In Grand Fashion, Boston Slams Houston in Game 2

The Red Sox evened the ALCS at 1-1 on Saturday evening with a convincing 9-5 road victory in a game that rarely felt even as close as the four-run deficit suggested.

Lance McCullers Jr.’s injury was one of Houston’s big storylines coming into this series, and the consequences could be seen Saturday as the Astros withered behind Luis Garcia, who likely would not have started this early in the series otherwise. Garcia is fortunate that the Rookie of the Year ballots were already tabulated before the postseason started, as his Game 2 loss was his second poor outing this October, and as in his first appearance, it was one bedeviled by poor location.

Trouble started quickly for Garcia as he fell behind 2-0 against totally stereotypical leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber. The right-hander went right back to the fastball a third time, a pitch Schwarber crushed to deep right for a long double. Garcia received possibly his last bit of good fortune this game against Kiké Hernández, who hit a liner off a high fastball that was grabbed in an excellent dive-and-catch by Astros center fielder Chas McCormick. Rafael Devers worked his way back from an 0-2 count to a walk as Garcia fell into a pattern of nibbling. It worked against Xander Bogaerts, who went up there determined to hit a slider, but not so much with Alex Verdugo, who left his bat on his shoulder in a five-pitch walk. With the bases loaded, J.D. Martinez hit a liner to the opposite field for a grand slam, giving Boston a 4-0 lead.

It turned out not to be a simple case of first-inning jitters for Garcia as he returned to walk Kevin Plawecki on four fastballs. That walk ended his evening; he was removed due to discomfort in his right knee, which he had apparently been trying to play through:

Whatever the timeline of Garcia’s knee injury — we’ll likely hear more soon — his velocity was down notably against Plawecki, with his four fastball sitting 90-92 mph rather than the 93-95 mph from the first inning. In came Jake Odorizzi, who didn’t even make the ALDS roster against the Rays; his last in-game action was two weeks ago against the A’s. Odorizzi took his sweet time getting warm, stopping the game for 13 minutes:

Slowing the game’s pace such that even Steve Trachsel would roll his eyes didn’t turn out to be a cunning stratagem, as Odorizzi allowed singles to Christian Arroyo and Hernández, leading to the second grand slam in as many innings, this time courtesy of Devers. Nathan Eovaldi waited nearly an hour to get back onto the field but appeared none the worse for wear.

Down 8-0 and facing the possibility of a second significant pitcher injury this week, Houston had few better options than to let Odorizzi soak up some innings. That he accomplished, doing yeoman’s work and throwing 82 pitches in relief, more than either of Saturday’s starters. He settled down somewhat … with one notable exception. That exception was a fun one — well, not for Astros fans — a solo shot for Kiké, his fifth of this short postseason so far. He’s rapidly entering that rarefied air where you can be identified simply by your first name and now possesses 13 career postseason round-trippers in just 155 plate appearances. Reggie Jackson gets October in his nickname, and it took him more than twice as many plate appearances to slug 18.

Odorizzi’s line of four runs and two homers allowed in four innings isn’t exciting, but it may have saved the bullpen to fight another day. Before Garcia’s injury, there was already a chance that Odorizzi might be forced into a start. With as many as five games to go, Houston may now need to find a replacement for Garcia in addition to McCullers. Replacing an injured pitcher once the postseason roster is set isn’t a simple task; the Astros have to get specific permission from the league, and if Garcia is removed, he’s ineligible to return for the World Series.

For Boston, while Eovaldi was electric at times in his starts against the Yankees and Rays, Saturday’s effort can be placed in the serviceable column. With a four-run lead before he ever threw a pitch, a lead that grew to nine, his job wasn’t to shut down the Astros so much as it was to eat some innings and forestall the kind of miracle comeback a lineup like Houston’s can theoretically put into motion. In his start against Tampa Bay, he threw 23 splitters, resulting in 10 missed swings. He only threw 11 against Houston, almost all before the game got out of hand; of his last 50 pitches, only three were splitters.

To the credit of Houston’s hitters, they kept chipping away at the nine-run deficit. They scored three in a rally against Eovaldi in the fourth and were threatening more in the sixth until Adam Ottavino got Yuli Gurriel on a routine grounder to third with runners on second and third. After two scoreless innings from Garrett Whitlock, they added two more runs on solo shots by Gurriel and Jason Castro, worrying Boston enough to bring in Ryan Brasier for the final out.

Boston’s win resets the series, basically turning it into a five-game set with the Red Sox holding home-field advantage. The ZiPS probabilities for individual games have gotten considerably worse as Houston’s pool of starting pitchers has shrunk, and the mix of available relievers becomes less favorable as a result. These have been already updated over on our postseason odds page.

While ZiPS tries to take it into account, I think I’d still take the under for the Astros here, given the state of their pitching staff. The bullpen has been called on for 14 1/3 innings in the first two games and may have to cover one more lost start apiece for McCullers and Garcia. Boston also had to go deep into their ‘pen in Game 1, but Eovaldi making it into the sixth — the first starting pitcher to do so against Houston this postseason — and a couple of fairly clean innings from Whitlock kept the load off Boston’s best relievers. The Red Sox have been aggressive using extra starting pitchers in the bullpen, but they didn’t need to go to that source at all in Game 2.

That being said, it would be a mistake to count out the Astros. They led the league in runs scored and have the ability to paper over a lot of indifferent or even poor pitching by filling the scoreboard with crooked numbers. The White Sox were second in the AL in ERA, and Houston scored 31 runs in four games.

The ALCS resumes Monday in Boston, with the likely matchup Eduardo Rodriguez against José Urquidy.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

newest oldest most voted
sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

Garcia’s knee is busted up, huh? Boston’s incredible run of luck continues. The 13-inning game absolutely wrecked the Rays’ pitching plans, now they face Houston without McCullers and with Garcia playing hurt.

This seems pretty important because I think it’s pretty clear that if you want to beat Houston that this the way you have to do it–you have to jump on Houston’s starters and score 6 runs at least. Their offense just grinds out 5 runs a game, seemingly no matter who is pitching. It’s a lot easier for Boston to score 6 or more regularly with McCullers absent and a broken Garcia.

Dmjn53
Member
Dmjn53

I’d say scoring 8 runs in the first 2 innings of a game requires a little more than just luck. As a neutral I’m finding this Red Sox team to be far and away the most interesting team left, and I have to say they’ve grown on me a lot

proiste
Member
proiste

As a Sox fan, “interesting” is the best word for it. This is a team that can put together thrilling rallies and chew another team’s pitching staff to pieces with a lot of aggressive early swings and tons of balls in play. However, they also constantly run into outs, have frequent bullpen meltdowns, can’t stop base stealers to save their life, and have possibly the worst defensive lineup of any playoff team I can remember.

They’re definitely not the best team left, and they might not even be the most fun, but if you want World Series games whose win expectancy charts resemble the heart monitor of a rat on cocaine, this is the team you should be pulling for.

Brock244
Member
Brock244

Feels like this is too easily dismissing what Boston has done this playoffs They have won when it’s mattered, and I would hardly call their success luck, with perhaps the execption of the McCullers injury.

-They beat up the Rays 3-1. If the Rays couldn’t handle an extra inning playoff game, they never belonged in the playoffs in the first place.

-the McCullers injury was a break for them for sure, but Garcia? How do we know the injury wasn’t fake to throw a wrench in a blowout game? The recent reports are he is feeling well. My guess is he makes another appearance this series.

-I think at the end of the day, people aren’t giving their offense enough credit. With Schwarber and a resurgent Kike, they might have the best offense on baseball. If not, the second best behind Houston. They have beat up on Cole, Mcclanahan (second time), Baz, Rasmussen, Valdez, Garcia, and Tampa’s bullpen. That’s not luck.