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Scattered Thoughts after a Game Five loss

A dominant night for the Astros starter set the tone.

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Championship Series - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

With the series tied at two games apiece, the ALCS between the Red Sox and Astros largley hinged on the pivotal Game Five at Fenway. Both sides got good showings from their starters, but Houston outlasted Boston and ultimately won convincingly to take the 3-2 series lead. Here are some scattered thoughts on the loss.

  • Framber Valdez certainly deserves top billing after this game and was clearly, in my opinion anyway, the story of this game. There have certainly been games this season when the Red Sox offense didn’t get anything going and it was more about them having bad days than the pitcher having a good one. This, to me, was not one of those times. There were some hittable pitches at times that the Red Sox didn’t take full advantage of, but for the most part Valdez just executed his gameplan to perfection. He’s a ground ball pitcher who induced almost nothing but for his entire outing. The lefty clearly wanted to establish his fastball to start off with as he threw only the sinker in the first inning, and once the curveball started getting mixed in the Red Sox were just totally off balance. We’ll talk about some ways Boston didn’t get the job done, but I think it’s important to note that first and foremost Valdez just shoved.
  • Apparently there was also some talk on the radio broadcast about Valdez continuously going to his temple, implying some malfeasance with sticky substances. It wasn’t something I was watching for, but it didn’t really stand out to me. I’ll note that there wasn’t really any discrepancies with his spin rate in this game. I don’t really make anything of it, personally. I think Valdez was just really good, and we don’t need to try and cheapen it.
  • Also really good? Chris Sale. The offense kind of made it moot, but Sale looked as good as he has since he had surgery, and was clearly amped up and ready to go. He still didn’t have a changeup he felt comfortable using, which is less than ideal, but he was consistently sitting 96 with his fastball and got up to 98 at one point. The command was good, and he was getting strikeouts against a very tough lineup to strike out. I was already relatively confident in his 2022 prospects before this start, but I think we saw that he still has the ability to reach back and look like the vintage Chris Sale. And at the very least, if this run continues long enough for him to get the ball again in 2021, I’ll feel a lot more confident than I was before this outing.
Championship Series - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Five Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
  • The fourth inning in particular was special to watch and was, in hindsight, the peak of the game for the Red Sox. They were trailing 1-0 already, hadn’t even had a baserunner, and were trying to prevent the Astros from extending their lead with runners on the corners and one out. Sale dug deep for 98 mph heat against Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker, blowing both away for back-to-back strikeouts to keep the score at 1-0. It felt like a huge momentum shift at the time, and Sale showed the requisite emotion.
  • Once we got to the sixth, Sale started to slow down a bit and this was the one swing moment in the game where Alex Cora can be questioned. I didn’t have a problem sending Sale back out for a third time through the order, as he was dealing. But I would have had someone warming up right away so they could come in right at the first sign of trouble, which came quickly with a leadoff walk. I would have given Sale one more batter at that point against the lefty before pulling him for the right-handed Alex Bregman, but that wasn’t possible without someone warming. To his credit, Sale did get two weak grounders after that, but the stuff was just a bit less crisp, which led to the big hit in the next at bat.
  • And then the other big decision was to pitch to Yordan Alvarez, who was the star of the game offensively for Houston. He came up with runners on second and third and one out, and there’s a decent argument he should have been walked to set up a force at the plate and/or a potential double play. It also would have brought up a righty with Ryan Brasier warming. The counter to that is Carlos Correa was on deck, and it’s kind of scary to load the bases in front of him. I was leaning toward walking him, but admittedly would have been gun shy on that if I had to actually make the call. Ultimately, Alex Cora let Sale pitch to Alvarez, and that was the start of the Astros piling on.
  • Most of that piling on came at the expense of the Red Sox bullpen, which seems to have its wheels falling off of late. The bullpen has played a big role in all of the losses in this series, and the lack of depth there is hard to hide against a lineup this good.
  • Earlier in that sixth inning, Kyle Schwarber made a huge mistake at third base. He got a good throw from Rafael Devers, but José Altuve was going first to third to take advantage of the shift, and Schwarber was thinking about throwing him out before he brought in the guaranteed out. As a result, no outs were recorded and Sale’s job became that much tougher. I think for the most part Schwarber has done admirably at a new position on the fly, but we’ve gotten periodic reminders that this is not his position.
  • Hunter Renfroe has had a brutal postseason, but it looked like he was starting to turn things around with better at bats lately. He regressed on Wednesday, hitting into two key double plays. Cora said he’s not making lineup changes at this point, but he should really consider giving Renfroe a day off with Bobby Dalbec playing first and Schwarber moving to the outfield. There’s defensive issues at risk there, but the Red Sox offense needs a spark and Renfroe is not it right now.
  • The one bit of offense Boston got was a late homer from Devers. It was inconsequential in the context of the game, but it did at least produce this sad laundry cart picture.