BOSTON — The champagne is nearing for the Red Sox. What follows is not promising.
Information gathering is the theme in this four-game series between the Sox and Astros. Who will tip what tendencies ahead of a presumed meeting in the first round of the playoffs next week? What tendencies do these teams already have in their back pocket, waiting to exploit?
The Sox, whose magic number to clinch the division is down to one with three games to play, better study really hard. Because they’re in trouble once the American League East is wrapped.
They were in trouble before Thursday’s 12-2 loss to the ‘Stros, but a slaughter in the series opener was a snapshot of their perilous state.
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There was yet another bad, short outing from a Red Sox starting pitcher, Eduardo Rodriguez, who’s expected to pitch in the playoffs. He recorded five outs.
The Sox were blitzed by an Astros offense that can run circles on Boston's National League lineup.
Houston will cool off some. They torched the Rangers before coming to Fenway Park. Per Elias, the Astros are the first team to win four consecutive games by at least nine runs since 1887.
But the Sox are still underdogs.
The Astros are a better team. The Indians are too. The odds are against the Sox heading into the playoffs. And if you’re not convinced of that at this point, your fandom has impeded your senses, or you can’t see how inferior the Sox offense is in comparison to others’.
To be clear: the Sox are not a bad hitting team. There’s a difference between being bad and simply being out-matched. The Astros are the best hitting team out there. The Astros have 886 runs. The Sox have 774.
You might prefer to have the Sox' pitching, but any perceived disparity there doesn’t make up for the talent gap at the plate.
“This is not a spring training game,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Thursday, before he pulled his starters in a blowout that looked like a spring training game. “We have to attack it and compete to win the game. It’s important for them, it’s important for the A.L. East, it’s important for seeding. We’re still trying to catch the Indians [for homefield advantage].
“If I change my mind in game and decide to do something different, I will. Our mentality as a team is not to tip-toe into these games. It’s not to play exhibition games. It’s to win.”
Tip toe? They kicked down the door.
Sox manager John Farrell sounds like a man convinced he’s going to need some real length in his bullpen, given how shoddy the rotation’s been in the regular season’s final turn. That’s some sound thinking, but it also makes clear how shaky even the Sox' strength, pitching, has been.
“This turn through the rotation starts to make you think about how our pitching staff is best comprised,” Farrell said. “If there’s length needed from a couple of guys, all those things are being brought into the mix. We recognize where guys are in terms of workloads, the way they’ve thrown of late, early exits. Yeah, that kind of starts to factor in and are there multiple inning guys needed more so than one-inning guys. Those are all things we’ll take into account.”
Let's issue a disclaimer that's always applicable. The Sox could go deep into the playoffs. How, you ask? By the graces of a sport that affords any team participating in its postseason a reasonable chance.
That’s it, though. That’s all the Sox have to hang their hats on: the usual, somewhat artificial parity of short-series tradition. And maybe a hope that the Astros are just bound to cool off.
The Astros were swept by the White Sox in a three-game series in August. Anything can happen.
The impending champagne bath will be a lot of fun for the Red Sox. What comes after probably won't be.