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Scattered Thoughts after a Game One loss

A winnable game slips away.

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MLB: ALCS-Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox had a chance to start off the ALCS with a bang, getting a road win to take an early 1-0 lead. Instead, they let it slip away and gave Houston the early edge with a 5-4 win on Friday night. Here are some scattered thoughts on the day.

  • Ultimately, more than anything this just feels like a wasted opportunity on a number of different fronts. In hindsight, it’s strange they started Chris Sale in this game. (More on that in a second.) And they actually got away with him not having his best start while also knocking Houston’s starter out early. Things were set up for a win, but pitchers the Red Sox need good pitches from — Tanner Houck and Hansel Robles in this case — made mistakes to the wrong hitters, the Boston bats went quiet against an average bullpen, and Alex Cora made some weird choices in the dugout. It was one of those games where no player or coach really stands out themselves as the reason they lost. It was just a lot of little things adding up to spoil a great chance to steal a game in Texas.
  • We should talk more about Chris Sale, who was somewhere between where he’d been in the last couple of outings and where the Red Sox need him. On the positive side, his fastball had better velocity and the slider was breaking more out of his hand. Those two main pitches weren’t perfect by any means, but they were better. On the other hand, his command was still shaky, he found himself in near-constant trouble, and the changeup was nonexistent. By a combination of making big pitches when he needed to, good defense, and good fortune, Sale only allowed one run in his 2 23 innings, but he should have been better.
Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game One Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
  • And the changeup thing in particular strikes me about Sale even pitching in this game in the first place. The biggest issue for Sale lately is that he hasn’t had that offspeed offering, and while at his peak he can survive like that, he can’t with the current version of his fastball and slider. And it was implied that he had figured out the pitch prior to this game, though he clearly hadn’t. This wasn’t a case of him thinking he had it but then ditching it right away unless he did that in the pregame warmup. He threw only four changeups all night, with one in a long first inning. Don’t get me wrong. It’s understandable that he’s not all the way back from Tommy John. I’m still relatively optimistic about his 2022 prospects. But unless you’re sure he has all three pitches, you need to use your best pitcher in Game One to try and get off on the right foot. Right now that’s Nathan Eovaldi, who suddenly has a whole lot of added pressure to go deep in this game.
  • I think we saw pretty clearly the differences in five- and seven-game series. The first five games of this set are played with just one off day, meaning you can’t just use whoever you want whenever you want. That presumably played into neither Nick Pivetta nor Eduardo Rodriguez being used, despite the former warming up very early in the game. I think it was a mistake, too. Avoiding one of them to make sure you have them for Game Three is fine, but when Sale went out early you knew you’d need to rely on a lot of arms, and their bullpen just isn’t deep enough to do that with straight relievers. I would have used Pivetta in this game, and probably in the fourth.
  • Tanner Houck not having it also presumably threw a wrench in their plans. I would guess they were hoping to use him for two innings, but his stuff was just not moving. When he’s just spinning his slider, it’ll eventually get crushed and we saw that from Jose Altuve. I think Cora was right to pull him after the one inning, but it made things murkier the rest of the way.
  • But no matter what happens, you can’t play a game that close without Garrett Whitlock getting in. Whether it be in the seventh when Hansel Robles came in against the middle of the order, or in the eighth instead of Sawamura in order to hold the deficit at one. And with Kiké Hernández homering in the ninth, the run Sawamura gave up ended up being huge. But the point is Whitlock is too important to not pitch in this game. He had three days off in between appearances, and can go for an inning on Friday and an inning on Saturday. It’s a basic rule in the playoffs: Don’t lose close games without your best pitchers standing on the mound.
  • The Danny Santana decision also just blew my mind. I understand the logic. Kendall Gravement shuts down righties and isn’t great against lefties. Santana is a switch hitter, and Hunter Renfroe is a righty. But splits are not in a vacuum. We’re still talking about Danny Santana, who has quite literally been one of the worst major-league hitters for the better part of a decade. Even if you insist on pinch hitting a lefty, use Travis Shaw there instead of with two outs. If Santana is on the roster to run and play defense in a pinch, then sure. But if that spot is even being considered for offensive purposes, he shouldn’t be there. And even if he had a good at bat, it ended in a strikeout. Santana just cannot hit unless it’s a blow out. Full stop.
  • The one big positive from this game was Hernández, who was not affected by the lay off between series and carried that hot streak into this one. He was a triple shy of the cycle, but the fourth hit was a homer instead, so I think he’ll take that trade off.
  • Also involving Hernández was the best moment of the game as a Red Sox fan, when he hit his first home run right as Dusty Baker was being interviewed. He stopped mid-sentence for a succinct “Oh lord,” and it was glorious.
  • What was the deal with FOX’s camera work, especially early on?
  • As frustrating as this loss was — and it was super frustrating — the Red Sox are still in a decent position. The goal entering this series is to take one of the first two games, and they have another chance at that on Saturday with Eovaldi on the mound. Their bullpen worked a lot today — all of their true relievers threw at least one pitch besides Whitlock — so they need a relatively deep outing from their starter. But even more than that, they need a better showing from their offense.