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Scattered thoughts from an ALDS-clinching win

The Red Sox are going to be one of four teams left at the end.

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Division Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox - Game Four Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Red Sox are going to the ALCS. Boston walked off both of their home games in this series, with Kiké Hernández doing the job on Monday with a sacrifice fly, and they are now going to the American League Championship Series. Let’s go with some postgame scattered thoughts, eh?

  • Just like we did yesterday, we have to start with the hero. This time around it was the aforementioned Hernández, whose walk-off on Monday was just the cap to a phenomenal all-around series. Earlier in the day I had written that Nick Pivetta was the no-doubt series MVP for the team. I still stand by that because I believe he contributed to three wins — it could have been four if not for the Eduardo Rodriguez performance I’ll get to in a minute — despite only pitching in two, but if I’m being honest with myself I’m probably being stubborn. Hernández went 9-20 in the last three games of this series, driving in six and hitting five extra-base hits. The ALDS MVP doesn’t actually exist so it’s not really worth arguing who it was, and Hernández was phenomenal whatever you want to call him.
  • The bullpen (and by extension, Alex Cora) blowing the lead was stressful at the time, and is still annoying even knowing they win because it canceled out the performance from Eduardo Rodriguez. The southpaw has gotten a lot of criticism this year, some fair, some not, and certainly got a whole lot after his last game. Many, myself included, weren’t really sure he could be trusted again in this series. In fairness, even Cora didn’t plan on starting him, but circumstances made it necessary and Rodriguez stepped up. He was perfect for three innings, giving his team time to jump out to a 5-0 lead, and only allowed one run on the game. All on three days rest. Rodriguez is still immensely frustrating, but he’s a battler, especially coming back from last year.
  • Also good: Garrett Whitlock. I’m going to get to the way he’s being managed in a second, but I think it’s important that we at least talk about the good first, because Whitlock’s dominance should not be the afterthought to when he’s used. Not only did he come in with the go-ahead run in scoring position with nobody out and the heart of the order, but he retired those three — Wander Franco, Brandon Lowe, and Nelson Cruz — in order and then got three more in the ninth, all in 15 pitches. What he’s done this year is absolutely incredible.
Tampa Bay Rays Vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
  • And so here’s my rant. Whitlock not being in the game until after it was tied in each of the final two games was inexcusable. It didn’t seem too complicated as to how to handle that eighth inning. Josh Taylor looked good in the seventh and only threw 10 pitches. Tampa Bay had due up: Mike Zunino, Kevin Kiermaier, and then the top of the Rays order starting with Randy Arozarena. The move should have been to stick with Taylor to face Zunino, who is a righty and has some power, but also strikes out a ton. You can take that risk with a two-run lead. Then Kiermaier comes up, and if he stays in Taylor faces him. If they pinch hit, you turn to Whitlock, who’s coming in for the next batter either way. If Arozarena’s spot hadn’t come up until fourth it would have been a different story, but the three-batter rule puts them in a position where Ryan Brasier had to face a key batter despite clearly not having it, and it could have been avoided. They won, so it feels wrong to be complaining like this, but Whitlock needs to be used more aggressively moving forward. In the wise words of Jesse Pinkman, he can’t keep on getting away with it.
  • Another move from Cora that I saw being second guessed was pulling Rodriguez. The lefty came in for the sixth but only to face the left-handed Kevin Kiermaier. That was the first point of confusion, as some thought he was pulled because he gave up a bloop double. He was never going to face Arozarena. Others thought he was pitching well enough to stay in. I get where that is coming from, but he was on three days rest facing a very good top of the lineup for a third time. I thought pulling him was easily the right move, but Tanner Houck didn’t have it. Using Houck felt like the guy you want in the game at that point, so I had no qualms with Cora’s move. But Houck looked clearly gassed after having pitched five innings in Game Two. These next few days off are going to be huge for him.
  • Rafael Devers is doing something special right now. He’s clearly in pain and there are some ugly swings that actually hurt me through the screen, but he’s got a hit in all of these playoff games and hit a huge home run in this game. This is going to be a weird offseason with the CBA stuff, and extensions are obviously a two-way street, but get it done all the same, please.
  • The Red Sox offense was shut out in that first game, but it really should have been evident that they were ready to pounce. They hit the ball extremely hard throughout this whole series. They hit 10 balls at least 100 mph in Game One, 12 in Game Two, 13 in Game Three, and then 13 again in Game Four. The offense is locked in.
  • A couple more negatives to get to in this game with poor fundamentals almost proving costly twice in this game. The first time was in that eighth inning when Arozarena hit the game-tying base hit. That was bad enough, but Hunter Renfroe made a big mistake in throwing home when he had no chance at the out. That allowed Arozarena to move to second representing the winning run with nobody out. Whitlock made it moot, but it was poor baseball and had a real chance at being a major factor in a loss.
  • Similarly, Alex Verdugo getting thrown out at third to end the bottom of the eighth was bad too. This one wasn’t as bad to me as he was almost safe — replay showed he actually might have been — and it took a really good throw from Kiermaier, but ultimately it’s just not worth the risk with two outs. He’s already in scoring position, and as mentioned the offense is locked in right now. Give them a chance to bring you home. Both Verdugo and Renfroe play the game at one speed, which is full-go. That can be a very good thing a lot of the time, but there are downsides as we saw here.
  • A little aside from the game and an observation from watching FS1: The FOX singing competition shows look bananas. What is going on over there? Are they okay?
  • We said even before the Wildcard Game that this season was a success no matter what, and they just keep winning. But we’ll say it again: This has been glorious and any pain that comes after a possible ALCS loss will be short-lived. (This is not to say they have no chance, because obviously they do after knocking off the AL favorite.) That they’ve gotten this far is great, and that they’ve eliminated the Yankees and Rays in the process is *chef’s kiss*.
  • Looking ahead a bit, there’s no doubt we and the Red Sox should be rooting for the White Sox in this game today. Chicago winning ensures a Game Five, and it goes without saying the Red Sox would rather play a team coming off a five-game series than a four-game one. As for the whole series, we’re going to talk about that later but I am still undecided on who is a better matchup. They are both very talented, and almost equally so.
  • Let’s end it by acknowledging that just overall this was a great series. I’m not complaining about how it turned out, but it probably deserved to be more than a four-game set. The Rays are good and they’re going to continue being good. Wander Franco in particular just scared me this series more than he already had.