The 2021 ALCS MVP Will Be….

There are a lot of players on the Boston Red Sox who could emerge as the MVP of the ALCS against the Houston Astros that begins on Friday. There are a lot of hitters with postseason experience in the lineup and a number of pitchers who have the potential to be dominant in a 7-game series. It wouldn’t surprise me if the most valuable player on the Red Sox is a more under-the-radar player like one of the Christians (Arroyo or Vazquez) or a critical long-reliever out of the bullpen (Tanner Houck), but if I had to pick today before the series begins, I’m picking Rafael Devers.

Devers has had a monster year for the Red Sox, slugging 38 HRs and driving in 113 RBIs while playing in 156 games. He seemed to have big hit after big hit when the Red Sox needed him the most. Down the stretch, he was still hitting bombs and driving in runs with a forearm injury that appeared to look better in game 4 of the ALDS and hopefully, with some time off this week, can be closer to 100% in this series.

One of the biggest reasons for my pick is Devers’ history in the postseason against the Houston Astros. In 2 previous series, the 2017 ALDS and the 2018 ALCS, Devers played in 8 games against the Astros and accumulated 9 hits in 24 at-bats, including 3 HRs, 11 RBIs and 4 BBs. That’s an impressive .375 batting average against a historically strong pitching staff in high-leverage situations and I’d argue that Devers is a better hitter now than he was in 2017 and 2018.

With a healthy J.D. Martinez, Raffy is also in a great position to see pitches to hit. If he’s in the 3rd spot in the lineup, then he has Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Alex Verdugo, and Hunter Renfroe behind him. In very few situations does it make sense to pitch around Devers to get to the powerful bats behind him in the lineup. On the other end, he has the patient Kyle Schwarber and red-hot Kike Hernandez in front of him to set the table, so the chances are higher that he bats with runners on base. This season Devers hit .300 with 15 HRs and 84 RBIs with runners in scoring position.

It is anyone’s guess at this point how the ALCS will unfold, but if the Red Sox are to upset the Astros, they will need a strong offensive output and that starts with Raffy Devers. You heard it here first: Rafael Devers ALCS MVP.

Top 5 People Responsible for Red Sox Postseason Run

Just 9 days ago, the Boston Red Sox were playing their final game of the regular season unsure of whether they would be in the postseason picture. They were guaranteed at least a tie-breaker game to determine who made the AL Wild Card game, but everything was up in the air and it appeared as if this just wasn’t their year to make a deep run. A victory in game 162 sent the Red Sox into the postseason for the first time in a few years and at the time, that alone felt like it was an accomplishment worth celebrating. A little over a week later and the Boston Red Sox are headed to the ALCS on Friday.

How did the Red Sox even get to this point? Predictions were all around 80 wins for this team with the postseason not really in the picture and now they will be 1 of just 4 teams still playing baseball into October. It took guts, instinct, and a bit of luck, but the Red Sox are 4 wins away from making the World Series when no one gave them a shot before the season. Let’s look at the top 5 People responsible for this improbable run.

1. Alex Cora

There are plenty of fans who devalue coaching when a team has success, but there is no denying the impact Alex Cora has had on the 2021 Red Sox. Not every decision he makes works, but they are all driven by analytics and instinct and the vast majority are correct in retrospect. After Game 4 of the ALDS, he is now 4-0 in elimination games in the postseason and 15-4 overall as a manager in the postseason (7-2 at home). That’s not a coincidence. He’s willing to make the aggressive moves early and often if he thinks, and the numbers show, an advantage. Cora will pull a starter in the 2nd inning or make a substitution in the first half of the game, if it could give his team and advantage or he sees something he doesn’t like. He doesn’t shy away  from the decisions when the don’t work, he sticks to the process and his plan.

There was no more prime example of his impact than the 2021 ALDS. He was forced to pull his starters after 1 2/3 and 1 inning in the first two games of the series, and used a combined 10 relievers in those games in order to split and come back to Boston with a tied series, which was a triumph. He leaned on rookie Tanner Houck and long-reliever/starter Nick Pivetta in crucial spots and his confidence in them drove them to perform at their best. He pulled pitchers earlier than the couch-coaches would have liked, and for the most part, he was right. I don’t think I can overstate Cora’s impact in the postseason, especially this year.

2. Nicholas Juan Carlo Pivetta

Without a doubt, Nick Pivetta is my new favorite Canadian. His performance in the ALDS is nothing less than heroic and he single-handedly saved the Red Sox in game 3.  In game 1, Pivetta was tapped in the 3rd inning to eat innings and he did just that. He went 4 2/3 and allowed 3 runs on 4 hits with 4 Ks, which was just what the Sox needed. The offense didn’t score, so they were going to lose no matter what, but Pivetta saved Cora from having to use everyone out of the bullpen. Thanks to that performance, Cora only needed to use Garrett Richards for 1/3 inning, Josh Taylor for 1/3 inning, and Adam Ottavino for 1 inning, which was critical given the pitching demand in every other game.

Then, just 3 days after throwing 73 pitches in relief, Nick Pivetta had a Nate Eovaldi-type extra innings performance that led to the series turning point. As the 7th pitcher out of the bullpen, Pivetta came into a 4-4 game in the top of the 10th in game 3, looking to just hold the tie until the Red Sox could find some postseason magic, and boy did he. He ended up going 4 innings, allowed just 3 hits and 0 runs, while striking out 7. Holding the game through the bottom of the 13th allowed Christian Vazquez to be the hero and walk-off with a massive win. Pivetta was mentally and physically dominant, despite throwing 140 pitches over 3 days, and his performance fired up his teammates. The Red Sox need him to carry the momentum into the ALCS, where he is likely to move back into his familiar starter role.

3. Chaim Bloom

You could argue that Chaim Bloom deserves to be even higher than #3 and isn’t getting nearly enough credit for this Red Sox run. He made several under-the-radar moves in the offseason that didn’t get a lot of attention at the time, but have really paid dividends. Just taking a glance at his moves, several of them ended up on this very top 5 list. Bloom’s biggest offensive signings Kike Hernandez and Hunter Renfroe have had a massive impact on this team’s success to the tune of 51 HRs and 156 RBIs and have combined for 16 hits and 2 HRs in 5 postseason games this year. If you add in the pitching moves, claiming of Garrett Whitlock and trading for Adam Ottavino, who both have been crucial to getting the team this far. If you add in the Nick Pivetta trade in August 2020, that’s an impressive record.

Maybe even more critically was Bloom’s trade deadline signings in 2021. Most people, myself included, questioned the inactivity at the deadline. The notable moves Bloom made were to bring in Kyle Schwarber and Hansel Robles. I’ll include Jose Iglesias in this group even though he claimed him off waivers after the deadline. Schwarber has been a steady and important piece for the Red Sox, getting Bobby Dalbec back on track, drawing walks, and hitting bombs. In 41 regular season games, Schwarber hit .291 with 7 HRs and 33 BBs, including some big walks and hits as the Red Sox pushed for the postseason. Until game 4 of the ALDS, Robles hadn’t allowed an earned run in 17 appearances, including 2 innings in the postseason, a surprising level of success for someone who wasn’t highly regarded. The Iglesias signing is a big reason the Red Sox even made the postseason, as he hit .356 in 23 games since coming to Boston as Christian Arroyo was battling COVID and unable to play.

After letting Jackie Bradley Jr. go and trading Andrew Benintendi, it was doom and gloom in Boston, but Bloom managed to improve the roster and depth, somehow making this a better team without those guys. Bloom deserves a ton of credit for putting the right guys on the roster to make a postseason run.

4. Garrett Whitlock

There is no more important piece of the bullpen or better story on the Red Sox than Garrett Whitlock. After being drafted by the New York Yankees in 2017 in the 18th round, the Alabama-Birmingham product moved to A ball in 2018 and moved up to AA by the end of the season and started 2019 in AA. In 14 starts, he had a 3.07 ERA and 57 Ks until disaster struck and he underwent Tommy John surgery in July that would end his 2019 campaign and because of his recovery and the global pandemic that shut down minor league baseball, all of his 2020 season. In December of 2020, the annual rule-5 draft took place and thanks to Bloom’s acumen, the Red Sox selected Whitlock in the 4th round. Any player not on a 40-man roster can be drafted, but they are immediately added to the selector’s 40 man roster which is not usually a spot for many AA players.

Whitlock was drafted and added to the Red Sox 40-man roster and no one even noticed. He had missed the previous season and a half and hadn’t risen above AA yet in the Yankees system. By any angle, it seemed like Whitlock was a guy you stash at AAA and hope he pans out to be something in the future and if not, you release him to open up a 40-man roster spot. After impressing in Spring Training, the Red Sox had no choice but to give him a major-league roster spot for opening day and they never looked back. Whitlock had a spectacular rookie season, pitching 73.1 innings in 46 appearances and ending the regular season with a 1.96 ERA with 81 Ks and an 8-4 record. He emerged as high-leverage reliever as the year progressed and after allowing a solo HR in the AL Wild Card game, didn’t allow a hit against the Rays in 3.1 innings over 2 appearances. This is not the last we will see of Whitlock in a critical late-game situation this postseason.

5.  Kike “Mr. Postseason” Hernandez

All year long, Kike Hernandez has been a great player for the Red Sox. He had a career year and accumulated 127 hits in 134 games this season, including 20 HRs (1 shy of his career high) and 60 RBIs (4 shy of his career high). He primarily spent time at 2B and CF this year, with several games at SS mixed in and provided Alex Cora with flexibility and a top-of-the-lineup bat. While Kike is not known as a big hitter, he knows how to get himself in good positions and not try to do too much in the batters box, but that’s not why he’s on this list. His experience and postseason performance is why he’s #5 on this list.

Coming into the 2021 season, Hernandez had a whopping 58 games of postseason experience at the age of 30 (less than 2 months since turning 30). That’s no doubt one reason he was signed and that certainly paid dividends thus far. Through 5 postseason games, Kike has a .435 average with 10 hits and 2 HRs, including 5 of those hits in game 2 of the ALDS alone. Looking ahead to the ALCS, the Red Sox will need continued production out of Kike in the 2-hole, because it lengthens the lineup and makes the offense even scarier and more difficult to pitch against. With the on-base machine of Schwarber leading off followed by Kike 2nd, if they get on base, the next 5 bats in the lineup can absolutely crush the ball (Devers, Bogaerts, Martinez, Verdugo and Renfroe) and they can get to a starting pitcher and hang a crooked number in a hurry.

Honorable Mention: Tanner Houck

You know it’s been an incredible run when a guy like Tanner Houck doesn’t make the top 5. Houck has been absolutely crucial to the Red Sox down the stretch and has been dominant as a long-man out of the bullpen this postseason. He’ll likely play a key role of the Red Sox are to upset the Astros in the ALCS. For more on Houck, read here.


There are obviously a ton of reasons why the Red Sox are playing the Houston Astros on Friday in the ALCS and these were just a handful of the people that made that possible. There are still a ton of storylines to write in the 2021 postseason and we’ll see how the wind blows when things get underway on Friday. 

Tanner Houck is the Future (and Present)

You never know what to expect from young pitchers when the pressure turns up in the postseason. Some can handle it, and even thrive on it, and others collapse and lower their performance level. Good thing for the Red Sox, 25-year old Tanner Houck is thriving in his first taste of postseason baseball this season. Houck has emerged as the top long arm out of the bullpen during this postseason run, using his experience as a starter to help him stretch out in his relief appearances or give a short outing if needed. Houck has appeared in 2 postseason outings thus far and yesterday, he may have saved the Red Sox season.

In the first 3 postseason games for the Red Sox, Houck has appeared twice, throwing a shutout inning with 2 Ks against the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game and yesterday he relieved Chris Sale in the 2nd inning and threw 5 innings of 1 run, 2 hit ball with 5 Ks. The context of yesterday’s performance was incredible. He came in after Sale allowed 5 runs in the first inning, 4 off a Jordan Luplow grand slam, and was asked to stop the bleeding and try to fill some innings. Houck did more than stop the bleeding, he completely shut down the Rays throwing 4 perfect innings before allowing 2 hits, including a solo HR, in his 5th inning of relief. It was exactly what the Red Sox needed to stay in the game and let their offense get back in the game (which they did in a BIG way).

In critical, high pressure situations, Houck has been lights out. His outing prior to his two postseason appearances was essentially another postseason game. He came in early in relief of Chris Sale in the final game of the season at the Washington Nationals in essentially a must win. He spun another absolute gem, going 5 perfect innings with 8 Ks to keep the Red Sox in the game and allow for a comeback (sense a pattern here?). His last 3 appearances, in the highest of pressure situations, he has allowed 2 hits (1 HR), 0 BBs, and accumulated 15Ks in 11 innings. That’s dominance when the Red Sox needed it the most.

If the Red Sox can find a way to beat the Rays twice more and move on to the ALCS, Houck could be a pivotal piece of the pitching staff, whether as a starter or reliever. There will definitely be a decision to make about the starters in a 7-game series, especially with Eduardo Rodriguez‘s struggles and Sale clearly not being right coming off of Tommy John surgery. Eovaldi is definitely the Red Sox #1, and then it’s a mush of Nick Pivetta, Sale, ERod, and maybe Houck to either start or be long-relief. It feels like the Rays “starter” model of the last several years, where the starter is only expected to go a few innings backed up by a deep bullpen.

All of this sets Houck up to be a member of the starting rotation for the Red Sox next year, which is exciting to think about. The Red Sox have been searching for rotation depth, especially some younger talent to infuse energy. Tanner Houck is a guy who can give you a chance to win every 5th day and his ceiling is pretty high. He has the makeup to be a front-end rotation talent with a bit more experience and could be the future #1 in this rotation. Even more importantly, he’s proven he can pitch well and even be dominant when the lights are the brightest.

Money Doesn’t Win Championships in MLB, or Does It?

After the Red Sox eliminated the Yankees in the AL Wild Card on Tuesday, it added another year to the Yankees championship drought. The loss naturally resulted in a flurry of memes and stats, including the amount the Yankees have spent on payroll since winning their last championship. That got my mind racing about whether the pay-for-title model the Yankees and others have employed over the years is actually true and results in success. Let’s examine.

For the purposes of this analysis, I’m looking at data from 2011 through 2020, a 10-season span. Obviously things can, and will, change this year as the playoffs progress and a champion is named, but a 10-season sample should give sufficient data to make some conclusions about recent trends in the MLB. For the purposes of this analysis, I used two metrics: CPW (cost per win) and CPWW (cost per win weighted for the postseason). CPW is fairly straight forward and takes the team salary and divides it among the number of wins a team amasses in the regular season and/or postseason. That metric didn’t feel like it captured the importance of postseason wins, so I created a modified version, CPWW, that assigns extra value to postseason games, increasing by each round. For example, if a team advances to the division series, each win is worth more than a wild card win and less than a championship series win. Now, to the numbers.

Over the last 10 completed seasons (2011-2020), the Tampa Bay Rays have the lowest cost per win (CPW) when you factor in the playoffs at $764,184.25 ($721,391.52 below the league average). When using the weighted metric I created (CPWW), it is even more impressive at $743,359.33 per win, which is $730,145.55 below the league average. That essentially means the Rays are operating at half the cost of the average team in the league and 1/3 of the cost of the top teams, which is astounding. While the Rays haven’t won a title in the last 10 years, they were a runner-up last season and have won 17 postseason games in 10 seasons, more than 19 other franchises. By comparison, the 2nd lowest CPW is the Oakland Athletics at $888,723.41 per win (over $124,000 per win more than the Rays) and they have only won 8 total postseason games in the last 10 years, never advancing past the division series round. It can easily be argued that the Tampa Bay Rays have accomplished more with less than any other franchise, and it’s not even really close.

On the flip side of that coin, the New York Yankees have a staggering $2,257,967.25 CPW including playoff games, which is the highest in the MLB over the 10-season span. How has paying 3x more per win than the Rays helped them this past decade? It really hasn’t. The Yankees have only won 6 more playoff games (23 total) over the same span and have not even reached the World Series, while the Rays did once. When using the weighted CPWW, the Yankees are still on top of the pile of cash at $2,193,311.80 per win, edging out the Seattle Mariners by around $100,000. Based on a Yankees/Rays comparison, you could correctly argue that money does not win championships, but it’s important to zoom out a bit to see the league trends overall.

Of the 10 teams to win the World Series, 50% have a 10-year CPWW below the league average and expanding it out a little, 50% of the 20 teams playing in those 10 World Series were in the bottom half of the league in CPWW, which is quite staggering. There has only been 1 World Series matchup in the last 10 seasons that pitted 2 teams in the top 10 CPWW against each other and that was the 2018 Boston Red Sox vs Los Angeles Dodgers series (#3 vs #4).

Year Winning Team (CPW rank) Losing Team (CPW rank)
2020Los Angeles Dodgers (#4)Tampa Bay Rays (#30)
2019Washington Nationals (#12)Houston Astros (#26)
2018Boston Red Sox (#3)Los Angeles Dodgers (#4)
2017Houston Astros (#26)Los Angeles Dodgers (#4)
2016Chicago Cubs (#8)Cleveland Indians (#27)
2015Kansas City Royals (#20)New York Mets (#10)
2014San Francisco Giants (#18)Kansas City Royals (#20)
2013Boston Red Sox (#3)St. Louis Cardinals (#19)
2012San Francisco Giants (#18)Detroit Tigers (#5)
2011St. Louis Cardinals (#19)Detroit Tigers (#5)
*Data compiled and calculated by Brian Phair

Just looking simply at total wins (including the postseason) for each franchise compared to their CPWW further proves the point that money does not win games or championships on the whole. The top two franchises in win totals over 10 seasons are the Dodgers (#4 in CPWW) and Yankees (#1 in CPWW) which isn’t super surprising, but then 6 of the next 9 franchises on the total wins list are in the bottom half of the league in CPWW, including the bottom two teams in CPWW, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland Athletics. I’ve inserted the table below to show you all of the rankings. There are definitely some surprises in the list.

TeamTotal Wins
(including playoffs)
Rank of
CPW
Rank of
CPWW
Total Playoff
Wins
Los Angeles Dodgers9323446
New York Yankees8821123
St. Louis Cardinals879151936
Washington Nationals855121219
Cleveland Indians833272712
Boston Red Sox8302323
Tampa Bay Rays821303017
Oakland Athletics80229298
Atlanta Braves799212112
Chicago Cubs7958819
Houston Astros794242636
Texas Rangers7879912
Milwaukee Brewers787262511
San Francisco Giants783171825
League Average771.64n/an/a12.64
Pittsburgh Pirates75728283
Arizona Diamondbacks75622223
Los Angeles Angels753770
Toronto Blue Jays751111110
New York Mets74810108
Detroit Tigers7415617
Seattle Mariners724420
Kansas City Royals724202022
Philadelphia Phillies720652
Baltimore Orioles72014146
Cincinnati Reds71719172
Minnesota Twins70716150
Colorado Rockies69613131
Chicago White Sox69118161
San Diego Padres68823232
Miami Marlins67025242
*Data compiled and calculated by Brian Phair

Once I started down this rabbit hole, I fully expected that higher payroll and higher cost per win (CPWW) teams would have a decided advantage with a few exceptions (i.e. the Rays), but I was proven almost completely wrong. While this analysis does not say any team can win a championship on any payroll because there are a million other factors, it does definitively prove that having a high payroll does not guarantee anything in the current MLB and it is absolutely possible to win with less, even for teams not named the Tampa Bay Rays. What are your thoughts?

Want to learn more about the CPWW metric? Reach out via email.

Postseason Fever Back for the Red Sox

The last few months for the Boston Red Sox have been filled with challenges, injuries, and underwhelming performances. Down the stretch, most every member of the offense had (or is having) a dry spell and the pitching staff has been a bit all over the map. The Red Sox season came down to game 162 and thanks to some timely hitting leading to a big comeback, postseason baseball is back in Boston. After the high of the win, reality sunk in that their triumphant return to the postseason would be shaped by a 1-game wild card showdown with none-other-than their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees.

As a Red Sox fan, last night’s AL Wild Card game was a thing of beauty. With a battle of the two staff aces, Gerrit Cole for the Yankees and Nathan Eovaldi for the Red Sox, you knew runs would be at a premium. Thankfully, one of the slumping Red Sox bats, Xander Bogaerts, turned the page and crushed a 2-run HR in the 1st inning to give the Sox an early lead. Not to be forgotten was the Rafael Devers walk, battling back from a 1-2 count, in the at-bat before to keep the inning alive. When Xander hit the HR, his reaction said it all. I haven’t seen him that excited in a loonnnggg time and it absolutely set the tone for the entire game. Xander is generally a quiet leader who lead by example. Last night, he led by example, but was anything but quiet.

There were so many important performances and moments in this one game that there isn’t time to recap them all (and there are plenty of other places to get that coverage), but the thing that impressed me the most about last night was the players resilience and belief. It sounds cheesy, but every time the Red Sox got in a jam, or a pitcher gave up a run, the players seemed to rally behind each other and believe in each other. They limited damage and extended the lead when the Yankees put pressure on, which is something they struggled with most of September.

The best example of limiting damage and playing together was in the 6th inning right after Eovaldi was replaced by Ryan Brasier and Giancarlo Stanton crushed his 2nd ball off the monster in the game (despite what John Sterling thinks, they both went OFF the monster, not OVER). Alex Verdugo misplayed the carom angle (which to be fair is a near impossible read), but Kike Hernandez was there to back him up, got the ball quickly in to Bogaerts and X-man threw an absolutely perfectly placed laser to home where Kevin Plawecki beautifully tagged Aaron Judge to cut down the run.

If that play doesn’t happen, then the score is 3-2 with a runner in scoring position and just 1 out. Momentum, if not the lead, would likely have shifted to the New York dugout and the intensity, and pressure, would have risen. The Red Sox needed everyone to be alert and play their positions in perfect harmony and when they did that, they finally succeeded in the elusive area of defensive fundamentals. I’ve been harping on their lack of defensive consistency all year and the numbers show they are one of the worst defensive teams in baseball and frankly, I don’t fully understand why. They have some weaker spots on the field but for the most part, they have talented players who should be at least average at their positions. All can be forgiven if they turn the page in the postseason and play clean, smart baseball.

If the Red Sox are confident and can consistently hit, pitch pretty well, and play solid defense, they have the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs, but those are big ifs. They passed their first test on Tuesday, now they have an even bigger test upcoming with the 100 win Tampa Bay Rays.

And hey, if you’re a Yankees fan, don’t get too sad because there is still something to look forward to. On Valentines Day, February 14th 2022, pitchers and catchers report.

A Wild Finish Sets Up a Rivalry Grudge Match

Everyone take a breath. No really, it’s ok the breathe now. That was one of the wildest final few days of the regular season I’ve ever seen in the MLB and the every-team-starts-at-3pm-on-the-final-day-of-the-season was intense and absolutely amazing. Going into game 162 there were a half-dozen scenarios involving the 4 teams fighting for the 2 AL Wild Card spots, including a potential for a 4-way tie. As the games began, all Red Sox needed to host the AL Wild Card game was a W, but the anxiety increased for Red Sox fans pretty quickly.

With the 4 games that impacted the AL Wild Card all happening simultaneously, there was no time to sit back and relax. I was watching the Red Sox at Nationals and checking in on Rays at Yankees, Orioles at Blue Jays, and Angels at Mariners. Thankfully, for my sanity not for the wild card race, the Blue Jays jumped all over the Orioles early making that a game I didn’t have to keep checking. As time ticks on, the Rays and Yankees are still scoreless and Chris Sale is, well, not Chris Sale-ing, my anxiety level rose. Once Sale walked in a run and was pulled in the 3rd inning, doom and gloom began to overtake me. The Red Sox were guaranteed a game 163, but no one wanted it to be a tie-breaker game.

Once Garrett Richards gave up the 2-run double to retiring catcher Alex Avila, I thought that was it. It was 5-1 Nationals and I was figuring out my schedule for a potential tie-breaker game on Monday and running through all the potential scenarios once again. As the game progressed, my anxiety grew even higher the longer the Rays and Yankees remained scoreless. The Red Sox got one back in the 6th, then down 3 in the 7th, three straight singles makes in 5-3 and Alex Verdugo has one of the biggest hits of the season with a 2-run double to tie the game. For those who are keeping track, the Red Sox and Nationals are tied 5-5 and the Rays and Yankees are tied 0-0, both in the very late innings.

Then, the pressure grew to new heights when Aaron Judge had the softest walkoff hit I’ve ever seen (bunts not withstanding) to give the Yankees a 1-0 victory. The Red Sox’s chances of hosting the wild card game were slipping, but there was still time. Eduardo Rodriguez shutdown the Nationals in the bottom of the 8th and then the Red Sox get their chance to bat in the top of the 9th with the heart of the lineup scheduled to bat (2-3-4). Kyle Schwarber led it off with a ground ball to the shifted 2nd baseman on the outfield grass and he couldn’t play it cleanly so the Red Sox have some life for Xander Bogaerts. Unfortunately X-man continued his awful stretch with a K, bringing Rafael Devers up to bat.

Devers swung at the first pitch splitter and missed, then watched 2 more splitters to move the count to 2-and-1. The Nationals pitcher Kyle Finnegan then made a critical error, throwing Raffy a 4th straight splitter on the inside part of the plate and Devers crushed it. A 447-foot HR to give the Red Sox their first lead of the game and put them in a position to host the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday night. In the all-hands-on-deck game 162, starter Nick Pivetta came in to close the game out in the bottom of the 9th and retired the Nationals in order, including an impressive strikeout of Juan Soto to end the game.

It wasn’t easy, but nothing has been since June. This team was one of the best in baseball for the first 3-months of the season but has struggled and had to fight and claw for everything since that point. The fact they needed 162 games to get into the postseason is hard to swallow, but if you compare that to the pre-season expectations for this team, the postseason is an accomplishment to celebrate. The Red Sox officially finish the year 92-70, which is a great record in any situation. Before the season, Sports Illustrated predicted the Red Sox would finish 80-82 this season, 17 games behind the Yankees and 4th place in the AL East and the betting over/under on wins for the Red Sox was 80.5.

I know this team almost collapsed and may bow out of the playoffs before getting into a series, but big picture, this has been a successful season for the Boston Red Sox to this point. It’s really hard to see that when watching day-in and day-out, but to be as competitive as they have been in a division stacked with 4 playoff-worthy teams. The Red Sox played nearly 1/3 of their games (57) against the Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, and Toronto Blue Jays, all 90+ win teams and 2 of the 3 are in the postseason and 1 missed the postseason by a single game. The Red Sox won the season series with the Yankees and Blue Jays, albeit by 1 game, but it’s why they are hosting the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday.

There is a lot to unpack about the 2021 season for the Red Sox and thankfully there is an offseason for that, but for now, I’m just looking forward to a single-elimination game between two storied rivals at America’s Most Beloved Ballpark on Tuesday night at 8:08pm EST.

An Appreciation for Dennis Eckersley

While the product on the field may be tough to watch at times for the Boston Red Sox, the announcing booth is in top form. The addition of Dennis Eckersley to the Red Sox booth in 2009 was one of the best decisions NESN has ever made and it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Eck’s candor, knowledge of the game and unique vocabulary make him a absolute joy to listen to regardless of how bad the game is going (sometimes he’s even better when the game is a blowout).

When thinking about the best color commentators in sports, there are some similar qualities that run between them. One of the most illusive qualities is someone who is knowledgeable, ideally with experience playing the sport, but not too cocky about his or her abilities. Eck fits that category like a glove. He’s clearly a confident person, but he isn’t afraid to admit when he is wrong and be self-deprecating despite being a Hall of Famer. He tells stories from his playing days, but doesn’t brag or hang on his reputation, he does it to comment on, or relate to, the game or current situation.

Another quality that’s important to an announcer is someone who isn’t afraid to tell stories and fill space, especially during a 4-hour baseball broadcast. There are so many announcers who love to leave lots of silent space in a broadcast, and while some silence can be useful, baseball needs announcers who can be entertaining and teach you something along the way. Eck checks those boxes. In a long pitching change or a slow inning, he’ll tell stories of his playing days or give his take on some of the newer headlines in baseball. His energy is contagious and makes me want to tune in just to hear his commentary.

Arguably the most enjoyable aspect of Eck in the booth is his unique vocabulary. On any given night you’ll hear gas, splitage, cheese (also educated cheese, easy cheese, and cheddar), hair, and salad (also educated salad) all describing pitches thrown. In addition to describing pitches, Eck has lots of other phrases he loves to use to describe HRs (i.e. Johnson, slam Johnson, dead central, going bridge), masterson to describe an expert in something (gas-masterson, stat-masterson), and the phrase jump street to describe the beginning of something. How can you not smile when an announcer gets excited and says “That was some educated cheese on the paint” to describe a well-located fastball on the outside corner?

With the Red Sox season spiraling in a depressing way, there is a comforting voice to narrate the journey. As far as I’m concerned, the more Eck the better.

A Pathetic and Embarrassing Performance By the Red Sox

Do the Boston Red Sox players know that they are playing for their playoff lives this last week of the season? If they do, they sure fooled me. Their performance against the 51-win Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night was pathetic and embarrassing. Their defense let them down, again, and the offense looked completely lost and uninterested. Where is the leadership on this team? Do they even want to make the wild card game at this point or would they rather be golfing?

The situation seemed absolutely perfect for a big win on Tuesday. Chris Sale was on the mound following a rough weekend sweep by the Yankees and the Orioles are the worst team in baseball. That certainly should be enough for a W with this Red Sox offense. As it turns out, they couldn’t get more than 2 hits against the Orioles starter Bruce Zimmerman who was making his first MLB start since mid-June and mustered just 1 hit against the Orioles bullpen in 5 innings. Once again the defense made several critical mistakes, including 2 huge ones in the 8th inning with Rafael Devers‘ errant throw to first and Alex Verdugo‘s complete misplay of a ball in right leading to the Orioles 4th run.

The most egregious issue to me was the complete lack of plate discipline in the final stretch of the game when the team needed base runners and a spark on offense. According to Alex Speier on Twitter, from the 6th through the 8th inning, the Red Sox saw just 2.4 pitches per plate appearance including 5 plate appearances of 2 or fewer pitches seen. The impatience shows a lack of urgency and understanding the situation, not to mention the batters came across as listless and uninterested at times. Where was Alex Cora during that stretch? Clearly not reminding his players of the situation and approach.

I honestly just don’t understand Tuesday night’s performance. It feels like this team has not only lost its way, but is so far off the rails that no one can bring them back. At this point even if they make the playoffs, which has suddenly become a giant if, they have no chance at moving on unless something magical happens and they learn how to play defense, hit consistently, and pitch in clutch situations. This has been an epically embarrassing collapse.

Defense is Absolutely Killing the Red Sox

The old adage in sports is that defense wins championships. The Red Sox are trying to prove that to be true, by doing the exact opposite. We’re witnessing, day-in and day-out, one of the worst defensive teams in baseball and if they ultimately lose in the AL Wild Card game or take an early bow out in the playoffs, the defense will likely be a big reason why.

Sitting with 6 games remaining, the Red Sox are 14th out of 15 teams in the AL with 104 errors on the season and 33 of those errors have come from their starting corner infielders. Rafael Devers has had moments of strong defense this year followed by complete meltdowns and big mistakes. In terms of errors, he’s the worst defensive 3rd baseman in baseball, clear of the 2nd worst by 6 errors. For a team trying to make the playoffs, that’s awful, even if his bat has been on fire.

Now some would argue, and I agree, that the error stat is antiquated and doesn’t tell you the whole story about a player defensively. Here is where we jump into newer analytics to analyze Devers’ performance on defense this year.

A good overall defensive metric I like to look at is Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Avg or Rtot for short (it’s a mouthful). Rtot is described on Baseball-Reference.com as the number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made. Essentially, it’s the most accurate way to rate a player defensively where a 0 means someone is at the league average, a positive number indicates above average, and a negative number is below average. Looking at all 654 players with an Rtot score in 2021 and Rafael Devers is dead last, 654th at -19.

Then flipping across the diamond, 1B Bobby Dalbec has had a rollercoaster year with stretches of power and defensive flashes followed by completely falling apart in both areas. His Rtot is better than Devers (it had to be since Devers was last), but just barely at -11, 640th out of 654 players. His 11 errors are the 2nd most by a first baseman in baseball this year and frankly he could have had a handful more errors this season on plays he could, and should, have made. He’s cost the Red Sox runs on multiple occasions and has looked lost at times in the field (i.e. the pop foul off the bat of Aaron Judge on Sunday night). That’s not ideal when you have a partner across the diamond performing even worse.

While I don’t want to go position by position through the whole roster, there is one more player worth talking about, OF Hunter Renfroe. He has received a lot of attention for his outfield assists, and rightfully so, he leads all outfielders with 16, but he also leads all outfielders with 12 errors. The 16 assists and occasional stellar catch are great, but if 75% of them are offset by errors, then it’s not nearly as impressive or helpful for the Red Sox. Surprisingly, Renfroe’s Rtot is -9, 634th out of 654, just ahead of his 3 other teammates, the afore mentioned Devers and Dalbec, and Kike Hernandez, who sits at -11 and 643rd out of 654. Then just above Renfroe is Alex Verdugo who sits at -8 and 627th. As a team, they are -59, by far the worst in baseball. I think you get the point.


We need to be focusing more on defense as a major issue with the 2021 Red Sox. If you are a fan of the team, it needs to be addressed this offseason, because most of the worst defensive players are likely here for several more years. When 5 of your regular starters are in the bottom 4.1% of the all MLB players in defense, you’re in big trouble and put a ton more pressure on pitching and offense to compensate for mistakes. When fighting for a wild card spot in September, every game matters and poor defense could easily be the reason a team can’t get the job done. Nothing will change in the next week, but if this team is tied for the 2nd worst fielding percentage in baseball next year, don’t expect to see them in the playoffs again.

Defense and fundamentals might not always be the recipe for a championship team, but not paying attention to them will surely prevent a team from making a playoff run.

The Most Important Series of the Season

With just a few short weeks left in the 2021 MLB regular season, the Red Sox are confronted with the most important 3-game set of the year against their vaunted rival. The next 3 days will go a long way in determining the 2 AL Wild Card spots and has the potential to begin to either resurrect or bury the New York Yankees. The drama will be high and the atmosphere will be electric. What else could you ask for from the Red Sox and Yankees at Fenway Park in September?

Going into this series the Red Sox have taken care of business against inferior opponents with a 7-game win streak. They have built a 2-game cushion over the New York Yankees in the Wild Card with the Toronto Blue Jays lingering just 0.5 games behind the Yankees with the results of their contest with the Minnesota Twins on Thursday night still not decided. The lead for the Red Sox puts them in the driver’s seat entering this series. If they can win at least 1 of 3 it will allow the Red Sox to at least stay tied for a Wild Card spot with an easy final 6 games.

Obviously, the Red Sox want more than just 1 win. Taking 2 out of 3 puts a 3-game gap between the two teams, which drops the Yankees odds of making the playoffs and greatly increases the Red Sox odds. A sweep of the Yankees would be absolutely devastating for the pinstripes, putting them 5 games back of the Red Sox with 6 to play, all but guaranteeing a playoff spot for the Red Sox and putting even more pressure on the Yankees series up in Toronto immediately following their Fenway Park set. Depending on how the Blue Jays perform against the Twins, a sweep could come close to ending the Yankees season.

There is clearly a flip-side of the sweep, if the Yankees were to pull out the brooms against the Red Sox. It would put the Yankees 1 game ahead with 6 to play, but as mentioned above, the Yankees still have to go to Toronto for 3 games and then play the AL East leaders Tampa Bay Rays for 3. This is an absolute gauntlet for the Yankees and if they ultimately make the playoffs, it will be because they beat the best to get there, but they have a serious uphill climb beginning Friday. You know the Red Sox are fully aware of their position and are playing this series to bury the Yankees and get closer to, or even clinch, a playoff berth.

Stock your fridge, grab some snacks, get a comfy place on the couch, and collect every good luck charm you have, because the next three days are going to be crucial and intense.