Down to the Wire, Red Sox Hold Their Own Fate

Going from being in first place for over 70 days into danger of the dropping out of the second Wild Card spot, the season has come down to the wire for the Boston Red Sox. With nine games left in the season, Boston holds a two-game lead over the New York Yankees for the top spot in the Wild Card standings. Behind New York, the Toronto Blue Jays are only half a game out of the playoffs with Oakland and Seattle still within striking distance.

Red Sox Playoffs

With so many teams still in the race, Boston has a small margin of error and cannot afford to throw away any games at this point. Luckily, the Red Sox are carrying a seven-game win-streak and their final six games are against last place teams in Baltimore and Washington. Additionally, the Yankees will end their season against AL opponents Toronto and Tampa Bay.

That’s the good news.

The bad news? It’s very likely that Tampa may take it easy on their pitching if they clinch the division early. This means no one should count on the Yankees losing the series. Toronto themselves also have a fairly easy schedule. The Blue Jays will also face Baltimore and they too face a last place team in the Minnesota Twins.

That’s why the weekend series against the Yankees is so important. There are no guarantees in the final weekend. When Boston had their epic collapse in 2011, who did lose to in the final game of the season? Last place Orioles. Who did the Rays beat to clinch the Wild Card that year? The (already clinched) Yankees.

Pivotal Series Against New York

The first game of the series, each team is sending out their All-Star. Nate Eovaldi will face-off against Gerrit Cole. After that, the Sox have Nick Pivetta and Eduardo Rodriguez going. Each guy wants a spot in a potential playoff rotation, but it’s safe to assume that both will have a short leash. Yes the Sox don’t want to ruin the staff for the final six games, but losing the series to New York might mean having to win at least five of six games to secure the playoffs. Even against two last place teams, no one wants that kind of pressure.

That first game will really set the tone for the series. New York has Nestor Cortes and Jordan Montgomery slated to pitch. Both own ERAs under 4.00. If Eovaldi can give Boston a solid start, they will be in a great position to win the series.

Ever since New York snapped their 13-game win streak, they have not been the same team. They are currently 10-11 during the month of September, though they just swept the Texas Rangers. It’s not too often Boston and New York face each other this late with playoff implications on the line. Come Monday, the standings for the Wild Card could look vastly different.

Where Does Tanner Houck Belong?

For the second start in a row, pitcher Tanner Houck failed to pitch five full innings, managing to only get one out in the fifth before getting pulled. In 12 starts this season, Houck has pitched at least five innings only four times. Early in the season it seemed the Red Sox were trying to limit his workload. Now it’s clear that Houck performance significantly drops off the deeper he goes into games, leaving some to wonder what his role on the staff should be.

Tanner Houck Role

In his first time pitching through the lineup, Houck has a 1.67 ERA. That number jumps to 4.13 his second time through the lineup and 27.00 the third time. While his strikeout percentage stays around 29-30% his first two times through the lineup, he only strikes out 11% of the batters he faces the third time.

Though he has only pitched 2.2 innings facings batters for the third time, Houck has faced 18 batters, given up seven hits and eight earned runs. While his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is consistent the from the first and second times through the lineup (2.28 to 2.25), that figures balloons to 14.79, showing his struggles are not entirely due to bad defense.

This puts into question what Houck’s role should be for the rest of the season as well as next season. Houck has certainly displayed the ability to be a starter. Unfortunately being unable to get through the fifth puts a lot of pressure on the bullpen if he isn’t sharp.

Role for a Potential Playoff Run?

Assuming Boston can hold their playoff spot, they will host the AL Wild Card Game and likely start Chris Sale. From there, if Boston wins, they would head into ALDS for a best-of-5 series. Nathan Eovaldi would open the first game and then it’s a question how the rest of the rotation plays out. The decision would come down to choosing between Houck, Nick Pivetta, and Eduardo Rodriguez for two spots. As tempting as it would be to start Houck, having him in the bullpen may be best for the team.

Having Houck come out of the bullpen will give Cora some flexibility to deploy him when needed. E-Rod could pitch six solid innings just as likely get pulled after three. Garrett Richards has been solid ever since getting moved to bullpen and having another reliable long reliever would go a long way.

Houck has yet to give up a run this season as a relief pitcher. Though the sample size is small (6.2 innings), he has shown that batters struggle the first time they face him. Additionally, Red Sox relievers have a combined 3.93 ERA and suffered through come inconsistencies. Closer Matt Barnes has an ERA over 11.00 since the beginning of August. Garrett Whitlock is the only qualified reliever with an ERA under 3.00.

Despite his inability to go deep into games, Houck has been a solid in the starting rotation. Long-term he should develop some more stamina. With a full offseason and spring training, he should be able to build up some arm strength. Houck has been one of the best pitchers to come through Boston’s farm system. He may be best coming out of the bullpen for the time being, but don’t be surprised to see him finally solidify his spot in the rotation next year.

Red Sox Final Trip to New York

After sweeping the Baltimore Orioles in dominating fashion, the Red Sox finally show some life for the first time in a while. Now that they finally won a series, it’s time to see if Boston can beat a competitive team. While there is still over a month and a half in the season, the upcoming three-game series with the Yankees might be the most important series of the season.

Red Sox final trip to new york

While important is used loosely since there are still so many games, this series could have a huge effect in the standings. Ever since the trade deadline, the Yankees have been hot. They currently are only 5.5 games out of first place and only 2.5 games behind the Red Sox for the Wild Card. This a series Boston cannot to afford to lose. That being said, this is a different Yankees team than the one that is 3-10 against the Red Sox.

As always with the Red Sox and Yankees, there is never a shortage of headlines coming into the series.

Playoff Implications:

Even though Boston still has 42 games left in the season, they only have two more series against both the Yankees and Tampa Bay. If New York sweeps the series, Boston gets pushed out of a playoff spot. Conversely, if the Red Sox can sweep the Yankees, New York would have a steeper hill to climb to make the playoffs. Losing this series could potentially take Boston out of the hunt for the division title, depending on how the Rays do. Tampa hosts Baltimore this week, meaning Sox fans should not have high hope on getting any help from the Orioles.

Probable Pitchers:

While there has not been any official announcement, it’s likely Tanner Houck and Nathan Eovaldi will each start a game during the doubleheader in some order, and then Nick Pavetta will start the final game. Eovaldi has been dominate against the Yankees this season, owning a 1.71 ERA in four starts. The Red Sox like to deploy Houck on doubleheaders and he has been great in every appearance.

The Red Sox luckily won’t have to face Gerrit Cole this series. Instead, the Yankees will send out rookie Luis Gil for the first game of the series. Through two career starts, Gil has yet to allow a run. The Yankees will then send out lefties Jordan Montgomery and Andrew Heaney.

Yankees Big Additions:

As mentioned before, this Yankees team is much different than what was in July. Deadline acquisitions Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo have each hit three home runs since being traded to the Yankees, though Rizzo is currently on the IL due to COVID-19. New York is also starting to regain its health with Gary Sanchez and Gerrit Cole being reinstated. Shortstop Gleyber Torres is also due back by the end of the month. First baseman Luke Voit has also returned. New York has struggled with injuries all season, but it looks like they are starting to get guys back just in time for the final stretch of the season.

Red Sox Beatdown Baltimore

If there is one reason to have any confidence for the Red Sox, it’s how hot they were against the Orioles, scoring 30 runs in three games. After struggling early in the month, Red Sox hitters have broken out of their slumps. J.D. Martinez has hit two home runs in his last five games. Xander Bogaerts and Alex Verdugo are each hitting over .400 in that same span. Even Bobby Dalbec is crushing the ball. The first basemen is hitting .467 with three home runs in the past week. The Orioles have a weak pitching staff, but this is the confidence boost the lineup needed. If the Red Sox hit like they did this past weekend, they should come away from this series with at least two wins.

Red Sox-Tiger Series Recap

After coming into the series on a four-game losing streak, the Boston Red Sox were hoping to get things back on track against a Detroit Tiger team that has been below .500 all season. Instead, the offense continued to struggle and the starting pitching wasn’t great except for Eduardo Rodriguez. After splitting the first two games of the series, the Red Sox dropped the final game in unspectacular fashion 8-1. Certainly not the most inspiring finale heading into a four-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays. In case you missed the series, here is a rundown of some important takeaways.

Before getting into what went wrong, there are a few good highlights that came out of this series…

Red Sox-Tiger Series Recap

Eduardo Rodriguez’s Start

It’s hard to know if Rodriguez will ever have good outings back-to-back this season. After a rough outing against Toronto, he put together his best start of the year. The lefty pitched five shutout innings and struck out a season-high 10 batters. He was the only starter in the series to make it to the fifth inning, which probably says more about the state of the rotation overall. If E-Rod can find an ounce of consistence, Boston will be in good shape going into the playoffs.

J.D. Doing Better

It’s no secret that J.D. Martinez has not been the same hitter since the All-Star break. In the 16 games going into the Detroit series, he hit .210 with a slugging percentage of .387. The Tampa Bay series was especially brutal. In 14 at-bats he collected only one hit. Against the Tigers, Martinez showed a little more life, collecting three hits, including a home run and two RBI’s. If the offense is going to have any chance to return to form, it will need their DH to start driving in more runs.

The Bad…

New Bullpen additions

While adding Kyle Schwarber was the big move at the trade deadline, Chaim Bloom also added relievers Austin Davis and Hansel Robles. Neither addition was particularly exciting, especially since both pitchers had ERA’s over 4.00 this season. It may be early to decide if these guys will pan out, but neither have pitched well in three appearances for Boston. Robles currently owns an ERA of 9.00 for the Red Sox and Davis gave up five hits in 1.2 innings against the Tigers. With injuries in the bullpen, it made sense for Boston to pickup a few guys to improve its depth. The issue is neither player is any better than the internal options they had.

The Rotation

Ever since the MLB cracked down on pitchers using foreign substances, the Red Sox rotation has simply not been the same. Garrett Richards and Martin Perez struggled this series as neither made it past the fourth inning. Perez himself didn’t even finish the second inning. This puts so much extra pressure on the bullpen that is already spread thin. With Chris Sale’s return nearing, Richards and Perez should be pitching to save their jobs but, instead it looks like they are trying to give the other guy the job. It’s tough to win ballgames when your

Offense with Men on Base

When looking at the box score of each game, the Red Sox collected their fair share of hits. The team got at least nine hits in each game, so they created plenty of chances for themselves. The issues are stringing those hits together and getting that timely hit. Boston left 27 guys on base in the series and went 3-25 with runners in scoring position. No team is winning a lot games going at the rate. On the flip side, maybe the team just had a string of bad luck and things will turn around for them. A few hits at the right time and Boston leaves Detroit winning the series and instead of losing it.

Boston will begin their series against Toronto tonight. With Nathan Eovaldi on the bump to open the series, the Red Sox have a great opportunity to set the tone going into the weekend.

Red Sox Schedule in August Bring Relief

Don’t press the panic button just yet. It seems every time the Red Sox lose a series, we all have to tell ourselves this. In the midst of a season-high four-game losing streak, the Red Sox are in their biggest slump of the year. After the Rays swept them, Boston went from a 1.5-game lead in the division to trailing by the same margin. Thankfully the Red Sox schedule in August will provide them plenty of chances to rack up wins against some the American League’s worst teams.

Red Sox schedule

With 12 games scheduled against teams below .500 and their series against AL East opponents spread apart, Boston can finally take a breath after 16 straight games against the Blue Jays, Yankees and Rays. That was their toughest stretch of the season and they managed to remain in second place.

Last Place Teams Make Trip to Fenway

Boston is scheduled to play the Orioles, Twins, and the Rangers; the three last place teams in the AL. The Twins and Rangers got even worse than they already were after selling at the trade deadline. Texas traded their home run leader Joey Gallo to New York and pitchers Kyle Gibson and Ian Kennedy to Philadelphia. Meanwhile Minnesota sent designated hitter Nelson Cruz to the Rays and shipped their ace Jose Berrios to Toronto.

The Red Sox should take full advantage of playing these teams and hopefully put some pressure on the Rays to keep winning as well.

Even though the Red Sox have 12 games against Toronto, New York, and Tampa, none are back-to-back. This will give Boston the opportunity to set their rotation before ahead of time. Boston’s two remaining series feature the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians. Both teams hover around .500 but aren’t making any big playoff push.

The last two and a half weeks of July were brutal and ended on a sour note. Luckily the team survived and is that much closer to the return of Chris Sale who will be huge down the stretch. The Red Sox schedule will give them a little more room for error. If the lineup can find its form against some weaker pitching, Boston will be perfectly set up when it comes time to play the Rays and Yankees again.

What will the Red Sox Rotation Look Like Post-Trade Deadline?

The Red Sox have been lucky in the sense that they have only used six starting pitchers all season. With the main starting five being mostly healthy and successful, Tanner Houck was not needed for most of the season. Now with starters Martin Perez and Garret Richards struggling and multiple injuries in the bullpen, Houck’s call-up was a necessity and it should be permanent. While Boston has deployed Houck in a dual-starter/relief role, questions remain what his role will be going forward and on a larger scale, how will the Red Sox rotation look going forward.

Houck the starter or reliever?

Red Sox rotation

Houck’s inclusion as a starter turns the rotation into a six-man staff leaving eight guys in the bullpen. Most would think eight guys would be enough but, the bullpen has not been good in July. Boston’s relievers have a combined 4.70 ERA during the month. An overworked group does not need the extra pressure as is.

On the other hand, having Houck in the rotation would provide the opportunity for deeper starts. It is a rare sight to see the starters to go past the fifth inning. Keeping Houck in the rotation gives each starter an extra day of rest. It would also give the rotation a guy with an ERA of 3.38, which is better than all five starters.

The decision may simply come down to how Houck does today against the Yankees. A successful start and a win may solidify his spot in the rotation. Maybe Cora send Richards to bullpen to figure out his struggles. Regardless, Houck has pitched too well to be sent back down to the minors at this point. With the Red Sox in a tight division race and the bullpen struggling, the team needs a capable arm that isn’t at huge risk of blowing leads.

The Return of Sale

Even if the Red Sox want to go with a six-man rotation, someone will get bumped once Chris Sale returns. Sale has been spectacular in his rehab starts and looks like he will be ready to go once he rejoins the team in a few weeks. It’s likely Houck would be sent to bullpen and be used as a long-reliever who could go 3-4 innings if a starter gets into early trouble.

If Boston wants to go back down to a five-man rotation, there are plenty of choices on who gets moved. Realistically if another guy gets moved to the bullpen it will probably be Richards or Nick Pavetta. There are already two lefty relievers so there is no need to send Eduardo Rodriguez or Perez. Nathan Eovaldi has experience in relief, but he has been the team’s best starter.

There is also the possibility that Boston trades or puts one of the starters on waivers to make room for Sale. However, with the trade deadline looming, the team won’t want to lose any depth in case somebody gets injured.

Big Picture

In all likelihood, Houck will make a few starts then return to bullpen once Sale comes back. Depending on how the bullpen performs, Cora may go with a five-man rotation and send another starter to the bullpen. The good news is Boston will have some flexibility when it comes to these decisions and the staff should be better regardless of the exact makeup of the rotation.