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.

Orioles Just What the Doctor Ordered

The last three weeks have been brutal for the Boston Red Sox. From July 24 through Aug 12, the Red Sox went 6-13 and went from being tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for 1st in the AL East to 5 games back. Other than one 20-run outburst on August 11 against the Rays, the Red Sox bats went cold and the pitching staff was struggling to keep opponents off the scoreboard. Then the Baltimore Orioles came to town.

When a really good team is struggling, sometimes it takes a little spark, and a terrible opponent, to right the ship. In a 3-game set at home against the Orioles this past weekend, the offense exploded for 30 runs and the pitching staff held the lowly Orioles to just 5 total runs in the series. While the results are in no way surprising since the Os sit at 38-78 on the season, a whopping 24.5 games out of 4th place in the AL East, the course correction couldn’t have happened soon enough. The Red Sox are talented, but were struggling top to bottom this past month.

Hopefully seeing the bat hit the ball and the K’s pile up will instill confidence across the roster for a team that was overflowing with it the first half of the year. The return of ace SP Chris Sale on Friday for the first time in two years was definitely a moment for the team to step up and it caused an energizing jolt. Sale’s 5 IP and 2 ERs were a welcome sight and hopefully the beginning of a slow build to the postseason for him and consistent starts every five days. The official Red Sox debut of DH/OF/1B (maybe) Kyle Schwarber also provided an offensive kick with 2 BBs on Saturday and 2 doubles on Sunday. The long overdue move to put young SP Tanner Houck in the rotation permanently also helps to solidify a struggling group and moves a few decent arms into the bullpen where they are more likely to have success.

It’s just three games against the worst team in baseball, but the jolt in confidence will hopefully carry over going forward. The Red Sox schedule continues with a 3-games set in the Bronx against the New York Yankees beginning Monday, which will be hard-fought. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, they will have a tough time gaining ground in the AL East the next few weeks because the 1st place Rays are playing the Orioles 6 of their next 11 games.