BOSTON -- The Red Sox and Rays met 19 times this season, with the Sox winning 12. Rays manager Joe Maddon was asked Thursday afternoon what kind of challenges the Sox would present for his team in the American League Division Series.
“Primarily, it's their pitching that's very difficult for us,” he said. “I like their starters. Their starters are really good. [Jon] Lester has refound himself. John Lackey has had a great year. [Clay] Buchholz is back. He's always been tough for us. [Jake] Peavy is their fourth game starter; that's not bad. Their bullpen also gets progressively better, gaining progress.
“So they're good, their pitching is really good. We've been able to kind of keep them at bay offensively, but I don't take anything for granted with that either," Maddon said. "They're such a prodigious offensive ballclub. If you look at the history of this season, it's been primarily their pitching has really been tough for us.
“Now having said all that, we'll do a little bit better offensively," Maddon said. "I think right now coming through what we just came through, there was a big exhale post the Toronto game, honestly, [in the season finale]. That game on Sunday, just to get to the point where we could play for this moment. Went to Texas [for a tie-breaker game on Monday], much more relaxed I thought. And yesterday [the wild card win over the Indians] was outstanding. I could not be more proud for our guys, preparing for a big game like that, and the way they went about their business. It was fun to watch from the dugout. It was outstanding.
“So my point is, I think a lot of times when your offense struggles a bit, there's a lot of tension among the offensive players. We've had that based on our inabilities to drive in runs and runners in position, etcetera. I want to believe the journey we've just gone through is going to hopefully relax our hitters a bit. So you might see a better offensive ballclub, to go along with pitching and defense.”
Asked how he would approach Sox closer Koji Uehara, Maddon replied:
“You try to approach him by having the lead late in the game and then you don't see him." he said. "That's the best way to approach him. He's been outstanding. He's very good. I've liked his work when he was in Baltimore. He throws an invisiball. He doesn't throw that hard, but the hitters can't react to his pitches. The combination of the elevated fastball or whatever you want to call it, it's very effective. That rubber arm. He's very efficient, too. He gets outs quickly. When you get relief pitchers that get outs quickly, you can utilize them more often comfortably, and that's what he does.
“And again in these short series, and against good bullpens, the best way to go about beating the other side is to gain the lead and don't relinquish it.”
We’ll take a look at five keys to what’s shaping up to be the best season under third-year head coach Brad Stevens and his team which is currently third in the East with the All-Star break around the corner.