So, uh, Monday night was pretty fun. There were so many stars and takeaways from this game, but above all else the difference in managers stood out to me. Specifically, from a Red Sox perspective, Alex Cora pushed all of the right buttons before and during this game and it paid off to an unforeseeable extent. The Red Sox responded well to every decision he made and the team officially got that spark they were looking for. Now, as we turn our attentions forward to Game Four, it’s about keeping the flame going after that initial spark. Cora has some decisions to make again for this game, including how long of a leash to give Rick Porcello and whether or not to use someone like David Price out of the bullpen in Yankee Stadium. The pitching situation is going to be fascinating to watch against a Yankees lineup that should be very motivated on Tuesday. However, it’s the lineup that I’m most interested in seeing.
To me, the decision with the lineup is fairly obvious: Don’t change a damn thing. The old saying in baseball is that momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitching, but that’s just a thing people say. The lineup the Red Sox rolled out on Monday is clearly their best group of hitters, and the defense did not suffer at all by the changes. Now, it is a different situation in Game Four with the Yankees sending out the left-handed CC Sabathia for the start. However, he is not the kind of overpowering lefty that can be death on Red Sox lefties, and he is also not likely to have a long leash. If things go well, a righty will be on the mound by the third inning. You could certainly just pinch hit if/when that happens, but to me it makes the most sense trying to keep the Monday magic going.
Let’s take a look at this going spot-by-spot observing each change in Monday’s lineup. We’ll start with the one that will most obviously continue into Game Four: Steve Pearce taking over for Mitch Moreland. Part of the reason the former got the start against the righty on Monday was that Moreland suffered a hamstring injury in Game Two, but he’s also been swinging the bat better lately. Frankly, he should be the everyday guy at first base until he proves he shouldn’t be. For this game, he’s clearly going to start. He’s here to mash left-handed hitting above all else, and he’s got a chance to do that against Sabathia on Tuesday. Over his career Pearce is hitting .316/.366/.632 in 41 plate appearances against Sabathia. Don’t be surprised if he’s hitting third when the lineup comes out later this evening.
Next we go behind the plate where Christian Vazquez got the start over Sandy León. This is one change I do not expect to continue into Game Four, and it’s probably the one I care the least about. Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer to see Vazquez (or Blake Swihart) in the starting lineup, but I understand the appeal to León’s defense. He showed in Game One how important that can be, and Rick Porcello has made it well-known that he prefers León behind the plate. That preference hasn’t always turned into strong performances, of course, but ultimately you want your starter as comfortable as possible. To me, the key here is being aggressive with pinch hitting. If León comes up to the plate in a key spot, Cora needs to go to his bench no matter how early it is, particularly if Porcello is out of the game.
From here we got to the man of the hour, Brock Holt at second base. This is simultaneously the toughest decision and the biggest no-brainer. Holt has been red-hot since about August, and really there’s no way you can sit him after Monday’s cycle. He really shouldn’t have been sitting for the first two games, but you especially can’t take away playing time now. The issue is Ian Kinsler, who has the playoff experience, the right-handed bat and the defense with Porcello on the mound. For what it’s worth, Kinsler does have a .791 OPS against Sabathia in 49 career plate appearances, but I’ve never been a fan of using those kind of numbers for lineup decisions. It’s possible, and maybe even probable, that both Kinsler and Holt will be in the lineup on Tuesday, but the priority should be getting the latter in there.
Finally, at third base, Rafael Devers’ performance on Monday was overshadowed by Holt’s explosion, but the former had some good swings in this game and contributed a couple of well-struck base hits himself. All signs point to him being on the bench for Tuesday’s game, with the Yankees starting a left-handed pitcher and Boston starting a guy who is neutral in terms of flyballs and grounders. That points to Eduardo Núñez getting the start at third, which would be a mistake. First off, he’s a reverse splits guy, so his advantage against lefties would be minimal at best. On top of that, he may be a slight defensive upgrade but it’s not worth the relative lack of upside at the plate. Now, the other option would be to start Holt at third with Kinsler at second. I could get behind this, but I’d still rather see Devers back in there with a chance to lengthen the lineup a bit.
Ultimately, there’s no reason not to trust whatever decision Alex Cora ends up making here. He pushed all of the right buttons on Monday, and he has earned the trust to do it again on Tuesday. I don’t expect to see an identical lineup (at least in terms of players, if not order) for Game Four, but that’s what I would do. The performance was just too good in my mind to not give them another shout. If it were up to me, I’d let that group keep rolling until they force you to make another adjustment.