After a second straight victory in walk-off fashion, the Boston Red Sox are heading to the American League Championship Series for the first time since their dominating 2018 postseason run. Through some massive hits and clutch pitching, they took down the team with the best record in the American League, the Tampa Bay Rays, in just four games.
Now? It’s off to the ALCS, where they square off against either the Houston Astros or Chicago White Sox.
This team started out the season as massive underdogs, with one Sports Illustrated article projecting the team to finish the year with a sub .500 record. Expectations were low, especially coming off a horrendous 2020 season that saw the Sox win just 24 out of 60 games in a COVID-shortened slate.
Despite this, they’re here, duking it out with the best teams in baseball, and doing a great job at it thus far. After a much needed sweep of the Nationals combined with the Yankees dropping two of their last three to the Rays to close out the year, Boston earned home-field advantage in the Wild Card game, where they narrowly defeated New York due to a couple Stantonian home runs that would’ve helped out the Yankees in any other stadium besides Fenway Park.
After a horrible start to the ALDS in Tampa, including a Game 1 loss and a Game 2 five-run first inning for “ace” Chris Sale, the Red Sox seemed to find their groove, winning that contest by eight runs. Solid pitching performances from Nick Pivetta, Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Whitlock and Eduardo Rodriguez gave Boston every opportunity to stay in these close Games 3 and 4, and they certainly capitalized, getting the job done on walk-offs in consecutive nights. Time to pop the bottles.
As the team starts the ALCS, there’s plenty to be hopeful about. For one, they just beat the best team in the American League. While the games weren’t exactly a walk in the park, there’s an old adage that fits the situation well: Good teams win close games.
Sure, there was a controversial call that saved the Red Sox from a run in Game 3. But that very same inning, Christian Vàsquez hit a two-run walk-off bomb that would have won the game regardless.
When Boston outfielder Alex Verdugo got thrown out at third on a dime from Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier in Game 4, the team didn’t lose all hope. They stuck with it, shut down the opposition in the top of the ninth thanks to a great performance from Whitlock and won the game on a walk-off sacrifice fly. They even dropped down a bunt to advance the winning runner to second base, a tactic that has become less and less utilized in recent years.
Just look at these hit totals, man. Since the Wild Card game (a five game stretch), the Sox have put up 63 base knocks, all against postseason competition. Kiké Hernandez was an absolute force, becoming one of the only people in playoff history with seven consecutive hits. I’m pretty sure everyone in the lineup for this past series has had a big moment at the plate, which is great to see down this stretch. This team will do whatever it takes to win these games.
While the Red Sox pitching staff has been near-horrible down the stretch, they seem to be finding a rhythm. Alex Cora has been playing the role of chess grandmaster, using closers earlier and starters late in games, all to limit the damage of the opponent’s offense. For the most part, it has been working. Cora looks like a genius for his usage of Eduardo Rodriguez, who lasted just 1.2 innings, pitched in a tough Game 1 outing. In the clincher, he lasted five innings while only giving up two runs against the same, fantastic Tampa Bay lineup.
Despite this run being icing on the cake of a very successful season, everything seems to be clicking for Boston right now, at the right time. This team is only eight games away from being World Series Champions. While they have been doing well as of late, each opponent will be as tough, if not tougher than the last. While this article will not print in time to know the other ALDS winner, it is likely that the Sox will be traveling to Houston to take on the Astros in a repeat of the 2018 ALCS.
Look, trash cans aside, Houston is good. Their lineup is among the best in all of baseball, and the pitching staff finished seventh in the league in ERA, fourth-best in the American League. Furthermore, they killed the Red Sox during the regular season, winning the overall series 5-2 and outscoring them 42-25. There’s a little bit of a rivalry there, with the Astros definitely looking for revenge after a 4-1 series loss in the 2018 ALCS.
Houston will look to capitalize on each new pitcher Cora throws in there, which will be interesting to see. They held up despite a few hiccups in the ALDS, but can guys like Chris Sale, Hansel Robles, Ryan Brasier and Tanner Houck recover from their last lackluster outings?
Sale, the team’s ace, has a postseason ERA of 7.27 following his Game 2 start that saw a walk and four hits, one of which was a moonshot grand slam, in just one full inning. Can he deliver for this team fresh off of his Tommy John surgery? If he blows another start, can the Sox put up another 20 hits to win the game? Regardless, Boston has a tough road ahead of them and will need to build upon their recent successes in order to reach the promised land.