4 takeaways as the Red Sox get one step closer to the playoffs


Red Stockings

After Saturday’s win, the Red Sox are in the top spot with a wildcard in the American League and thus determine their fate in the playoffs.

Tanner Houck couldn’t have given the Red Sox much more than he did in five innings on Saturday, with a perfect game on just 53 pitches.

The Red Sox are one win away from a spot in the playoffs.

They defeated the Nationals 5-3 on Saturday. Here’s what happened, who’s the player of the game, and takeaways from Saturday’s game.

the big picture

Saturday’s game had quite the show.

The lone run initially came in the fourth inning when Rafael Devers hit a solo shot to right-center.

Tanner Houck started and threw five perfect innings for the Red Sox. However, the Red Sox decided to pull him out when his turn to turn came in the sixth.

The Nationals eventually threatened to score in the seventh to load the bases. However, the Red Sox came out with a call strike three in search of Jordy Mercer, who was ejected as he got into a fight right away.

It was the turn of the Red Sox to load the bases in the eighth. But they got nothing out of it after Devers waved goodbye.

In the bottom of the same inning, the Nationals loaded the bases again due to Red Sox miscues (more on that later). Juan Soto looked to hit a grand slam off the bat, but his flyout to the middle came up short. However, it was deep enough for the runner to score from third base and tie the game on a sacrifice fly.

After coming out of the inning without giving up another run, JD Martinez led off the ninth with a walk. Jose Iglesias squeezed for him, but consecutive strikeouts didn’t allow him to advance until Christian Vázquez hit a tie-breaking triple and Iglesias scored from first. Travis Shaw followed with an RBI single and Kiké Hernández set up the exclamation point with a two-run homer to the left.

Andrew Stevenson cut into the Red Sox lead on the night with a two-run home run. But Hansel Robles was able to finish the Nationals and move the Red Sox closer to the playoffs.

Player of the game

Tanner Houck – 5 innings pitched, 8 strikeouts, 0 runs, 0 hits, 0 walks.

When your starting pitcher throws five perfect innings, it’s hard to get a better performance than that. It also became a much-needed outing, as the bats of the Red Sox scored only one run in the first eight innings.

Houck couldn’t have looked much better either. Of the 15 outs he made, more than half were strikeouts (eight) and only one out was an outfield flyout. He allowed a runner with a wild pitch nearly three times, but Andrew Stevenson was hit by the ball after he waved off and missed, putting him out.

From Houck’s eight strikeouts, five came from Nationals hitters sniffing Houck’s slider. Because no matter how up and down Houck’s start this season, Saturday’s performance was certainly a good end to the regular season.

What it means

The Red Sox moved to the top wildcard spot in the American League with Saturday’s win. They decide their own fate in the playoffs to enter the regular season finals, meaning a win would land them the top wildcard spot.

Boston started the day in second place but moved up after New York fell in Tampa earlier in the day. The Blue Jays ran their own business and defeated the Orioles. With their win, the Blue Jays are one game behind the Red Sox and are still in the game for a wildcard spot.

The Mariners will face the Angels later on Saturday. Seattle must win to keep its playoff hopes alive. If the Mariners win, they’ll be a game behind the Red Sox and Yankees.

At the very least, the Red Sox will be in a playoff game to reach the Wild Card Game.

Takeaways

1. It’s pretty clear that the Red Sox still don’t trust Houck to last long in his starts.

On Saturday, Houck threw only 53 pitches over five innings. However, since they are in a National League baseball field, batters have to throw. So when it was Houck’s turn to bat in the sixth, Alex Cora decided to pinch him for Christian Arroyo, with the Red Sox only leading 1-0.

Part of that is on Houck, who gave up three earned runs in less than five innings in each of his last two starts. But his longest appearance of the year was 5 1/3 innings pitched, coming against the Indians on August 29. In that game, Houck crossed the line-up of the Indians twice without giving up a run, before falling apart in the sixth inning when he faced the order for a third time.

But Cora said it wasn’t because he was facing the Nationals. Instead, it was about his workload.

“It was enough for us,” said Cora about Houck’s performance. “Five innings and what he did the other day in Baltimore and you add that – this guy is very important to us. Not just today, but he will be important to us in the coming days.”

2. With no DH again on Saturday, the Red Sox chose to make their lineup heavy offensively by again playing Kiké Hernández in second and Kyle Schwarber in first. They almost cost them those decisions.

In the seventh, Schwarber’s inexperience first showed. Andrew Stevenson hit a routine groundball to Schwarber. With Stevenson ramping up speed as he ran to the base, Schwarber probably wouldn’t have beaten him there. However, he could have tagged it out or thrown the ball to Ryan Brasier, who ran to cover the base.

However, Schwarber was indecisive and threw the ball in a weird way that gave Brasier the ball in midfield and loaded the bases. Fortunately for Schwarber, Brasier struckout the next batter to end the inning.

The problem came up again in the eighth. With Hernández back on second base on Saturday, Hunter Renfroe moved back to center. Ryan Zimmerman hit a routine flyball to the center, but Renfroe lost sight of the ball, which fell before he could reach it in the shallow center. Zimmerman moved to second base on the play and gave a flying start to the inning in which he later scored.

3. Hitting the Red Sox in key spots wasn’t quite as clutch until it was.

Schwarber hit a first-inning double and advanced to third base on a wild pitch. Xander Bogaerts came on board with a walk, but the inning ended when Rafael Devers grounded into a double play.

After hitting a solo homer in the fourth, Devers had another at bat with a runner in scoring position in the sixth. But he popped out to end the inning.

Devers got another chance with runners in scoring position to break open the game. Three walks in a row loaded the bases for him and he was able to get a full count in his at bat. However, he was unable to hit the fastball in the corner of the strike zone and struckout to end the inning.

Unable to get a hit in the Red Sox’s only chances with runners in scoring position, Devers stepped up to give the Red Sox the lead. Christian Vázquez, who batted .130 for the past two weeks on Saturday, became the unlikely hero when he hit a tie-breaking triple to score Jose Iglesias from the first run. The triple was his first of the season.

Travis Shaw, who has been relegated to the bench for much of the past two weeks, added an insurance run before Hernández added with a two-run homerun.

4. Hansel Robles continues to impress from the bullpen. The trade deadline takeover had some bad forays in its first month in Boston.

But September was a solid month for the right-wingers. He did not allow a run in 12 games in September. He also gave up only five basehits and a walk in 10 2/3 innings pitched.

Robles’ number was called in the ninth after Stevenson’s two-run homerun narrowed the Red Sox’s lead to 5-3. Robles retired the next two batters, walked Ryan Zimmerman and Lane Thomas popped out to end the game.

It was Robles’ 14th save in 16 chances this season. He has yet to make a save with the Red Sox, which may make him the right person for the vacant closing role.

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