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The Red Sox Demoralized the Astros. Now What?

Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
 2021-10-19

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Well, things are looking pretty bleak right now for the Astros. They didn’t necessarily need to win Monday night’s Game 3 at Fenway Park. Falling behind 2–1 in a best-of-seven series isn’t that bad. At a minimum, all they had to do was this:

  1. Win one of the three games in Boston to send the series back to Houston.
  2. Don’t completely burn through their pitching staff before then.

And then they lost Monday night in the most demoralizing way possible . It started when Alex Verdugo drew a one-out, 11-pitch walk in the second inning. The sequence that followed: double, walk, RBI single, E-4 (another run), grand slam. 6–0 Red Sox.

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José Urquidy

Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Schwarber’s grand slam ( Boston’s third in an 11-inning span ) came on starter José Urquidy’s 46th pitch of the game. Sometimes, there’s a silver lining in surrendering a quick strike early; there’s plenty of time to come back, and your starting pitcher hasn’t thrown too many pitches. Houston led the majors in runs this year and, with no more traffic on the bases, hoped Urquidy could settle in to at least make it through the inning. That would have helped the Astros avoid using their bullpen too early.

But Urquidy was unraveling. He allowed a single, a fly-out and another single before manager Dusty Baker had no choice but to relieve him.

In the chaos of the championship series , especially this year’s version, trailing by six after the second is bad but not catastrophic. So naturally, the Red Sox scored three more in the third. 9–0 Boston.

The only moment of life for the Astros came in the top of the fourth, when Kyle Tucker launched a three-run homer to right field. But aside from that lone mistake to Tucker, Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodríguez silenced the league’s best offense. His final line: 6 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 0 BB, 7 K, 1 HR. It was the outing that Houston desperately needed from Urquidy. Instead, the Astros were forced to use five relief pitchers just to get through the game. This, after they used seven relievers in their Game 1 win and four in Game 2 (including Jake Odorizzi, who was slated to be their Game 4 starter).

All along, we knew this series would be a slugfest, with two great offenses raking at two of the league’s most hitter-friendly ballparks. Righthander Nick Pivetta, Boston’s Game 4 starter, is making his first career postseason start against an experienced, dangerous Astros lineup . During the regular season, Pivetta was far better on the road (3.75 ERA in 16 games) than he was at Fenway (5.40 ERA in 15 starts). That matchup should favor Houston.

Meanwhile, it’s Zack Greinke who’ll be starting for the Astros. We go into more detail about him later on in this newsletter, so I won’t say too much here about him. One thing, though: I’m fascinated to see how Greinke approaches the Red Sox’ lineup. They are scoring runs this postseason at a historic pace , and Greinke is not anywhere near peak starting condition after a positive COVID-19 test and then a neck injury limited him to just three games (two starts) over the final month of the season. But if ever there was a craftsman up to the task of figuring out the hottest hitting team in baseball, it’s the tinkerer whose hardest pitch thrown this year was 41.2 mph faster than his softest. He doesn’t need to be great. He just needs to contain Boston and pitch into the middle innings. That’s not an unreasonable assignment, though we’ll certainly have to curb our expectations.

So yeah, the Astros are in a rough spot. But there is one more possible positive that could come out of the bludgeoning they took last night. Because things got out of hand so quickly, Baker was able to rest his three top relievers: Cristian Javier, Kendall Graveman and Ryan Pressly. They all can go multiple innings tonight, as long as they’re pitching well. That’s far from guaranteed with the way the Red Sox are hitting right now.

Remember, at a minimum, Houston needed to do two things when it traveled to Boston: Win one of the three games; don’t completely destroy the bullpen. These two tasks are going to be more difficult than they appeared to be before Monday night’s rout. Then again, after three games, it’s still too early to put a bow on this series. We can’t expect anything to be wrapped up neatly in a postseason as messy as this one .

Have any questions for our team? Send a note to mlb@si.com .

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Kyle Schwarber

Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports

1. THE OPENER

“The Red Sox are playing offensive postseason baseball on a historic scale. They are taking the drama out of these games by blowing them open early.”

That’s how Tom Verducci assesses Boston in his column about the team’s 12–3 win Monday night. In his piece, he looks at the question that everyone seems to be asking: Can anybody stop the Red Sox?

Read Tom’s entire story here .

2. ICYMI

Need to get caught up before tonight’s NLCS Game 3? We’ve got you covered:

Atlanta Won NLCS Game 2 by the Narrowest of Margins by Stephanie Apstein
The Braves just barely beat the Dodgers on Sunday at Truist Park. The most important takeaway? They won.

Chris Taylor’s Blunder Bungles Dodgers’ Chance in Game 1 by Stephanie Apstein
L.A. faced its best opportunity to win against Atlanta in the top of the ninth. Instead, the Braves walked off with a 3–2 win.

Miss yesterday’s Five-Tool Newsletter? You can find that here:

The Complete Chaos of the Championship Series by Matt Martell
How in the heck did this happen? There’s no specific way to explain the mayhem.

And in non-postseason news...

Aaron Boone to Return as Yankees’ Manager by Ben Pickman
His new contract will be a three-year deal with a club option for a fourth year.

3. WORTH NOTING from Tom Verducci

Greinke is the next on the griddle for Houston against the red-hot Red Sox . He hasn’t pitched well overall in the postseason (4.18 ERA), though he did throw well in 2019 World Series Game 7 . He hasn’t started a game in 29 days, having thrown only 49 pitches in the past month. He has won games in 31 ballparks, though never at Fenway Park. And the batting average against him at Fenway is .393, the third-highest among active pitchers who have made at least three starts at the Fens. Go get ‘em.

4. WHAT TO WATCH FOR from Will Laws

We get a doubleheader of playoff goodness Tuesday night with both championship series in action. The NLCS moves to Los Angeles with the Dodgers looking to avoid falling in a 3–0 hole against Atlanta, while the Astros will try to tie up their series against Boston in Game 4 of the ALCS at Fenway Park. Oddly enough, the West Coast game will begin first, with Braves-Dodgers starting at 5:08 p.m. ET on TBS (2:08 p.m. local time) before Astros-Red Sox follows at 8:08 p.m. ET on FS1.

Atlanta’s Game 3 starter, Charlie Morton, fittingly relies on a wicked Uncle Charlie to do his dirty work. Morton even threw his curveball more than his fastball this season (curveball: 36.7%, fastball 36%), generating a MLB-best -21 runs of value with some of the most drastic horizontal movement you’ll see from a hook. Opposing hitters managed just a .127 batting average and .187 slugging percentage against the pitch, and lefties didn’t hit a single home run off it in 612 chances. That contributed to right-handed hitters posting a higher OPS than lefties against Morton for the first time since 2017, though it seems unlikely that’ll compel Dodgers manager Dave Roberts to move away from playing the platoon split. Could Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Matt Beaty or Gavin Lux buck those trends and take Morton’s hammer for a ride?

5. THE CLOSER from Emma Baccellieri

It’s historically been a pretty safe bet to ask Greinke to start a must-win game. Right now? … It’s tough. The 37-year-old was sidelined in September with neck soreness and moved to the bullpen after his return; he has pitched just one inning in the playoffs so far. (That was Game 3 of the ALDS —he has not pitched yet in this series.) Before the ALCS, Dusty Baker said that Greinke was stretched out to 40 pitches’ worth of work. Now, he’s tasked with starting Game 4 in front of a wiped bullpen.

Baker said Monday that he would let Greinke go “as long as he can.” After the pitching disasters of the last two games , that’s their only hope. But it’s a tall order—particularly against this brutal offense in Boston—and there will be little room for error.

That’s all from us today. We’ll be back in your inbox tomorrow. In the meantime, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to sign up at SI.com/newsletters . If you have any questions or comments, shoot us an email at mlb@si.com .

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