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.

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.

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.