The Stars and Duds of the ALDS

Nathan Eovaldi was in his finest form Monday night in New York.
Credit: Jim Davis/Boston Globe

Growing up a Boston sports fan, I can tell you that above all else, nothing is sweeter than beating the New York Yankees.  The pure joy of the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004 were some of my first memories of sports; I was raised on hating the Yankees

With that in mind, seeing the Sox take the ALDS in the Bronx was SWEET!

Winning the series in 4 games (and both games they played in New York), the Sox proved a lot of people wrong (including yours truly) about if they had the cojones to win a playoff series.  Beating the 100-win Yankees, the team with the third best record in baseball, proved that Boston was legit and up for the challenge.

Their reward?  Facing the 103-win Houston Astros (second best record in the MLB).

We won’t go down that road.  For now, I’m going to highlight the players that stood out to me against the Yankees, and the ones that worried me (and will need to prove themselves).

Star: Nathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi.jpg
Credit: Julio Cortez/AP

He may have been pitching behind what looked like the offensive output of the New England Patriots, but that didn’t stop Eovaldi from pitching with a sense of urgency.  According to Michael Dyer, Nathan Eovaldi was the first Red Sox pitcher not named Jon Lester to pitch at least 7 innings in a playoff game since Daisuke Matsuzaka (Game 1 of the 2008 ALCS).  You wanna know some of the pitchers that have started in the playoffs for Boston in between Daisuke and Eovaldi? Josh Beckett, Chris Sale, David Price, John Lackey, Jake Peavy, Rick Porcello… Although they were not all in their primes, the Red Sox had 3 Cy Young winners start at least one game for them during this stretch, yet none of them reached 7 innings.

Eovaldi threw 97 pitches, and only gave up one earned run (and five hits)… in the Bronx.  Oh, and by the way, it was his first playoff start.  Lauded for his success against the New York Yankees in the regular season, Eovaldi translated his body of work against the Bronx Bombers into the postseason, and gave many a sigh of relief following the start by David Price in game 2 (more on that in a moment).

He won a crucial game that swung the momentum of the series in Boston’s direction, and gave his fellow friends in the bullpen a good rest.  Given the circumstances, he really stood out to me.

Dud: David Price

Price.jpg
Credit: Elsa/Getty Images North America

You know how they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, but expecting something different to happen?  Well, I think there’s enough data to definitively say starting David Price in October and expecting him to do well (and win) is insane.

Listen, I had faith in him.  Price had a solid year, and finished particularly strong.  With Chris Sale in front of him looking solid in Game 1, this was probably the most low stakes playoff start Price could have had… yet he still shit the bed.

Price gave up two dingers in less than two innings of work.  As a second runner got on base with two outs in the bottom of the second inning, Alex Cora pulled the plug.  At 42 pitches, with a 17-game winner on the mound, and with the 4 tense innings of bullpen work Boston needed the previous night, you could argue it was too soon, but already down 3-0, Cora was not taking any risks.  He’s seen this movie before, and he wasn’t about to watch it again.

I know we’ve all sang this song before, but it will be repeated until things change: David Price has never won a playoff game he’s started in.  Having earned a cool $90 million the past 3 seasons, Price is 0-2 in October (as a starter) for the Sox.  He’ll get another chance in Game 2 versus Houston, but based on what we just saw, expecting anything different from everyone’s favorite Fornite player would be insanity… stay tuned.

Star: J.D. Martinez

JD ALDS.jpg
Credit: Elsa/Getty Images North America

In his first at-bat in the postseason, J.D. Martinez stepped up with 2 runners on, and one man out.  Facing J.A. Happ, Martinez saw a pitch he liked, and he TURNED on it for a 3-run homer.  Call it what you want, but to me, it was a BIG statement.  Having a remarkable season where he hit 43 home runs and drove in 130 runs (.330/.402/.629), he filled in the void of Red Sox legend David Ortiz admirably.

But we know Papi made his money in October.

In his first crack at filling in the shoes of October-Ortiz, JD gave us all something to look forward to, and hopefully there’s more clutch dingers to come.

In the context of Game 1, the 3-run shot opened up a game that eventually needed every run possible, as the Sox only won by one run, but in the larger sense, it showed Martinez was ready for the bright lights.

Overall in the series, Martinez had a .357/.421/.571 slash, driving in 6 runs overall.  A small sample size, but if it keeps up against Houston, it will be the foundation of an offense capable of advancing to the World Series.

No David Price like concerns over here.

Dud: Craig Kimbrel

Kimbrel
Credit: Getty Images North America

We all watched it.  Some of us may not have had any fingernails left at the end, but thankfully it ended… better than it could have.

The box score for Game 4 of the ALDS will show that Craig Kimbrel had a save, but I was convinced the ghosts of Red Sox past had entered Yankee Stadium.  Kimbrel faced 7 batters, and he only threw 13 strikes (28 pitches total).  Other than striking out Giancarlo Stanton, everything else was gut-wrenching.

Kimbrel entered the game with a 4-1 lead.  Walking Aaron Judge on 4 pitches, Kimbrel then gave up a single to Didi Gregorius.  He then struck out Stanton, which probably saved a few years off of my life, but Kimbrel still gave many reason to check in with their cardiologist.  Following Stanton, Kimbrel walked sudden superstar Luke Voit, and the bases were loaded.

Neil Walker came to the plate with one out, and runners on every base, and Kimbrel proceeded to hit him.  At this point, I’m convinced Grady Little and Harry Frazee were lurking around in the bowels of Yankee Stadium.

Stepping up to the plate was Gary Sanchez… and Sanchez got a hold of one.  What sounded like a possible grand slam, the sight of Benintendi tracking the ball in left field showed that Sanchez JUST got under it; with a loud out to left, Sanchez batted in a run with this sacrifice fly.

4-3 Red Sox

With two outs, and runners on first and second, tension was still in the air.  Gleyber Torres hit a ground ball to third, and with a stretching Steve Pearce at first, Torres was JUST out, maybe a perfect illustration to the way the Sox JUST pulled the game out in the ninth.

From the closer who used to be pegged as one of the best in the game, and possibly all-time, a gut-wrenching performance like that horrified a LOT of people.  He got the save, but Kimbrel certainly did not give people reason to trust him with the game on the line for any games moving forward.

And it will not get easier.

Star: Chris Sale

Chris Sale
Jim Rogash/Getty Images North America

I could’ve put a few other players here, but Chris Sale not only did his job, I think he eased some big concerns.  We know Sale started off the season on FIRE, but we also know that the last 2+ months of his season were limited due to shoulder inflammation.

A genuine unknown going into Game 1, as he had only thrown 5+ innings once since July, and only exceeding 80 pitches in his last outing of the regular season, fans had the right to be concerned about what to expect from their ace.

However, Sale had his best outing since August, going 5 1/3 innings, striking out 8 in the process. Sale touched 96 MPH, walked 2 batters, and only gave up 2 earned runs.  He threw 93 pitches, but he showed us the Sale we need is there, and he did enough to shut down the Yankees offense for long enough.  He cannot control the bullpen (or can he?), but I saw enough of Sale in Game 1 to ease my concerns for a deep playoff run.

But in Game 4, Chris Sale earned a spot as a star.

In what would only happen in a “perfect storm,” the bottom of the 8th inning with a 4-1 lead was deemed just that.  Needing to leave no doubt about getting every out, Alex Cora went to his ace, and Sale delivered.

Sale only faced 3 batters, but he got each one out.  Although he reached a full count against Andrew McCutchen, Sale was able to force the former Pirates star to ground out.  He then proceeded to strikeout Aaron Hicks looking, ending his night.

It was a special circumstance, but looking at how the next inning went, we saw getting three outs in October is no easy task.  Serving the bridge to the closer, Sale came in and shut the door.  He can’t control Craig Kimbrel, but he did his job and put his closer in position to finish the game, and for that, I was extremely pleased.

Sale will have four days of rest before starting Game 1 against the Astros at Fenway, but based on what we saw in the ALDS, Sale should be ready to go.  With that injury not holding him back, it is fair to expect a classic Sale performance.

Honorable Mentions

Brock Holt – Felger & Mazz can call it whatever they want, but a cycle is a neat accomplishment, and the fact Holt was the FIRST PERSON to ever hit for the cycle in the postseason is crazy.  Making that kind of history is special, plain and simple.

Rick Porcello – I wish he was given a longer leash in Game 4, but Porcello impressed me.  I think he should’ve been given another inning, but since he was not, it was him versus Sale, and Sale’s relief appearance was more high stakes than Pretty Ricky’s.  If Porcello can keep the ball in the park, he’s a good bet, and having three starters you can trust in October is huge.  Porcello, at this moment, looks like he can be trusted.

Steve Pearce – the Yankee hater himself, Pearce came away with the play of the game to secure the final out of the ALDS.  Stretching out at first, Pearce caught the throw from Eduardo Nunez, ending the Yankees season.  He was in the lineup for his bat (which came to play), but his glove was considered inferior to Mitch Moreland’s.  Nevertheless, it was Pearce who made a slick play when it mattered most.  That’s clutch.


ALCS Schedule (and the rest)

Game 1 (10/13; 8:09 PM): Houston Astros (Justin Verlander) v Boston Red Sox (Chris Sale)

Detroit Red Wings v Boston Bruins; 3:00 PM

Game 2 (10/14; 7:09 PM): Houston Astros (Gerrit Cole) v Boston Red Sox (David Price)

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots; 8:20 PM

Game 3 (10/16; 5:09 PM): Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics; 8:00 PM

Game 4 (10/17; 8:39 PM): Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros

Boston Bruins v Calgary Flames; 9:30 PM

Game 5 (10/18; 8:09 PM)*: Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros

Boston Bruins v Edmonton Oilers; 9:00 PM

Game 6 (10/20; 5:09 PM)*: Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks; 7:30 PM

Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks; 10:00 PM

Game 7 (10/21; 7:39 PM)*: Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox

Chicago Bears v New England Patriots; 1:00 PM

*if necessary


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