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Scattered Thoughts after a Game Two win

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The offense stole the show, but Tanner Houck let them do it.

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Division Series - Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

After dropping Game One and really just being beaten in all phases by the Rays (despite out-hitting them), the Red Sox were able to bounce back for Game Two and even up this series. Here are some scattered thoughts on the 14-6 victory.

  • We’ve talked about it all year. The theme for this team all year has been resilience. There was a time where the theme was a lack thereof, as the team just couldn’t get out of their own way in August and let losses pile up, but for the most part it’s been the very active presence of resilience. They bounced back in a huge way in this game, and not just from Game One. It was deflating to have the Rays score five in the bottom of the first to answer back Boston’s two-run top half. But they put it past them and were able to come back for the win. It was only a three-run game, but it’s hard to overstate how impossible this result felt at that time. It’s cliche, but you really can’t count this team out.
  • As it says in the subhead up there, the offense was the story, but that’s only because Tanner Houck let that happen. He came in right after the deflation in a 5-2 game, and he kept the Rays at five for long enough in order for the Red Sox to add on an eventually tie things up and take the lead. He ended up going five very strong innings in the game. We’re going to talk about him a bit later so I want to save my bullets here, but he really is incredible. Before Wander Franco singled in the fifth, Houck had retired the last 30 batters he faced.
  • This outing from him isn’t quite at the level of the Pedro outing against Cleveland or Nathan Eovaldi’s from the World Series in 2018, but it’s also not that far off. It won’t feel like it because the offense ultimately made it a blowout, but it was that important.
Division Series - Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images
  • So, yeah. The offense. Before we get into some of the individual performances, the team as a whole had a huge game. It wasn’t all about the long ball because they did have 20 hits, but the home runs helped. I know people tend to talk about the postseason being a place where you have to move runners station to station and not lean on the long ball, but that’s not really true. It’s especially not true against a team like the Rays, whose defense positions itself so well that singles are hard to come by, and they also have one of the lowest walk rates in baseball. The point being, it’s hard to string together a rally against them, so your best bet is to hit it the one place they can’t position their defense.
  • The Red Sox offense had two big injury concerns heading into this game in Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez. Both of them had good games, especially the latter. Martinez had missed both the Wildcard Game and Game One of this series after hurting his ankle in the regular season finale, but he got it done in this one. His three-run homer was the biggest play for the game for the Red Sox by WPA and was one of four hits of his on the day. Devers, meanwhile, has a hand injury that apparently hurts when he whiffs, but not when he doesn’t. He had one hit, but it was a homer late to really put an exclamation point on the game. He also drew a couple of walks.
  • The star of the day at the plate was Kiké Hernández, who really needed a game like this. The center fielder was hitting second in this game, and the spot suited him as he had a whopping five hits, three of which were doubles and another was a solo homer. He had a .672 OPS over his last eight games of the season and had just one hit between his first two postseason games, so there was a mild slump going on. He’s not someone to worry about on this stage, though, as he has plenty of experience. This was his 61st postseason game in his career.
  • We know it can be big for Hernández to have that kind of big game because we saw something similar with Xander Bogaerts in the Wildcard Game, and he’s been swinging well in the two games since. He had three games in this one including the first of the team’s five homers.
  • His homer was followed by Alex Verdugo, who’s having a huge start to this series. We’ve talked about his ability to perform on the biggest of stages, and he’s certainly showing up in these playoffs so far.
  • Going back to that resilience point for a second, the first four homers were each hit with two strikes. Being tough to get out with two strikes has been a trait for this club all year, and it showed up in a big way on Friday.
  • It’s hard to overstate how wild it is that this team managed a split while getting a combined 2 23 innings from their starters. The bullpen deserves credit for both games, but especially tonight. Houck, Ryan Brasier, Hansel Robles, and Matt Barnes combined to allow just one run in eight innings.
  • This was nearly an entirely positive game, but we obviously have to talk about Chris Sale. He just doesn’t have it right now. Coming off Tommy John, I certainly don’t think it’s time to write him off short-term, but I’m not sure I see the path to him being reliable as a starter the rest of the way. He doesn’t have a changeup right now, and while prime Chris Sale could make that work, his fastball and slider aren’t yet at the level to make up for the lack of the offspeed. I don’t think he can make another start, though I’m also not sure they can avoid it.
  • I also think we need to talk about Kyle Schwarber at first base. I might consider sitting Hunter Renfroe on Sunday and putting Schwarber in left with Bobby Dalbec at first. There were a couple of ground balls early that were not gimme plays, but it’s clear Schwarber has no lateral range. It’s a tough spot for Cora, but I can see these hot shots starting to catch up to them more noticeably. At Fenway, he can at least be hidden more easily in left.
  • All in all, the Red Sox have to feel good about where they stand in this series. They have home field advantage now, and they have Nathan Eovaldi going on Sunday. What a turnaround.