In what has been a long and sometimes uncertain season for the Red Sox, the team can now breathe a collective sigh of relief as their spot in the playoffs has been confirmed. The relief will only be temporary, of course, because now they’ll need to start preparing for the hardest stretch of the season. Last year they were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, and they’ll be looking to go all the way this season.Here’s what the Red Sox will need to do if they want to win the World Series in 2017.

Hitters Need to Get Out of Their Slump

The biggest liability for the Red Sox in the playoffs, is the fact that their hitting game is far below any other team in the American League. Boston is near the bottom of the MLB in home run stats, with just 167 home runs at the end of September. That leaves them at 25th place overall in that statistic. Their wOBA is also at the lower end of the league, with the Red Sox ranked 20th in the MLB. Performance can shift during the season, and it’s likely that the team’s best hitters are going to start picking up their performances in the post season. It’s still unknown whether that will be enough. They have players like Hanley Ramirez and Jackie Bradley Jr. who have the potential to shine in the post season, but that’s only if they can get out of the current slumps that they are in. The defense will have a major influence on whether the Red Sox can progress past the first round, but it won’t be enough if they can’t get their batting game in order. With the worst offense out of any of the playoff pool, the Red Sox may well struggle in this area.

Mookie Betts Needs to Get Back to His MVP Level of Playing

A Mookie Betts who isn’t at his best, is still a player that is a cut above most in the MLB. With that said, if he can regain his MVP form from 2016, then he will be even more valuable to the team, and it will provide them with a lot of confidence and some room to breathe. The good news is that it looks like Betts might already be on the path to regaining his form. From 150 games this year, he has made 23 home runs. That’s not too far off of the career best 31 home runs that made him an MVP in 2016. He did hit a slump during the season where he went through a whole month without a home run, but he seems to have turned that corner in the final stages of the regular season, and looks to be in a good place for the playoffs. The only problem right now would be a serious injury. It was confirmed in late September that Betts was dealing with injuries in both hands. He left the field during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays, after feeling sharp pain while swinging. The team doctors have performed extensive diagnostics, including a CT scan, and have determined that Betts is suffering from inflammation, although there’s no sign of structural damage. He has also had heavy bruising in his right thumb and left foot in recent weeks. Although these are hardly season-ending injuries, they are still concerning. Any amount of pain or limited mobility could impact how well Betts can play, so the team will be hoping that he’s fully recovered before the first game of the playoffs.

The Red Sox Should Focus on Defense

As we saw with the Chicago Cubs at the last World Series, a strong defense can win a championship. The Red Sox are already in a good position, because their defense is one of the best in the league. Most analysts rank them in the Top 5 out of all MLB teams, and on pure stats they are ranked 3rd as we end the regular season. They’re topping the league with ultimate zone rating, and their defensive runs saved record is only beaten by two other teams.There are a number of power players in this defense. Jackie Bradley Jr. is not the best center fielder that the game has ever seen, but it could be argued that he’s one of the best in the MLB in 2017. Then there are players like Mookie Betts and Mitch Moreland. Mookie has been talked about extensively in the media, but Moreland doesn’t always receive the same kind of attention. He’s a capable first baseman, and he has another advantage – he’s also a strong offensive player. He is approaching his career best in home run totals, and a number of commentators have recently observed that he has developed a lot of power towards the end of the regular season. Getting stronger at this time of the year is not a bad thing, and it will help out with some of the key hitters who currently appear to be going through slumps of their own. The team’s fielding ability is already of high quality, so there’s not a lot of work to do in that area. However, the Red Sox cannot be complacent. The level of competition will be increased once the playoffs begin, and Boston can’t risk being swept out of the first round, as they were during the 2016 World Series playoffs.