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Keys to the series

October 10, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna

Red Sox keys to the series: The defending World Series champion Red Sox beat the Angels in a four-game division series despite Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz combining to go five for 34 (.147) with one run and two runs batted in. They will need more from their Nos. 2 and 3 hitters to get by the Rays. Early leads will be huge for Boston. They will help the Red Sox neutralize Tampa Bay's running game and avoid some of the Rays' top late-inning relievers, Dan Wheeler, J.P. Howell and Grant Balfour. The Tampa Bay bullpen went 7-0 against Boston this season. If the Red Sox can get to the ninth inning with a lead, they like their chances. Dominant closer Jonathan Papelbon has not given up a run in 19 2/3 career playoff innings. Boston must also find a way to win in Tropicana Field, where the Red Sox went 1-8 this season.

Rays keys to the series: The Rays have some pop in the middle of their order with Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria, but they're more dangerous when they turn the game into a track meet. Tampa Bay led the league with 142 stolen bases, with B.J. Upton (44), Carl Crawford (25) and Jason Bartlett (20) leading the way. Three of Boston's four starting pitchers, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield, don't hold runners on very well, and Jason Varitek's throwing skills have deteriorated. The Rays were successful on 15 of 17 stolen-base attempts against the Red Sox. The offense will have to find a way to puncture Jon Lester's air of invincibility -- he did not allow an earned run or a leadoff runner to reach base in 14 playoff innings -- and if Matsuzaka has his usual control problems in Game 1, the Rays must pounce on him.

-- Mike DiGiovanna

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