American League Championship Series Prediction

Boston Red Sox vs Houston Astros:

How They Got Here:

The Astros took over first place in the AL West and never really looked back, cruising to another division title.  The Red Sox meanwhile, scuffled during August and September and won on the final day of the season to secure a wild card berth.

In the postseason, the Astros took down a talented and up and coming Chicago White Sox team 3-1 to advance to the ALCS.  The Red Sox knocked off its archrival New York Yankees in the wild card game, before dispatching the top seed, 100-win Tampa Bay Rays 3-1.

Offense:

Both teams possess plenty of firepower.  The Astros have the likes of Michael Brantley, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alverez, and Carlos Correa up and down its lineup.  Meanwhile, the Red Sox counter with Xander Boegaerts, Rafael Devers, Kyle Schwarber, Kike Hernandez, and JD Martinez.  Both squads are sure to put up their share of runs and drive up pitch counts.

EDGE:  Even

Starting Pitching:

This matchup is difficult to determine based on how the starting pitching will play out.  The Astros have concerns reportedly about Lance McCullers Jr. regarding a forearm issue.  Meanwhile, former Cy Young award winner Zach Greinke pitched only one in in relief in the division series.  Houston’s other starters, Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia, had rough outings against the White Sox, but are otherwise solid.

The Red Sox have questions, as well.  Clinching the division series a day earlier allows them to line up its best starter, Nathan Eovaldi, for game one.  Meanwhile, Chris Sale, fresh off Tommy John surgery, had a rough one-inning stint vs the Rays.  Eduardo Rodriquez pitched a great game in the clincher, however, seems to follow up good starts with bad ones.

SLIGHT EDGE:  Red Sox, only because of the uncertainty surrounding McCullers and Grienke, plus the fact Eovaldi is slated for the first game and a potential series altering game five.

Bullpen:

Ah, postseason baseball.  Mixing and matching.  Where managers find creative ways to get key outs.  For Houston, the thought of Greinke in this sort of middle relief role is intriguing, but one wonders if they would not be better served with him starting.  In addition, the Astros feature Kendall Graveman, Ryan Pressly, Phil Maton, and Ryan Stanek as part of a solid, if unspectacular bullpen.

Meanwhile, Boston has gone through a complete makeover in its pen.  Manager Alex Cora seems to have settled on rookie Garrett Whitlock as his closer, so to speak, and likes Ryan Brasier in a late inning role.  Cora can also come in with Hansel Robles and Josh Taylor, while utilizing converted starters Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck in a hybrid relief situation.  Both Pivetta and Houck played keys roles in the series against Tampa Bay.

SLIGHT EDGE:  Astros.  Houston’s bullpen has pitched well in the postseason to this point, while the Red Sox walked a tightrope in the late innings against the Rays.  In Boston’s victories in games three and four, the Red Sox blew eighth inning leads, only to win in dramatic walk-off fashion.  I expect to see Pivetta and Houck take some innings away from Robles and Brasier in this series, which may even out the bullpen matchup.

Manager:

The Astros play under the steady leadership of longtime baseball man Dusty Baker, who had the unenviable task of replacing AJ Hinch, who was let go as part of the team’s sign stealing scandal in 2017.  Baker has done a fantastic job and has Houston on the cusp of another, and legitimate, World Series appearance.

Countering Baker is Boston’s Alex Cora, who has yet to lose a postseason series.  Whether it’s making seemingly crazy, but, inevitably, the right decision, Cora seems to have an aura of magic around him.  He leads a younger generation of managers, along with Tampa’s Kevin Cash and Hinch, who has rebounded with Detroit, in guiding a team through the postseason by utilizing unorthodox methods.

EDGE:  Red Sox.  While Baker is an underrated manager, look for Cora to make a head scratching decision or two that could turn the tide of the series.

Prediction: 

Red Sox in 7.  This will be an extremely competitive series.  In the end, Cora will push the right buttons, and someone like Pivetta will turn in a performance such as Eovaldi in the hybrid role during 2018 World Series that will be the determining factor.

Sycamore

I remember your old cape at 3 Sycamore

I dream about it often

It permeates my thoughts when things are too much

It’s where I fell in love with the radio

The hours I would spend listening while sprawled about

Elvis, Buddy Holly, the Platters; I still get the chills when I hear those songs

It’s where I became Jim Rice, hitting countless tennis balls into the street; You saw every home run through the big glass window

It’s the particular fragrance upon entering that provided indisputable evidence I was there; I can still smell it in my mind today

Food was always plentiful, much more than any boy in the third percentile would ever need

The ice cream that was always in high supply in the garage freezer; You called it the “Three Kinds”

You can still have the strawberry

It was here that I spent most weekends during my formidable youth; from ages seven to about thirteen

Before sports, hanging with the guys, and, later on, girls, took me away

At the time I had not one inclination how incredibly fortunate I was or how much I would long to go back to those precious few moments

Freeze frame for innocent youth time does not

Life can be incredibly cruel that way

I don’t get down that way much anymore; when I do, I take a quick detour to 3 Sycamore and allow myself to be that kid once again

The Beauty of the Game

Durham Bulls Athletic Park; Durham NC; Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

It’s the fire in the belly; The steeled determination in the eyes; They haven’t accomplished anything yet

It’s the pull for their teammates; Some will become lifelong friends; They’re competing against them at the same time; For only a handful make it to the show

It’s the eagerness to sign their name to a plethora of items; Hats, gloves, jerseys, balls, programs; The spoils at the top have yet to render them inaccessible; Nobody cared this much at their high school games

It’s the conversations in the dugout, the clubhouse; Some appropriate, most not; The card games during the long, overnight bus rides

It’s the few daily dollars for fast food; Still kids-Burgers, pizza, and fries do not betray them yet

It’s the summer of being a Mud Hen, a Wildthing, a Rumble Pony

It’s the smells of the ballpark, the crack of the bat, loosening up on the field; In Midwest Americana, the Deep South, the Pacific West; Lansing, Birmingham, Sacramento

It’s the mascots, the sack races, the hula hoop competitions

It’s Mrs. Johnson in Section 8, Row A; She’s been coming here for 43 years; It’s the hopeful youngsters pleading at anyone in their vicinity holding a baseball; One day, some of them will be out here

It’s our greatest game in its purist form; So close to glory, yet never having been pampered by it; It’s a game still being played by kids who would rather be doing nothing else; Most will not make it, but that matters little right now; Responsibility will have to wait

There’s nothing in this world like Minor League Baseball

So I Went To The Red Sox Game Yesterday…….

Alex Verdugo is a much better baseball player than any one of the experts in the stands

My 12-year-old son and I were in the center field bleachers for the Red Sox-Rays Labor Day matinee at Fenway Park in Boston yesterday. This was one of the craziest games I have ever seen, let alone gone to. My beloved Red Sox blew a 7-1 lead in the second inning and lost 11-10 in ten innings. Center fielder Alex Verdugo played a part in this one.

Fast forward to the top of the fourth inning. The Rays, down 7-1, loaded the bases with three consecutive singles after two were out. Nelson Cruz lofted a fly ball just to our left as we were looking out. This should have ended the inning, however, Alex Verdugo drifted back, put his glove up in the air, and lost the ball in the sun, getting a glove on it after a desperate, last-second stab. The “drop,” plus a poor relay throw from second base allowed the three runners on base, as well as Cruz, to score. 7-5. The Rays were right back in it. This play was clearly the catalyst for Tampa’s wild comeback.

Red Sox “fans,” obviously disheartened by the turn of events, let Verdugo have it. They shouted obscenities and littered him with boo birds. Verdugo was clearly affected by the reaction of the home fans, as he looked up into the bleachers and appeared to yell back at the lack of encouragement from Red Sox supporters. The play itself haunted Verdugo, who knelt to the ground and hung his head during a subsequent pitching change, while the other outfielders, right fielder Hunter Renfro and left fielder JD Martinez, flanked him in support.

Verdugo was not done being right in the thick of the action. With the Red Sox clinging to a precarious 9-8 lead, Austin Meadows led off the top of the ninth inning by lofting a fly ball to center field. Verdugo went back to the wall and made a gallant leap, just missing the ball, which caromed back toward the infield. Meanwhile, Meadows circled the bases for a rare inside the park home run, tying the game. The fans in the center field bleachers, already cross with Alex from the play in the fourth inning, got on him again, even though Renfro and Martinez did not properly back up the play, which played a huge role in why Meadows was able to come all the way around and score.

While disappointed with the outcome of the game, which was indeed a crushing loss in the thick of a tight pennant race, my real frustration is toward those fans who didn’t let Alex Verdugo forget he cost them the game. I mean, the guy lost a ball in the sun, which was BRUTAL, by the way, and made a hell of an effort on the ninth inning ball. Here is a guy who is so upbeat and likeable being unfairly crucified by a bunch of overweight guys who trip over themselves just trying to get out of their respective aisle for yet another beer run.

Entitled fans are all too common in professional sports. This is especially true in large market, east coast cities, where the mentality is, “What have you done for me lately?” Would those same folks have wildly cheered for Verdugo had he drove in the winning run in the bottom on the ninth? I bet they would, and they would be hypocritical for doing so. Trust me, I was hoping he would get the opportunity, smoke a game winner, celebrate with his teammates, and promptly walk out to center field and flip off his detractors-turned-loyal followers. But alas, the Rays intentionally walked him and he never got the chance.

I watched a video of Verdugo engaging fans in a conversation about hitting earlier this year in Kansas City. There was also the time he had fun with fans at Yankee Stadium (before the incident when he had shit thrown at him). NESN regularly airs a commercial where he robbed a home run and got seriously pumped up afterwards. Alex Verdugo plays the game like a little kid does. The pure joy he displays is infectious. I hope Red Sox fans don’t rob him of this.

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