The Boston Red Sox have their backs against the wall, as we all know, potentially having their final game of the 2021 season on Friday as they trail the Houston Astros three games to two in the ALCS. Boston will have Nathan Eovaldi on the mound tonight to take on Luis Garcia in what is a rematch of Game Two. Here are some scattered thoughts as we get set for tonight’s action.
- I feel like it’s worth repeating what we’ve said a few times already this postseason, which is that this season has been a resounding success regardless of where it ends. They’ve already gone further than any of us could have accepted, and there have been organizational strides in multiple areas about which excitement is warranted. There will be a certain level of disappointment if they do lose tonight, of course, not leastwise due to the fact that all three of their losses felt winnable at one point or another. I think there’s probably a level of disappointment whenever a team gets eliminated, to state the obvious. The difference here is that the disappointment won’t be as pronounced or as long-lasting for the bigger picture reasons.
- All of that being said, I certainly think it would be foolish to look at this game as one the Red Sox are likely to lose. It’s probably just as foolish to think they are likely to win, to be fair, but with Nathan Eovaldi on the mound they have what they want. It was great to see Chris Sale look like Chris Sale again in his last start, even if it did end up as a loss (not really because of him), but Eovaldi is still the de facto ace of this staff. He’s also a proven playoff warrior. The Astros lineup is still as deep as we all know it to be, and they’ve been feeling it of late, especially with runners on base. There’s also the matter of the Red Sox offense needing to score. But the Red Sox couldn’t have picked a better pitcher to have out there, and that alone is reason enough to feel at least better about their chances to force a Game Seven, where anything can happen.
- Eovaldi, of course, just pitched a couple of days ago in relief in Game Four on Tuesday. This is not new for Alex Cora, nor for Eovaldi, nor for baseball in general these last few years. Playoff managing has always been more aggressive, but we’re seeing more and more starters in action on their throw days this time of year, and that comes with risk. Eovaldi has done it before and Cora has shown a good feel historically for knowing the limits on this sort of thing, but it still bears watching. The first few pitches will be key to know that Eovaldi has a full tank from the jump, but probably more important will be to see what he looks like once he gets up over the 50-ish pitch mark. My guess is that, even if he is tired, adrenaline can get him through the first couple innings. It’s once things settle in that we may see any possible fatigue start to shine through.
- And it could also mean a big day for the Red Sox bullpen, which has generally been trending in the wrong direction. And probably the guy I’m most curious about is Tanner Houck, who has not really been a factor of late. The righty got off to a tremendous start in this postseason, but his last two outings were shakier. The last of those outings was in Game One of this series, and I don’t even think he’s warmed up since then. Now, game flow has been weird in these games with one team pulling away in most of them, so maybe that’s the simple explanation. Occam’s Razor and all of that. But I’m curious if he’s just hit a wall. Remember, he really didn’t pitch last year except for a few starts at the end and at the Alternate Site, which is a different animal. Ideally he is a big part of the game plan today, but I think it’s entirely possible he’s essentially shut down unless there’s an emergency. It’s something to monitor for today, at least.
- The offense is probably the bigger story for the Red Sox, as they’ve been extremely quiet since the second inning of Game Four. There’s just not much to say about it. Framber Valdez shut them down emphatically in the last game, but for the most part I didn’t have too many problems with their approach. I thought they worked solid at bats, especially to start, but they were facing a ground ball pitcher who had his best stuff. Sometimes that’s just hard to overcome.
- Now, they’re facing another pitcher who they got to in a big way earlier in this series in Luis Garcia. We should be able to tell pretty early what the Red Sox offense will be like. We’ve seen so often from them this year that when they start to feel the pressure they get jumpy, swinging at bad pitches early in counts and popping everything up. Watch for first inning at bats tonight, especially from the stars, i.e. Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez. Kyle Schwarber will lead off against the righty, but the trio of stars drive this offense and set the tone. They need to have good, patient at bats early. If not, it could be another rough one.
- A lot of the focus has been on Hunter Renfroe of late, and deservedly so. He has been scuffling at the plate, and sometimes in big moments including a pair of big double plays on Wednesday. A lot of people have been calling on Cora to bench him, which is understandable but I think I’d stick with him in the lineup after thinking about it more. For one thing, I’m not sure how we can be more confident in Bobby Dalbec, who was scuffling himself before the postseason and hasn’t really played much since. On top of that, Renfroe out of the lineup means Schwarber in the outfield, and while Houston’s left field is mostly small, it’s still a net negative for the defense as a whole. Renfroe has worked better at bats than his results would show in this series, and he’s felt on the cusp of a breakout. Hitting where he does in the lineup behind so many of the key hitters who are getting on base, they need that breakout desperately.
- I’m predicting a 7-5 win, with Eovaldi shoving, the bullpen making it closer than it needs to be before Rafael Devers wins it with a big home run. What say you?