On Tuesday night in Boston, the Red Sox will begin a three-game series with the last-place Minnesota Twins. The reigning division champs are currently 54-70, good for the third-worst record in the AL.
Following the Athletics’ 5-3 loss at the hands of the Mariners yesterday, the Sox sit a full game ahead of Oakland for the second Wild Card spot. In order to keep pace with the Athletics, Boston will again need to capitalize on the weakness of their current schedule.
Game 1 (Tuesday, 7:10 PM ET)
Tanner Houck (0-3, 3.12 ERA) will be tasked with starting Game One for Boston. In his last outing, Houck allowed a pair of earned runs over four innings against New York. He surrendered five hits while punching out just two.
Despite the lack of swing-and-miss stuff in his latest start, the Mizzou product has proven himself as strikeout pitcher. Over 34.2 innings pitched in 2021, Houck has gotten 46 outs by means of the K. His devastating slider, which he throws 36% of the time, has an incredible whiff rate of 37.5% (according to baseballsavant.mlb.com). To put that into perspective, Yu Darvish’s slider (which is considered to be among the league’s finest), has garnered a whiff rate of 23.1%.
It will again be interesting to see how long Alex Cora leaves Houck in the game. His longest outing of the season remains five innings (on two occasions). As he will be a core member of the rotation from now on, it seems practical that Cora would want to stretch him out across six or more innings.
Griffin Jax (3-1, 5.11 ERA) will be on the bump to open the series for the Twins. The right-hander has an ERA of just 3.12 over his last three starts. On August 10th, he baffled a potent White Sox lineup, striking out 10 over six innings of work. The outing was the first of two straight quality starts for the 26-year-old. Jax struggled early on as a big-leaguer, but the rookie seems to have found his groove here in August.
Game 2 (Wednesday, 7:10 PM ET)
Nick Pivetta (9-6, 4.43 ERA) will start for the Sox in Game Two. Pivetta has had a wildly up-and-down season. In his last outing, he surrendered four earned runs to New York in just 1.2 innings pitched. That came after dominating Baltimore and Toronto in consecutive starts.
At his best, Pivetta has shown ace potential, such as when he shut out Oakland over seven innings on July 4th. However, the 28-year-old hasn’t been able to maintain any level of equilibrium. Following his Independence Day fireworks, he allowed four earned runs in each of his next three starts. Heading into the final stretch, it is crucial for Pivetta to find stability, and to prove that he can trusted in the postseason.
Headlining Game Two for Minnesota will be the rookie right-hander Bailey Ober (1-2, 4.38 ERA). Ober has made 14 starts this season, posting a 1.26 WHIP with 65 Ks over 63.2 IP. Over his last two outings, he has a minuscule ERA of 1.62, allowing 2 earned runs in 11.1 innings of work. Ober, despite his inconspicuous season stats, has shown potential to be a key part of the Minnesota rotation moving forward.
Game 3 (Thursday, 7:10 PM ET)
Chris Sale (2-0, 1.80 ERA) will make his third start of the season on Thursday. Since returning from Tommy John surgery, the southpaw has looked like his old self, striking out 13 over ten innings. On Friday, Sale tossed five shutout innings against Texas to earn his second straight win.
While the initial plan wasn’t to rely on Sale to come back and save the rotation, he has provided a necessary boost since his return. The Sox will again look to Sale to be a steadying presence on the mound as he vies to remain unbeaten.
Taking the ball for the Twins in Game Three will be the veteran John Gant (4-7, 3.77 ERA). Gant has appeared in 33 games this season, starting 15. The Georgia native has struggled in the month of August, allowing eight earned runs over 12 innings pitched. Despite posting a 6.00 ERA in that span, he has shown an increase in swing-and-miss stuff, striking out 17.
Keys to the Series
Following Boston’s walk off win over the Rangers, the energy brought by the team was emphasized.
When asked about the players only meeting called prior to the series finale, Alex Verdugo said, “the biggest thing to come from it was just we want to play energized. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if something good is happening, bad is happening. It feels good to hear that. When you’re in the box and hear your guys cheering you on from the dugout, it makes a hitter lock in a little bit more.”
The Red Sox will need to keep bringing that energy if they want to remain in the Wild Card race. Vitality (on the mound, in the field, and in the batter’s box) will be essential in preventing another slip in the standings. If this team can stay locked in and loose, they have a chance to gain crucial ground on New York, while distancing themselves from Oakland.