Just about everything about Game One between the Red Sox and Astros was terrible from a Boston perspective. There were a few bright spots if you really squint, but this is a hugely discouraging way to start the series. The number one concern coming out of this game is and should be Chris Sale, who the Red Sox were counting on for a big start on long rest. Instead, he struggled with his command, his stuff looked flatter than usual and it let to a slugfest for the Astros. In addition to that, the offense looked solid for a couple of innings but didn’t do much else throughout the game. Those are troubling signs, but to me there is one takeaway from this game that is the most troubling in what it means for the rest of the series. That is how John Farrell managed things.
For a long time, I’ve been a Farrell defender when many were calling for his job over the last few years. Managers in this market always get way too much blame and not nearly enough credit, but it seems like that’s been taken to a different extreme with Farrell for whatever reason. Perhaps I’m wrong about that, but that’s the perception I get from talking to people. However you feel about Farrell, it’s undeniable that his job security is a constant topic in Boston. Hell, we have a semi-weekly series indexing how secure his job is at that moment in time. I’ve always been on the pro-Farrell side of this debate, and I’m not sure I’m on the other side just yet. That being said, Thursday’s game pushed me as close as I’ve ever been, and the way he handled things does not bode well for the rest of the series or the postseason in general.
The complaints about Farrell that came throughout the regular season all came true in this first game of the postseason, and it was costly. Obviously, the regular season and postseason are wildly different beasts and managers have to treat them differently. With the stakes so much higher, a greater sense of urgency needs to be placed on each decision in October. Starters can’t be left in for too long. The best relievers need to enter the game earlier than usual. They also need to be pushed a bit more in terms of the number of days they are throwing. Managers need to play matchups and not be afraid to send guys out for one batter only. In the regular season, I defended Farrell for these flaws under the premise that it is a very long season and that when the stakes were raised he’d change his ways. That’s what most other managers in the league do. Farrell didn’t do so on Thursday.
Let’s take a look at all of the errors from Game One. It started fairly early from placing Eduardo Nuñez in the starting lineup only for him to re-injure his knee in the second at bat of the game. Now, I’m not sure how much of this we can really put on Farrell. Someone messed up here — for the second time in a couple weeks, no less — between Farrell and the training staff. Farrell could very well not be to blame here, but he certainly doesn’t come out of this looking good.
For more tangible mistakes, we move to later in the game. As I said above, in the postseason you just can’t leave your starting pitcher out if it’s clear that the he doesn’t have it. It was clear Sale didn’t have it in this game. There were a couple spots it could have made sense to take him out. After Marwin Gonzalez’ double to give the Astros a 4-2 lead, it seemed clear this wasn’t going to be a good game. Heading into the fifth could have been a place to remove him. After allowing a home run to Jose Altuve in the fifth would have been when I removed him, but Sale did get out of it after that. Entering the sixth, with the Astros leading 5-2, it seemed unfathomable that Sale could be back out. But, as we know, he did. Everyone but Farrell seemed to know that was a mistake. Sale would give up a double and a walk before being removed without recording an out in the inning.
The mistakes didn’t end there, either. Sale was taken out with two runners on and nobody out in a three-run game. This was a crucial, do-or-die moment for the Red Sox. Furthermore, the Astros had three players in Yuli Gurriel, Gonzalez and McCann that all crush righties. All signs pointed to using either David Price or Eduardo Rodriguez in this spot. At the very least, Addison Reed or Carson Smith had to be high on the list. Instead, Farrell went to Joe Kelly in a move that felt like giving up on the game. Kelly has been fine for much of this year, but he can’t be placed in such an important spot in a postseason game. Like I said, the only explanation is that Farrell was saving his better pitchers for later games. In a short series, you can’t give up on a three-run game, particularly when you manage a team that used late-game comebacks to fuel its run to the division title.
Farrell also used Rick Porcello in the eighth inning of this game, which was more of a strange move than a bad one. According to the manager before the game, Porcello was in line to start Game Four, and the only way he wouldn’t is if he was needed for long relief in Game One or Game Two. Putting aside that getting some long relief in this game may have been needed, it was weird to see him used in mop-up duty. In all likelihood this was just Porcello getting some work in, but with the way the rest of the game was managed it’s not as if Farrell has earned the benefit of the doubt.
As with the team on the whole, we can’t bury Farrell after just one game. Hopefully he’ll see the error in his ways after this one and manage with more urgency in Game Two. Through one game, though, he’s being the same guy he is in the regular season. It’s a defensible style in a long, 162-game grind. It’s much less defensible in a short five-game series. If Farrell is going to stick to his guns and not join the rest of the world in postseason managing style, the Fire Farrell crowd is only going to get louder, and it’s possible they’ll get their wish.