s top spot.

A ghastly loss on Thursday night saw the Sox forfeit that advantage, dropping 2-of-3 in the series as well as the division lead.

Now, Boston will have to re-focus for what promises to be a crucial home series against the New York Yankees beginning Friday night.

The Sox swept the Yankees in the Bronx earlier this month and will look to do so again at Fenway with New York sitting just 3.5 games behind Boston in the standings.

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Here are a few keys to making sure that happens.

They must clean up their play in the field.

Thursday’s game exemplified the Sox’s recent troubles with catching and throwing the baseball of late. Despite two-hitting the Tampa Bay Rays, they lost 1-0 largely in part to two rough plays from catcher Christian Vázquez in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Manuel Margot’s two-out single in the frame never had to come around to score. But Vázquez’s errant throw on Margot’s stolen base attempt went into center field, allowing the runner to advance to third base. Then, the catcher couldn’t smother a Matt Barnes slider, which kicked away far enough for Margot to score the winning run.

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Only two hits and no earned runs allowed, and the Red Sox lost.

That’s been the team’s story of late as they added another multi-error game to a brutal 10-game stretch in the field. Their league-leading error total now stands at 56, with Vázquez adding another miscue to his MLB-high error count among catchers.

The AL East is too competitive for the Red Sox to afford such mistakes, especially against their division rivals. They’ll need to play a far cleaner game defensively with the Yankees in town, or they’ll risk giving away more games they should win against a team that’s won seven of its last 10.

J.D. Martinez needs to get going again.

The slugging Martinez’s overall numbers still look plenty good for the season. All told, he’s slashing .305/363/.903 with 14 home runs, 46 RBI, and a wRC+ of 141, which is well above the league average of 100.

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But the Red Sox’s most dangerous hitter has noticeably cooled off during a warm June. It’s a trend Boston very much needs him to turn around.

This month, he’s hit just .250/.265/.703 with a wRC+ of 84. That’s both a major drop-off from the rest of his numbers this season and well below what he normally hits in June for his career (.295/.344/.892, 137 wRC+).

Normally, power-hitters like Martinez hit their stride as the warm summer air helps balls start flying out of parks, and that’s typically been the case with him in the past.

Boston needs that version of Martinez back as soon as possible, especially with Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts continuing to hit well around him.

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The Red Sox can better weather the inconsistency at the top and bottom of the lineup if Martinez is raking. If he’s not, those issues will only become more pronounced.

They must tag the Yankees pitching staff before Gerrit Cole comes

To say the Red Sox have their work cut out for them on Sunday with Yankees ace Gerrit Cole taking the hill would be an understatement.

Cole is among the frontrunners for the AL Cy Young Award this year, stifling opponents with a 2.33 ERA, an AL-leading 0.848 WHIP, and a whopping 123 strikeouts (against just 15 walks) in 96.2 innings pitched.

Getting anything done off of him will be tough. That’s why it’s imperative for Boston to jump on the first two Yankee starters of the series, Domingo Germán and Jordan Montgomery, first.

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The Red Sox should be able to get runners on against both starters. They each give up more than eight hits per nine innings pitched, and both give up a good amount of hard contact. What’s more, Boston should be able to work longer counts and earn some walks if they’re willing to tamp down the aggressiveness a bit at the plate.

New York has often had relatively short leashes for both pitchers. In Germán’s 13 starts and Montgomery’s 14, they each have more than five starts of five or fewer innings pitched. Also, both have only topped 90 pitches in three of their appearances.

Drive the pitch counts up on both, get into the bullpen early, and do what damage you can before Cole takes the rubber Sunday. That would give the Red Sox at least a solid chance to take two of three games and maybe surprise the Yankees with their second sweep of the year.

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If Boston falters, though, the team will feel the Yankees nipping at its heels in the AL standings before the weekend is out.

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