The opening game of this ALCS between the Red Sox and Astros was disastrous from a Red Sox point of view. Well, that’s probably hyperbole, but Boston really didn’t do much of anything well in this game. Granted, the final score wasn’t really indicative of how close the game was most of the way through, but Boston never seemed to have a handle on things on Saturday. There were mental mistakes, poor execution, bad luck and poor management. That’s....not a great combination! Here are a few thoughts I had as my head hit the pillow after the long, weird and dumb game.
- I think we have to start with Chris Sale. In terms of his production on the mound in this game, he really wasn’t that bad. He had an awful second inning, and his command wasn’t there, but at the end of the day he allowed two runs (which weren’t entirely his fault) and struck out five batters in four innings. Obviously, you want more length but in terms of disastrous starts, it could have been worse. That being said, we’re back to being really concerned about where he’s at heading into his next start, hoping it gets that far. We saw him come back from a similar lack of stuff and velocity, and the hope is that it’s a mechanical issue. The Red Sox obviously need him to be better than he was in this game, though, if they want to have a shot in this series.
- Speaking of stars who disappointed, we have to talk about Mookie Betts. The Red Sox right fielder is, undeniably, one of the truly elite players in this game, and he’s going to win the AL MVP this year. He’s also been bad in the playoffs. He had a .566 OPS in the Yankees series, and in three postseason series heading into Saturday’s game he had a career .667 OPS. The Red Sox need more than that, but in this game he had a leadoff single then grounded out in every other plate appearance. Now, there was some luck involved here as he hit the ball hard and it’s reasonable to expect at least one of three hard-hit ground balls to get through the infield. That said, he got pitches against which he could have done real damage, and when he gets those kind of chances he needs to launch the ball and not roll it over on the ground.
- Really, the middle of the lineup as a whole was disappointing in this game. I mean, really the entire lineup was, but the bottom of the lineup is always hit-or-miss at beast. They obviously need the big bats to come through in these kinds of games, and they didn’t. The top four hitters (Betts, Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts) combined to go 2-15 with one walk. That’s not going to cut it.
- Speaking of Martinez, there was some sustained focus on one particular strikeout in which he tried to check his swing but the home plate ump ruled that he went around on a pitch in the dirt. The ball got away from Martin Maldonado, but Martinez didn’t run to first but instead argued a bit. I didn’t really have a problem with that. For one thing, he didn’t swing, so he didn’t know it was a strikeout right away. I’m also not sure he knew the ball got away, though that could arguably be on him for not being aware of the situation. Regardless, by the time he found out it was ruled a strikeout I don’t think he had a chance to make it to first. It wasn’t great, but on the list of poor portions of this game, this was far down the list.
- Far up the list? Eduardo Núñez. I’ve long been a Núñez defender, and I still like the guy just fine. He was awful in this game, and he really shouldn’t have been starting. Now, to clear up a misconception at the start, according to Cora he was not in the game for defense. They said the matchup against a velocity-based pitcher who throws up in the zone like Verlander was not a good matchup for Rafael Devers. I don’t buy it, but it wasn’t a defense thing. Anyway, Núñez’ defense was brutal in this game, to say nothing of his 0-3 with a walk performance at the plate. In the second inning, Sale walked the bases loaded before George Springer snuck a grounder below Núñez’ glove. Now, the play should have been made, and the average third baseman makes that play more often than not. That said, the two runs that scored because of this were, to me, more on Sale for not only walking the bottom-third of the lineup but also allowing hard contact to Springer. However, in the sixth Joe Kelly had a chance to eliminate a leadoff walk with a clear double play ball, but Núñez botched it. Houston ended up re-taking the lead later in that inning, and Núñez deserves a ton of blame for this massive run.
- Starting Núñez over Devers was one poor choice by Cora in this game. Now, this is the point where I mention that he was ejected in the fifth inning after a poor call to ring up Benintendi. I didn’t have a problem with this ejection — the Red Sox were clearly frustrated with the strike zone, and something had to be said — and maybe there was a chance it sparked cleaner play. That didn’t work, but whatever. I do have a problem with Brandon Workman pitching the ninth. Cora, despite being ejected, is still pulling these strings and deserves the criticism here. It was a one-run deficit at this point, and the Red Sox just needed a break in the bottom of the ninth to push the game to extras, at least. Instead, Workman got shelled and put the game away before the Red Sox even got another chance at the plate. It’s the ALCS. Kimbrel needs to be in these situations, particularly when Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier and Joe Kelly have already been used.
- Alex Bregman is incredible at baseball, and got on base three times while also playing lights out defensively. That is all.
- Barnes, Brasier and Kelly pitched pretty well out of the bullpen despite some control issues. The middle relief really hasn’t been as big of an issue to this point in the postseason as many expected it to be.
- Christian Vazquez had an awful attempt at catching a base stealer that ended up hitting crew chief and second base umpire Joe West on the fly. It was the biggest highlight for the Red Sox in this game.