The Boston Red Sox capped off an amazing season with an amazing postseason run, going 11-3 against the 100-win New York Yankees, 103-win Houston Astros and a loaded Los Angeles Dodgers team. Only three teams in the wild-card era had a better postseason record, but none of them faced three teams the caliber the Red Sox had to beat. And the Red Sox outscored their opponents by 33 runs. As Joe Sheehan pointed out, only the 2007 Red Sox, at plus-53, have had a larger run differential in the postseason since the wild-card era began in 1995.
Combined with a 108-win regular season, this makes the 2018 Red Sox one of the best teams in recent decades. Let’s look at the biggest play in each of their 11 playoff wins, using a stat called wWPA — winning team Win Probability Added via Baseball-Reference.com. WPA gives us an estimate of how much the odds of a team winning changed after any given play. (Detailed explanation here.)
ALDS Game 1: Red Sox 5, Yankees 4
The play: J.D. Martinez hits a three-run home run off J.A. Happ in the first inning (20 percent wWPA).
It’s fitting that Boston’s postseason run got off to a roaring start in the American League Division Series thanks to a big blast from the major league leader in RBIs in the regular season. Martinez’s home run was a 107-mph laser just over the Green Monster. Craig Kimbrel made it interesting — this would be a recurring theme all October — when Aaron Judge homered in the ninth, but Kimbrel recovered to strike out the next three batters.
ALDS Game 3: Red Sox 16, Yankees 1
The play: Andrew Benintendi singles to left field in the third inning (10 percent wWPA).
Can you have a big play in a 16-1 game? Maybe not. With the Red Sox already up 1-0 on Yankees starter Luis Severino, Mookie Betts led off the third with a hit. Then Benintendi blooped a ball down the left-field line — he would spend all October hitting soft little chunkers and ground balls with eyes. He hit .268 in the postseason, although slugged just .339. Anyway, Andrew McCutchen got a slow jump on the play and Betts had a great read and easily dashed to third, but McCutchen tried to throw him out, allowing Benintendi to advance to second. Both would score and the rout was on.
The play, however, was deemed so insignificant that it didn’t even make MLB’s extended highlight cut of 3 minutes, 48 seconds. Which is why this game is the Brock Holt Cycle Game rather than the Andrew Benintendi Bloop Hit Game.
ALDS Game 4: Red Sox 4, Yankees 3
The play: Craig Kimbrel gets Gleyber Torres to ground out to end the game (18 percent wWPA).
This one you remember: It was 4-1 going to the bottom of the ninth when Kimbrel fell apart with two walks, a base hit and a hit batter. Before Torres, Gary Sanchez had just missed a walk-off grand slam with a towering fly ball to the warning track in left field. Imagine how different this postseason might have been if that ball cleared the fence. Finally, on a 1-2 count, Torres hit a slow roller to third, Eduardo Núñez made a nice flip to first base and Steve Pearce made groin-pulling stretch. After a replay review, Torres was confirmed out and the Red Sox moved on.
As Sam Miller later asked: What if Núñez had been playing one foot deeper?
ALCS Game 2: Red Sox 7, Astros 5
The play: Jackie Bradley Jr. hits a bases-loaded double off Gerrit Cole in the third inning (29 percent wWPA).
Bradley had been 1-for-17 without an extra-base hit with the bases loaded in the regular season when, during the AL Championship Series, he stepped in against Cole with two outs and the Astros up 4-2. Cole threw a 2-1, 98-mph fastball and Bradley hit it down the left-field line. With a 95.7-mph exit velocity and 36-degree launch angle, the ball traveled an estimated 330 feet. It had a hit probability of 14 percent, according to Statcast data. In most parks, it’s an out. At Fenway, it went off the Green Monster and rolled along the padding down the line, clearing the bases.
ALCS Game 3: Red Sox 8, Astros 2
The play: Steve Pearce homers in the sixth off Joe Smith to break a 2-2 tie (17 percent wWPA).
Bradley’s grand slam in the eighth inning off Roberto Osuna was a memorable moment, but the Red Sox were already up 4-2 at the time. Instead, Pearce’s home run scores as the game’s key hit. Alex Bregman had just tied the game with a double in the bottom of the fifth and A.J. Hinch brought in the sidearmer Smith to face righties Xander Bogaerts and Pearce. Alex Cora could have used Mitch Moreland to pinch hit, but the Red Sox manager kept Pearce in and he crushed a 1-0 pitch out to left field.
ALCS Game 4: Red Sox 8, Astros 6
The play: Jackie Bradley Jr. hits a two-run homer off Josh James in the sixth inning (31 percent wWPA).
This actually scores as the biggest hit of Boston’s postseason. The Astros were up 5-4 when Christian Vázquez doubled to center with two outs, the ball glancing off the tip of George Springer’s glove — another reminder of the inches here and there that swing games. (Just don’t call it luck; call it baseball. Or call it luck, depending on what side your root for.)
Of course, the play everyone remembers is Benintendi’s game-ending catch on Bregman’s liner with the bases loaded. That play scores at 17 percent wWPA, but the computer sees only an F7 with the bases loaded. It can’t register the do-or-die nature of Benintendi’s dive. If the ball skips past him, all three runners score and the Astros win the game, and god knows what happens if that series is tied. So Benintendi’s catch is our highlight:
ALCS Game 5: Red Sox 4, Astros 1
The play: Rafael Devers hits a three-run home run off Justin Verlander in the sixth (12 percent wWPA).
Martinez’s solo home run in the first inning also comes in at 12 percent, but we’ll give the edge to Devers’ three-run blast that made it 4-0. Well, it wasn’t really a blast. It was a 358-foot fly ball that snuck into the Crawford Boxes in left field. Given neutral weather conditions, that ball is a home run in only one park in the majors: Minute Maid Field.
World Series Game 1: Red Sox 8, Dodgers 4
The play: Eduardo Núñez homers off Alex Wood in the seventh (19 percent wWPA).
The Red Sox already were up 5-4, but Núñez’s two-out three-run home run iced the victory. It was some Vladimir Guerrero kind of stuff too, as Núñez golfed a pitch off his shoe tops and somehow hit it out. It was another in a long list of Cora moves all October that made him the Einstein of October — and a Dave Roberts move that didn’t work. Pedro Baez had struck out two of the three batters he’d faced (sandwiched around an intentional walk), but Roberts brought Wood to face Devers, only to see Cora counter with the Núñez.
World Series Game 2: Red Sox 4, Dodgers 2
The play: J.D. Martinez breaks a 2-2 tie in the fifth with a two-run single off Ryan Madson (22 percent wWPA).
If there’s another lesson we learned this October, it’s not always about how hard you hit them. This inning began with the Dodgers up 2-1 and Hyun-Jin Ryu retiring the first two hitters. Then came a base hit to right field, a ground ball up the middle and Benintendi working an eight-pitch walk in a plate appearance that lasted a grueling six minutes. Roberts brought in Madson. Pearce walked to force in a run and then Martinez took a fastball off his fists and dumped a hit into right field. Exit velocity: 80 mph.
World Series Game 4: Red Sox 9, Dodgers 6
The play: Rafael Devers singles up the middle in the ninth to break a 4-4 tie (29 percent wWPA).
The Dodgers led 4-0 through six innings behind Rich Hill’s one-hit gem and Yasiel Puig’s Tony Award-winning home run. They hadn’t blown a four-run lead all season. Then came Boston’s improbable comeback as the Red Sox scored nine runs over the final three innings — eight off the L.A. bullpen. Mitch Moreland’s three-run home run comes in at 17 percent wWPA and Pearce’s game-tying home run in the eighth comes in at 26 percent. Both, however, rank behind Devers’ go-ahead hit in the ninth off Dylan Floro.
Again, it’s not how hard you hit it sometimes. Brock Holt hit a two-bouncer over third base for a one-out double and Devers, hitting for Sandy Leon, hit a grounder up the middle. The floodgates were open and Pearce later cleared the bases with a three-run double.
World Series Game 5: Red Sox 5, Dodgers 1
The play: Steve Pearce tags Clayton Kershaw for a two-run homer in the first (18 percent wWPA).
Little did we know that the game — and the baseball season — was essentially over when the journeyman first baseman continued his unlikely run as an October hero on the night’s sixth pitch.
Of course, most of those plays are hits — that’s kind of the way WPA works. Hits and runs are “rewarded” more than outs. You could argue that the real Red Sox MVP of the postseason was their pitching staff that held the Dodgers to 16 runs in five games and posted a 3.29 ERA over the entire postseason, including a 2.71 ERA by the mix of relievers and starters pitching out of the bullpen.
In fact, I think back to Game 1 of the ALDS against the Yankees. The bullpen didn’t actually have its best game that day, walking three batters and giving up two runs. Two of the team’s biggest pitching outs in the postseason came in that first game, however: Brandon Workman struck out Gleyber Torres with the bases loaded to end the sixth and Matt Barnes struck out Giancarlo Stanton with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh to help prevent a big inning.
The next day, the bullpen walked seven batters in a 6-2 loss to the Yankees.
The Red Sox would go 10-2 the rest of the postseason.
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