BOSTON -- A year ago, Cleveland is where the best offense in the majors went to die. The Red Sox’ first visit back is a chance to hold a seance.
The 2016 team had the most threatening lineup anywhere. No one was better. But the Sox missed out on home-field advantage. Once the Division Series began in Cleveland, they lost their way at the plate too.
It’s true that Rick Porcello’s poor postseason outing — anomalous compared to his 2016 Cy Young campaign — could not have come at a worse time. David Price didn’t get the job done either.
But the Sox offense ghosted everyone. The engine of a 93-win team collapsed.
“Given how we performed as an offensive team throughout the year, and it's not to take anything away from their pitching, but I think there was no more than one run we were able to score in any one inning,” Sox manager John Farrell said the night the Sox were swept out of the playoffs by the Indians, October 10. “The inability to string some hits together, generate the bigger inning, that wasn't there.”
It’s been there lately. The Red Sox entered Sunday averaging 6.07 runs per game in August, a full run more than the Indians’ 4.94.
On one hand, with wins in 14 of 17 games, the Sox would appear almost bound to cool off. But simply from a psychological perspective, the timing of a drop-off in Cleveland would be unfortunate.
“I’ll be honest with you, we’re not thinking about the playoffs,” Farrell said Sunday at Fenway Park. “We’re not thinking about what transpired a year ago. I thought last year, getting into the postseason was an important stepping stone for this young group. We’ve added to that young group. We’re in a stretch of games this month — for the better part of a month or more — where the schedule is tough. Our guys are handling that challenge great right now, but we know we’re going in to play a very good team in Cleveland.”
Indeed, the focus should be on the task at hand, which is to not only win the division, but actually secure home field advantage this time. But this four-game set is a small-sample size forum to show off growth.
The young group Farrell referred to has had growing pains this year. The offense has been, as expected, a lesser entity without David Ortiz.
Maybe Eduardo Nunez and Rafael Devers, who weren’t around for last year’s wilting, will be the icebreakers for the Sox in Cleveland. Maybe they don’t need any ice breaker and will score 10 runs in the first inning Monday.
However it gets done, with the looming likelihood of another playoff match-up between these two teams, the Sox would do well to hit this time in Cleveland. At the very least, a bushel of runs will dampen outside noise, and lessen the number of questions the team may face later on. There's probably also a boost of confidence to be gained for players who participated in last year’s disappearing act.