The Red Sox won the pennant! How great do those words sound? Remember when the Red Sox were considered little more than a speedbump in the way of the Yankees and then the Astros? When the postseason started, the national media, a majority of the Boston media, and even a large percentage of Red Sox Nation thought the team had no chance against the fearsome Yankees. (I'll admit that after game two of the Yankees series, I thought the Sox were finished. It seems foolish now to look back at a series tied 1-1 and think that, but I certainly wasn't the only one. I'll own it.). After winning two games at Yankee Stadium to close out the ALDS, everyone in national sports media picked Houston to steamroll the Sox in the ALCS. I thought the Sox would win the series but that it would go six or seven games. After dropping the opener at home I ripped the Sox for looking overwhelmed and for whining about the umpiring all night. When they bounced back to win game two and tie the series, I thought it was going to be a dogfight to the end. I stated repeatedly on here and on Twitter that my hope was for them to win two of the next three in Houston in order to come back to Boston up 3-2. The Sox responded by winning games three and four to go up 3-1. I then speculated that game five was one Alex Cora was willing to lose if things didn't shake out the way he wanted. This was for a few reasons: David Price was pitching on three days rest (and we're all well aware of his postseason struggles), the Astros had Justin Verlander starting, and the Sox had the buffer of two more games at home to close it out. I assumed Cora would leave Price in the game for five or six innings regardless of how well he pitched in order to eat up some innings and give the already taxed bullpen some rest. As I settled in for the first pitch I was curious to see which, if any, of my predictions would hold true.
Before I get to the game, I want to revisit something I mentioned earlier in this postseason: there is no acceptable reason why games should be starting at close to 9pm on the East Coast. I understand that for game four it was the Red Sox' and Astros' turn to get the prime time slot and I know that Houston is on Central Time, but still, when the first pitch is at 8:40pm you are robbing the region where more than half of the country lives by starting the games so late. I watched this game from the first pitch to the final out and it was 1:15am by the time it was over. I stayed up with my wife and two oldest daughters and we all crawled off to bed around 1:30am, but getting up for work on five hours of sleep wasn't my idea of a fun Thursday morning. I know I'm just another voice in the wilderness and that I'm also preaching to the choir, and of course I'm not going to stop watching, but it's a ridiculous situation and one that MLB could easily rectify. And they wonder why their viewership among younger fans is down every October...
The series shifted to Houston for the next three games in a scheduling quirk I've never been a fan of. In my opinion, the team with home field advantage should always have pivotal game five at home. The NBA does it right by having a 2-2-1-1-1 format for their playoffs (until the Finals when for some stupid reason, they go to 2-3-2). I wish Major League Baseball would adopt 2-2-1-1-1, but if they ever do it would be too late to impact this series anyway. Heading into this three game stretch, my hope was that Boston could take two of three in Houston so that they could return to Boston up three games to two. Nathan Eovaldi got the start for the Red Sox with the hope that he could give them quality innings similar to what they got from him in game three against the Yankees. Opposite him was Dallas Keuchel, a Cy Young Award winner in 2015 whose velocity has dropped precipitously and who the Sox have had recent success against. No one ever said playing the defending champs was going to be easy, so I settled in to watch a battle for control of the series (doubly pleased by the early 5pm start time!).
It was announced yesterday that Eduardo Nunez would be back in the Red Sox starting lineup Tuesday night in Houston for Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. This came as a bit of a surprise to me. Although to be fair, Alex Cora has stated he values defense in the playoffs. He's chosen to go with slick fielding Ian Kinsler more often than hot hitting Brock Holt. He’s also chosen to go with seasoned veteran Eduardo Nunez over wunderkind Rafael Devers over at the hot corner. Devers has had his share of problems over at third in his short career, committing 38 errors in 172 career regular season games. Nunez meanwhile has only committed 33 errors in nine seasons when playing third base. The question becomes, is Devers’ offensive upside more valuable than Nunez’ (seemingly) superior defense against the dangerous Astros ball club? Let’s explore briefly by doing some basic compare and contrast analysis.
It was a great night to be a Boston sports fan. The Patriots had the Sunday night game and were taking on the undefeated Chiefs at home, but before that was the more important of the night's two events: game two of the ALCS. After looking outclassed and overwhelmed against the poised Astros in game one, Boston needed to approach game two as a must-win scenario. With the next three games of the series in Houston, the Sox could not go on the road down two games to none and feel good about their chances. After losing a mediocre Chris Sale start (and maybe now we know why: it was announced during game two that he's in the hospital with a stomach virus), all eyes turned to David Price and his abysmal career postseason record to salvage a split. Regardless of how Price pitched it wouldn't amount to much if the Boston bats didn't wake up, but thankfully the team got enough of both on a night when they desperately needed them.
After the euphoria of eliminating the Yankees on Tuesday, I think I speak for all Red Sox fans when I say that I couldn't wait for the ALCS to start. By winning two straight games on the road at Yankee Stadium and dominating the Yankees in the ALDS, the Sox showed that they weren't regular season frauds and that they were a legitimate powerhouse team. However, we all knew that the defending champion Houston Astros were now in the way and would be an even tougher test than the Yankees for numerous reasons, not least of which that they've been playing their best baseball of the season over the last month. With a marquee match up of starters Chris Sale and Justin Verlander facing off, game one looked like it was going to be October baseball at its best. What we got instead was one of the strangest and most frustrating Red Sox games of the entire season.