Let’s dispense with the formalities and begin with the obvious: Sandy León cannot hit. He hasn’t been able to for awhile, but with the Yankees on deck it finally matters, and for that reason he shouldn’t be behind the plate for Game 1 on Friday. Nor should Christian Vázquez, whose defensive reputation precedes him but whose bat appears sporadically to engage 450-foot home runs before burrowing back into its hole. Blake Swihart should be the primary catcher going forward, both in the playoffs and into next season.
There are two reasons it should happen now. The first is that he’s shown real skill at the plate. Given the degree to which I hate Jorge Posada, I detest this analogy... but the lack of batting gloves and a similar catching pedigree have me thinking of Swihart as a young Posada, and this would be a good thing for the Sox. There are many differences between the players, of course, as Posada has already put together a notable career, has acknowledged peeing on his hands to make them stronger and, of course, is basically Satan.
None of these applies to Swihart, who is not Satan. He’s good and he’s nice and he should start. Contrary to what the HATERZ may say, it brings me joy to say this. I have, prior to now, been against anointing him as the starting catcher for reasons both practical and deductive. Practically speaking, it’s only been over the last six weeks that he’s proven to be better, on aggregate, than his competitors. Deductively speaking, the fact the team didn’t let him and didn’t trust him until now suggested they were content to take the long-term view — which, uh, is a good thing — with their young, offensively promising backstop.
The long-term view didn’t matter in the playoffs, though, and right now Swihart should catch until he can’t, or until it becomes an issue. It’s not (just) that he “earned it” this season fair and square; it’s that he’s the best option. If I may attack a straw man for a second, and put words into my composite ideological enemy’s mouth, too much of the Swihart discussion has come down to whether or not he has “earned” his right to start prior to now, which is a silly argument on the basis that any player that makes it to the big league deserves to be treated fairly, full stop. There is a (decent) chance Alex Cora told León or Vázquez in March that they were his catchers this season, and in the hierarchy of fairness, a direct pledge trumps a general understanding, imho, if only when things are so good nothing matters.
That’s the situation Sox fans have been in for six weeks or more. Since they beat the Yankees in August, for sure. That was hailed at the end at the time, and it was, in fact, the end. This is why I had such a visceral reaction to the Great Bullpen Panick of September and the Christopher Smith-led evangelism of Swihart being elevated post-haste to the starter’s role, both of which I kicked up some fuss about on Twitter — follow here! — which earned some blowback. Smith and I got especially chummy. My point was, and remains, that this was the rare season where the win-loss record truly spoke for itself. Once division was secure and top seed likely, the season became about the fielding best team possible in October.
On Friday, that’s what the Sox will do. That’s when Chris Sale, perhaps finally at full strength, will make the biggest start of his life so far. That’s when Mookie Betts will take his first hacks as surefire M.V.P.-in-waiting, J.D. Martinez will look to continue his Manny-like season into a Mannyful playoff run, and so much more. Maybe one of those things is Swihart’s indelible statement of belonging. His permanent ink, if you will. This October, he should finally get to write his own story.