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Scattered Thoughts after a season-ending loss

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The offense disappeared at an inopportune time.

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Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox had a hell of a season, but they couldn’t ride out the miracle for a little bit longer to win an improbable World Series, instead falling 5-0 to the Houston Astros to end the 2021 campaign. We’ll have plenty of thoughts on the season as a whole down the line, but for now here are some scattered thoughts about the elimination loss.

  • The big story for this game and for the series as a whole was obviously the Red Sox offense, which just didn’t have it for these last few games after coming out of the gates this postseason blistering hot. And as we said in the last game, we shouldn’t lose sight of the guy on the other side. After getting shelled in Game Two, Luis Garcia came out and was much better this time around. The adrenaline was pumping with some extra velocity (I know there were some people hinting at something nefarious happening here, but pitchers getting amped up for a postseason start is not a new thing) and his mistakes were off the plate rather than over it. Red Sox hitters helped him out with some bad at bats at times, but mostly I thought the Astros just got great performances from their young pitchers when they needed them most.
  • But let’s not take too much of the heat off the Red Sox lineup, who has been playing this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde act for the entire second half. With absolutely no warning, this group went from looking like the best offense in baseball to one of the worst. Hitting in the playoffs is hard, and Houston got their best pitchers on the mound for this entire game specifically, but it was clear the Red Sox were pressing at the plate as the game went along. They fell into that trap a lot this year where they press, then swing early in at bats and hit a ton of pop ups. The last time just happened to be at the most inopportune spot.
  • On the other side, I thought Nathan Eovaldi battled even though he didn’t have his best stuff. Pitching on just two days rest after coming out of the bullpen in Game Four, his velocity was a little down to start but he got that back up as the game went along. This certainly wasn’t the best version of him we saw in 2021, but at the end of the day he limited Houston to just one run over 4 13 innings. That’s not an easy thing to do.
  • And his fourth inning seemed, at the time, like the ultimate turning point for the season. Starting off with two in scoring position and nobody out, he came back with three massive strikeouts to keep the Astros off the board entirely. When we talk about Eovaldi as a playoff warrior, this is what we mean. That the offense didn’t pick up on this momentum seems impossible to me, but in the moment that was a huge sequence from the Red Sox starter.
Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game Six Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
  • I know a lot of people had issues with when Eovaldi came out, but to me it was the right move. His stuff was starting to tick down just a bit, as did his command, and he started off his last inning by giving up a line drive single to Martín Maldonado, which is never a great sign. If he hadn’t come out in relief in Game Four I think I would’ve wanted him to go deeper, and I think he probably would. But he emptied the tank in the fourth, and given how big that inning was at the time it was totally worth it.
  • It goes without saying that any managerial decision is essentially moot given the lack of offense in the game, but there are a few that I want to point out. We’ll start with what was clearly the worse in pinch hitting Danny Santana to lead off the sixth inning. Garcia is a cutter-heavy pitcher, which makes him tough on righties, so I get wanting to sub out Kevin Plawecki for a lefty. But Santana is not the guy. His spot on the roster was defensible for his versatility in the field and his speed, but a hitting option should have never been on the table. Not only is there very little chance he’s giving you value in that spot (and sure enough he did strike out) but that also takes him out of play as a potential pinch runner later in what was a low-scoring game.
  • This game also showcased how shallow the Red Sox bench was. It didn’t come into play a ton during this run, but it’s something that will need to be addressed ahead of next season with players both internal and external.
  • The other major problem I had with Cora in this game was not using Garrett Whitlock. Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the eighth, it felt like a no-brainer to put Whitlock in and keep the deficit at two. Instead, they started with Houck who was in a third inning of work and ended with Ottavino, and they combined to give up three runs to put the game all the way out of reach. Again, nothing really matters with the way the offense played, but losing with your best reliever never even getting in the game is bad managing.
  • One other big play was to end the seventh with a strike-em-out, throw-em-out with Travis Shaw at the plate and Alex Verdugo running. To me, this one came down less to the call itself and more to Verdugo not being set in his lead to steal. Replay showed he was late to getting his lead, and thus was not in the proper position to break for second base. Being thrown out on a bang-bang play, that extra step was huge. I’m not even totally convinced Verdugo wasn’t running on his own, but either way once he knows he’s not getting the jump he needs, to me it’s on him to hang back and not take the risk.
  • I know I said we were going to focus on this game for this post, but it feels wrong to end this on a negative. This was a great season, and I absolutely wanted to thank the readers and commenters here for keeping us going. It was a hell of a ride, and we couldn’t do it without people supporting our work. So sincerely, thank you for it all.