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David Price…

…simple as that.

Nope, I am not just copying the post from right before the previous series against the New York Yankees, though this may seem to be the case.

It’s just that this time a different starting pitcher may now be the key to the Boston Red Sox’ success in the American League Championship Series.

Last round, we talked about Chris Sale.  Though Sale wasn’t quite at the level we know he can get to, he was pretty good in Game One.  We all likely wondered how he would look the second time around in Game Five, but I think we are also all glad it didn’t get to that point.  Most importantly, the fact that Sale was able to come out in the eighth inning of Game Four and mow the side down on 13 pitches was hopefully pretty telling.  That he was able to bounce back nicely in between starts and would be even more good to go for his next one.  Hopefully.

That leaves us with the Sox’ other “ace”, David Price.  A disaster in Game Two at Fenway against the Yanks, he is now again slated for Game Two against the Houston Astros.  Mistake?  Perhaps.

We all know the postseason numbers, 0-9 in 10 starts, ERA over 6.00…yada, yada, yada.  Embarrassing for a pitcher of his caliber…and of course at his current salary level.

Can it change?  Can Price finally do something right in a start and be a “hero”?  Get the hometown fans on his side for once?

I deem that unlikely.  I would say most others do as well.

In addition to the poor career postseason stats, Price himself came up with some other beauties this year.  He can’t pitch in the cold…his fingers get tingly.  Or do they get tingly because of the carpal tunnel, from which he laughably says playing video games don’t affect that?  Sure buddy.  Then there was some stuff about being allergic to dogs or grass or something.  Honestly, the guy is such an arseclown that I’ve lost track of all the excuses.

Let’s face it, Price has to take a start in this series.  Because if he doesn’t, are you giving that one to Brian Johnson, Hector Velasquez or Drew Pomeranz?  No thanks.  Eduardo Rodriguez perhaps, but are we at the point where he can’t really give you a ton of innings now since he hasn’t started much in recent weeks?  I don’t know, but something to think about.  Either way, wouldn’t it be better to give Price only ONE start, say Game Four?  That way, since he actually has a good track record of pitching well in relief in the postseason, maybe he can throw a few innings in Game Seven, should the series get there.  Also, Houston will be warmer for him, though admittedly the dimensions of that field, as opposed to Fenway, may be a worse scenario for him.  But still…

This is not to say that Nathan Eovaldi or Rick Porcello are better pitchers than Price.  They are not, though they both pitched well against New York in the Division Series.  But Porcello doesn’t necessarily have a sterling postseason career record either.  And Eovaldi has only that one playoff start to his credit.  A great one, but just that one nonetheless.  But they maybe should have priority in the ALCS because they are quite simply pitching better NOW.

I suppose, either way, manager Alex Cora is going to do plenty of mixing and matching with his pitching staff all series long.  Starters pitching in relief and all that.  Anything to get outs.  Unless you want to see Joe Kelly in a close game, that is.  Which absolutely no one wants.  Except for the opposition.

So maybe it all doesn’t matter?  We’ll see…but with Price having to potentially make two starts in this series is concerning.  And he better not lay two more eggs.  That makes him a huge key to the series.

Since it seems that all we do in this space is make predictions, let’s see how things stack up on paper for the teams:

Lineup:

The Red Sox top four of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts are pretty damn good.  But are the Astros’ top four of George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel even better?  Could be.  But let’s call it a wash.  The rest of the lineup?  Astros all the way.  Looks like 5-7 is some combination of Marwin Gonzalez, Carlos Correa and Josh Reddick.  None of those guys have performed like they did in 2017 when the Astros won the World Series.  Correa has been hurt of course.  But wouldn’t you still take these guys over the Sox’ 5-7 of Steve Pearce/Mitch Moreland, Eduardo Nunez/Rafael Devers and Ian Kinsler/Brock Holt?  I would.  Top it off with anyone the Astros throw out there at 8-9 will be better offensively than Jackie Bradley Jr. and whoever the catcher is.  Looks to me like the Astros have the edge here top to bottom.

Defense:

Not going to spend a lot of time here because I have to admit I don’t watch a lot of Houston Astros games to know specific defensive skill sets.  But on a macro level…at catcher, while Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez can certainly handle the defense for the Sox, Martin Maldonado won a Gold Glove last year, for whatever that’s worth.  If Pearce, Holt and Devers are out there, the Sox infield defense probably pales in comparison to the ‘Stros.  Though, I know, Holt is good enough at second.  The outfield most certainly goes to the Sox.  Sssssooo…an edge here either way?  I’m not sure there is one.

Starting pitching:

Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton against Sale, Price, Eovaldi and Porcello.  Can’t be any debate here.  At first, I was thinking Astros by a mile.  But at a deeper glance, it’s probably closer than we think.  Sale and Verlander are probably a wash.  Cole a huge gap over Price.  But the other four could go either way.  Though Morton was sensational last year in the playoffs.  So you kind of have to give the edge to Houston here, no doubt.

Relief pitching:

We have written (and spoken) ad nauseam about the Red Sox’ bullpen woes.  And now their closer has had problems getting people out.  With Lance McCullers likely in the ‘pen for the ‘Stros, along with Collin McHugh and Ryan Pressly, who seemed to have been lights out, there are some strong middle guys right off the top.  Add in some other useful pieces such as Hector Rondon, Tony Sipp and Joe Smith before you get to Roberto Osuna, now you’re talking.  Although Osuna is apparently a piece of crap in real life and the Sox have had success against him in the past, how does he look compared to Craig Kimbrel at this very moment?  Shoot, it looks like the Astros don’t even have Chris Devenski, Will Harris and Brad Peacock on their active roster for this series.  And those guys have been pretty valuable over the years.  Landslide here for Houston.

Coaching:  

People locally have been acting like Cora and A.J. Hinch are equals.  But didn’t Hinch’s team win the World Series last year?  Yes, with Cora’s help of course.  But still.  And though Cora has done a great job with the Sox this year, this is still his first year managing anywhere, so also we need to remember it is his first foray into the postseason.  We all saw first-time manager Aaron Boone puke on himself in the ALDS.  Who is to say Cora doesn’t do the same in the ALCS?  I’m not saying he will, but we have to consider the possibility for sure.  Hinch has been there.  Cora has not…as a head guy.  That counts.

Adding it all up?  What it says “on paper” to me is Houston in five.  That’s what the Blowhard is going with.  Hope the Sox make it closer of course.  And if they can get it back to Fenway for Games Six and/or Seven, maybe things go their way.  And that’s why they play the games…

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Chris Sale…

…simple as that.

If the All-Star Chris Sale shows up for the Red Sox/Yankees series starting tonight, then I likely give the edge to the Sox.  If not, I probably go with the Yankees.

How’s that for an observation?  Obvious, I know.

But the fact of the matter is it hits the nail right on the head.  If Sale is throwing 89 mph and firing 104 pitches in three and a third in Game 1, welp, see ya.  Cuz who thinks David Price is going to win Game 2?  I thought so.

Sox manager Alex Cora says Sale is ready to go.  Full tilt, he says.

Hard to believe.

I think I heard this week that Sale has pitched 17 innings since the end of July.  I knew it wasn’t a lot, but even that number seems disturbingly low.  A couple of DL stints.  A shoulder that I would bet is still not quite right.  And decreased velocity along the way.

How is all that giving anyone comfort that he is “ready to go”?  Not me.  Not even close.  Could the Sox have just been being delicate with him…TOO delicate…so that he would be ready for the postseason?  Doubtful.  If they were, they would have still gotten him his 162 innings this year (he fell 4 innings shy), so he would qualify for ERA (though he likely would’ve ended up second to Blake Snell, after leading the category for much of the year) and presumably boost his Cy Young chances.  Teams/managers don’t care about individual awards/stats, you may say.  They are just trying to win the World Series, you may say.  I beg to differ.  Cora spoke openly the last couple of weeks of the regular season talking about Mookie going 30/30 and Xander getting to 100 RBI among other individual things.  But I digress…

So although of course we are stating the obvious here, Sale’s performance is really almost all that matters.

If he pitches well and the Sox take Game 1, maybe Price feels less pressure and finally does something in the playoffs.  Same could be said for Rick Porcello.  If he gets blasted and the Sox lose and the bullpen throws a ton to boot, then all the pressure is on Price.  We know how that usually goes.

I know, I know, I know…there is the issue of the bullpen.  If Sale goes 7 and leaves with the lead and the bullpen blows it, then maybe Sale isn’t the key.  We know he isn’t going 9.  At best, Sale probably goes 6.  That gives the bullpen 9 outs to blow the game if they are in that position.

Fair point.

But didn’t we know that already?

We have no idea what Sale is going to give the team.  Still making him the most important story.

Speaking of the bullpen, how did Joe Kelly get on the playoff roster?  Not sure.  We had him out in the projection.  Thought there was a chance he would get on anyway…but in place of Brandon Workman.  Turns out Kelly got Heath Hembree’s spot.  Hembree was less than average down the stretch too, so I guess it doesn’t matter.  But still…Joe Kelly.  Ugh…

As for the lineup, the top four for the Sox are nice, but there is a drop after that.  The Yanks have a stout lineup top to bottom.  Especially with the late-season emergence of someone named Luke Voit.  That should scare Sox fans as well.

Don’t forget the Yankee pitching staff.  The bullpen is great.  And the starters get the job done.  CC Sabathia for some reason pitches awesome against the Sox.  Will it be different in the playoffs?  Hard to say.  Along with all the rest of the Yank starters.  But I think the Sox can do enough damage against the Yankee starters.  As long as Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez don’t get too many at-bats.  Hell, Corey Kluber gave up three dingers today.  So I suppose you never know.

A prediction?  Sigh…I know, I love doing predictions even if most of them kinda stink.  But there is just so much uncertainty around Sale, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around things now.

Maybe I’ll just do this:  If the “good” Sale shows up, Red Sox in 5.  If he isn’t ready, Yanks in 4.

That’s the best I can do…

Opening Day Is When?

March 29th, to be exact.  Thursday.  In March.  Boy, that sure crept up fast.  I suppose that’s what happens when it is basically still winter up here in the Northeast and baseball is not top of mind when it’s 30 degrees out and plenty of snow remains on the ground.  Not to mention the fact that the Bruins and Celtics are having great seasons, thereby keeping the focus on them for a while…possibly until both are out of the playoffs.

Perhaps also the expectations for the Red Sox aren’t as high this year either?  I don’t know.  I’m not that high on them anyway.  I’m not sold on the rookie manager.  Too many question marks on the pitching staff, especially relating to injuries…or injury risks.  Didn’t necessarily love the J.D. Martinez deal.  Hanley…everything about him.  The Yankees lineup looks prodigious…and have young potential stars on the way to boot.  Some of this stuff we’ve been through before.  Rest assured, we will get into more detail on my hesitations in the paragraphs that follow.

Listen, the Sox should be plenty good this year.  They should be in the mix for the playoffs…of course.  And for the money that the players are getting, they’d better be.  Alex Cora HAS to be better than John Farrell, right?  If he rejuvenates the younger players in the lineup, that alone is a huge win.  You know, those young players who were supposed to be the future stars and the core of this team for years to come?

So anyway, let’s start with a quick look at the roster.  No, it is not officially set yet, but it’s close enough.  In all likelihood, the roster was pretty much set before the spring even started, for all intents and purposes.  Basically just had to be adjusted a little for any spring injuries and for those who need a little more time to recover from previous offseason surgeries and whatnot.

Now let’s be honest, I did not watch a whole ton of spring training baseball.  But I read all the box scores!  And more importantly, I stayed away from all those “feel-good” stories that come out every March.  Didn’t need those influencing my feelings.  Because you all know how I feel for the 72nd guy on the roster.  Root like hell for whoever that may be!  In any event, because Spring Training results are fairly useless, we probably didn’t miss much.

Let’s get to it, in usual Blowhard fashion, we break down the roster by position, using the 40-man roster as a base, but adding in non-roster invitees (NRI) where appropriate:

Rotation (5):

In:  Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Brian Johnson

DL:  Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez

DL/Suspension:  Steven Wright

In limbo:  Hector Velasquez, Marcus Walden (NRI)

Minors:  Jalen Beeks, Roenis Elias

Comments:  If Pomeranz and E-Rod aren’t out long, then the starting five should be more than acceptable.  But that’s the big part of the problem.  Those two aren’t the healthiest hurlers around.  They could be out only a week or two, or we could see them in June.  No one ever knows with them…E-Rod specifically.  Price has apparently had a nice spring.  But are we out of the woods on his elbow yet?  Not so sure.  Johnson is in the Opening Week rotation because of all these injuries.  But how about HIS injury history?  Marcus Walden is only noted here because he may actually be the #5 guy at the start since Hector has been less than stellar this spring.

Bottom line?  Lot’s of holes here.  If the starters remain in good health, it could be a top rotation.  But what are the chances of that happening?

Bullpen (7):

In:  Craig Kimbrel (closer), Carson Smith, Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree

DL:  Tyler Thornburg, Austin Maddox

In limbo:  Bobby Poyner (NRI), Tommy Layne (NRI)

Minors:  Brandon Workman, Robby Scott, Chandler Shepherd, Ty Buttrey, Williams Jerez

Comments:  There seem to be some other guys hanging around camp, like William Cuevas, but we don’t need to talk about guys like him.  They won’t be going up to Boston for Opening Day.  Anyway…lots of questions here as well.  Kimbrel was dominant last year, let’s hope he can do it again.  But the rest?  Smith resurfaced at the end of last year, but let’s see how he handles a full season now.  I am no fan of Kelly and Barnes so I don’t even want to talk about them.  If Thornburg can regain his health, that SHOULD help.  Then again, he has pitched in Milwaukee his whole career.  Who knows how he adjusts to the AL East?  Workman has been a huge disappointment this spring and I have no idea what the hell is wrong with late-season darling Maddox.  He hasn’t pitched all spring it looks like and I haven’t even heard his name mentioned.  I have heard Poyner’s name mentioned, as he has apparently turned some heads.  But the Sox had to go sign Layne in the middle of the spring.  That can’t be good.

There will be a lot of bodies on and off the pitching staff all year-long.  But I don’t love all the questions right out of the gate.  If I had to guess, Sale, Price, Porcello, Johnson, Velasquez, Walden, Poyner, Hembree, Kelly, Barnes, Smith and Kimbrel head to Boston at the start.  In case you were worried, there is one open 40-man spot for one of Walden or Poyner and another spot can be opened when someone like Dustin Pedroia goes on the 60-day DL.  Or someone like Chandler Shepherd gets designated for assignment.  But, as you know, I’m the only one that cares about the last 40-man roster spot…

Next:  The bats

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