The 2017 Boston Red Sox season came to a crashing holt yesterday in absolutely brutal fashion. Honestly, I cant think of a more frustrating game to watch nor a worse way for a season to end. The Sox had plenty of opportunities and could not get the job done against the Astros, ultimately falling in 4 games. The fact is, Houston was the better club going into this series, and proved to be superior throughout. What is so upsetting is how mismanaged this Red Sox team was all week long, and how badly they squandered such a golden opportunity to force a game 5 where anything can happen.
From a lineup perspective, this was a total mismatch from the first pitch. When Sale got touched up in the first inning of game 1, you could see the direction this series was going. Embarrassingly enough, Red Sox pitching did not survive a single first inning unscathed. A pitching staff featuring multiple CY Young winners was overmatched by the power and depth of the Houston lineup. Ultimately, Sale losing game 1 put this team in a really bad spot with nothing but uncertainty throwing behind him. With Kuechel matching up against a shaky Pomeranz in game 2, an 0-2 hole felt inevitable.
However, the Sox showed signs of life on Sunday, despite Doug Fister doing his best to pitch this team to seasons end. Farrell giving Fister the ball with the season on the line is a microcosm of his incompetence levels as a Manager, which I will address further, but Doug did exactly what we expected him to do, giving up 3 earned in the first frame. Fortunately, the Sox bats came to life and David Price shut it down out of the Pen for 4 impressive innings. A 10-3 beat-down behind the bats of Hanley and Devers in game 3 gave the Sox momentum and some hope for a comeback.
Facing a 2-1 deficit, manager John had another opportunity to save his job, but just as has been the case all year long, Farrell could not get it right. Despite a league leading 17 L’s this season and getting shelled by this same Houston lineup at Fenway a week ago, Rick Porcello was given the ball for the 1:08 first pitch. And, just like the first 3 games in the series, Houston got on the board in the first inning. It is easy for the casual baseball fan to see why slick Rick led the league in hits given up this season. He is unable to locate his fastball, especially with two strikes and is completely lacking a put-away pitch. Case and point was the first At Bat of the Game. Porcello got ahead of Astros leadoff man George Springer and Vazquez called for the high heat. Porcello could not get the ball up, and Springer laced the 0-2 pitch into the gap in left center. A wild pitch and a groundout later, the Astros were off and running. It was another shaky outing for Sox starting pitching, but not the reason why the season ended yesterday. Rick was able to escape innings 1 and 2 without allowing crooked numbers, and seemed to settle in during the third before getting the hook.
With the sox down 2-1, Chris Sale came into the game in the top of the 4th and was clearly ready to go showing us no reason why he could not have started the game on 4 days rest. He was his first half of the season self, and have the Sox ample opportunities to put the game away. First came a golden opportunity in the bottom of the 2nd. Boston loaded the bases with Singles by Hanley and Devers, and a walk to Vasquez. It is almost impossible to not score at least a run in this situation, but that is exactly what the Red Sox did. JBJ goes down looking and Pedroia follows suit, leading to Farrell’s ejection. While both called 3rd strikes were borderline, the ejection of Farrell should have been the best thing to happen to Boston all series. Unfortunately, it was clear that he continued to call the shots from the clubhouse. If failing to score with the bases chucked and no outs isn’t frustrating enough, Mitch Moreland who runs like his cleats are filled with led getting cut down at the plate by 30 feet with Devers waiting on deck really set me off. At this point in the game, it seemed like those two innings would be the main story.
But, in the top of the 4th, $30 Million dollar man, Chris Sale trotted in in relief and was lights out for most of the way. A clutch two run homer by Bennetendi put the sox back in control and a chance to get the ball to their shutdown backend of the bullpen. With Addison Reed and Kimbrel awaiting, Farrell/his bench coach puppet decide to trot Sale back out there for a 5th inning. Alex Bregman promptly takes him to the moon, and the game is back to all-square. Still reluctant to pull Sale, the Sox allow him to walk another guy, before bringing in Kimbrel with a man on base. Anyone with a brain recognizes how much better closers are coming into a clean inning, so if you are willing to use him for 5-6 outs, why not start the 8th? Or why not have your 8th inning guy pitch the 8th, and 9th inning guy pitch the 9th? Sure it is always easy second guess in hindsight, but these seemed like clear opportunities to use the set up guy you shelled out prospects for at the deadline, and the closer whom you make the highest paid in the league.
Another insurance run later, and the Sox are down two with 3 outs to play. One major bright spot on this team is Rafael Devers. This 20 year old is a complete stud at the plate, and was so from the moment he was called up this summer. Really bright future for the Sox at the hot corner spot. Devers led off with a frozen rope to dead center, and touched em all for an inside the park HR that brought Fenway back to life. After JBJ and Vazquez were completely overmatched, the season fittingly came down to Dustin Pedroia. Look, as great as Pedey has been for this franchise for so long now, one has to wonder how many good seasons he has left. His bat looked slow, all series and it looked like he had zero approach at the plate. Swinging at balls, and chasing pitches ahead in the count, he looked entirely overmatched by Astros pitching. He is one of the best players in recent franchise history, but in his current state, he has no business at the top of the order. Would have felt a lot better with Mookie or Xander at the dish with the game on the line, and both guys have hit lead-off throughout the year.
With the season over, it is time for Dombrowski and company to face the facts. John Farrell can’t manage a closet. He does not put his players in the best positions to succeed, which is the only job of a manager in baseball. Poor pitching changes, bad lineups, etc. there is only so much a manager can screw up and it seems that he always find a way. The fact is, this team won 93 games in spite of him, and would still be playing without him. I’d argue that if Francona was still at the helm, this Boston team would be on their way to another World Series. While it is harsh to fire a guy after a division title and back to back playoff appearances, his performance calls for it. The supposed pitching whiz hasn’t gotten a single quality start from his staff in 7 straight playoff games. Sale, Price, Pomeranz, Porcello, Rodriguez. Theoretically, that should be a pitching staff capable of winning a playoff series. Not with John Farrell. It is time to thank him for his services, and move on.
It never helps that the Yankees are still playing either, if only for a couple extra days. They were able to take care of business at home, and force a game 5 vs Cleveland Wednesday night. It will be tough for them to knock Kluber around again, but it is game 5 and absolutely anything can happen. So while the Yankees continue to fight on, the Sox are packing their bags and heading home.