There are 27 innings left in Boston’s regular season and at least 27 more innings to play after that. That is all we are guaranteed from here on out, but it sure seems we’re in this one for the long haul. If we really want to cement our reputation as an all-or-nothing team, now would be the time to do it. We want it all.
Rick Porcello should start game one. I was skeptical about this as recently as early last week, but at this point it’s both a fait accompli and the right decision, as Ben Buchanan wrote earlier this week. David Price should start game two and Chris Sale should start game three in Drew Pomeranz’s jersey. That’s my dream, at least.
Instead, at some point, Clay Buchholz is probably going to start a game. This isn’t my dream, but it’s not quite my nightmare, either. It’s redemption season, and even for a first-place team there are some Sox who have unique opportunities to erase the memories of subpar regular seasons.
Buchholz is chief among these players, and, more than anyone else on the team, can cement his positive Red Sox legacy with a nice postseason. Imagine J.D. Drew’s infamous 2007 postseason grand slam, but not as a single point of redemption but as the cherry on top of an upside-down cake of a career. Buchholz has been sweet at times and confusing at others, but shut down the Cubs (for instance) and we’ll just remember him as Big Game Clay.
If he bites it, well, what can we do? We didn’t want him to pitch in the first place. For Buch, this is the clearest opportunity to boost his good name -- but he already has a Red Sox reputation to uphold, at least. The same can’t really be said of Craig Kimbrel, whose Red Sox reputation will be formed if he sees real action, and who has the most to gain or lose this year.
He hasn’t been great. Let’s just put it out there. The disaster from a few nights ago was conspicuously bad enough for the New York Daily News to troll him on its back page despite the fact the Red Sox won the AL East that very night. That is not good! That is scary! And I am personally terrified of what’s gonna happen if and when he’s called into action this October.
He certainly has the talent to right the ship, and in the small sample-size of the postseason, closers take outsized roles, so he’ll have nowhere to hide. There’s no replacing Keith Foulke in 2004, Jonathan Papelbon in 2007 or Koji Uehara in 2013 the same way there’s no replacing Mariano Rivera for any of the Yankees’ titles in which he was paramount. You don’t need a great closer to win a World Series, but a bad one can -- and almost surely will -- lose you one. Armando Benitez would like a word.
Kimbrel can’t lose this one if he wants to stick around in Boston’s good graces. He’s facing a zero-sum game, as he lacks the latent goodwill that Buchholz has accrued over the years, nor does he necessarily have the longest Red Sox career left in the future, provided he makes a goat of himself. To be fair, this is largely a function of his age and the volatility inherent in relief pitching, but them’s the rules.
Finally, there’s Xander Bogaerts, who could largely erase memories of a disappointing second half by ripping off some hits like the home run he blasted last night in the Bronx. Once a solid second in the batting race to the incomparable Jose Altuve, he has long traded his spot among the league leaders in hitting for a place in the fat middle of the curve. Given the incredible hitting the Sox’s lineup, Bogaerts’ reputation should be fine unless he turns in an A-Rod worthy performance -- the version A-Rod who was eventually benched during the playoffs, and whose reputation never totally recovered from his postseason flailing, as good as he was otherwise.
For Bogaerts, the postseason provides mostly positive opportunities, however. If he can return from the upside-down to help us defeat the monsters we created -- i.e., the Cubs, who were birthed when we let Theo Epstein escape through a hole in timespace/the Green Monster -- we’ve got a good shot of doing the damn thing again. At the very least, a great Bogey performance will erase the immediate memory of his second half.
It’s a team effort, of course, and anyone could be the hero or goat -- but these players have the most to gain or lose, I think. Except… there’s one more. I almost forgot. Pablo Sandoval could come out of nowhere to win his second World Series MVP. I know, I know: It’s unlikely enough to be laughable, but: Stranger Things have happened.