The night after the Red Sox clinched the American League East crown (!) Henry Owens took the mound with most of the regulars having the night off. It went about as well as you might expect.
Top Play (WPA): With the game tied at one in the bottom of the fifth inning, Aaron Hicks led things off with a bloop bunt single that just barely got past Henry Owens’ outstretched glove. After Hicks reached, Owens composed himself and retired the next two batters. But then Jacoby Ellsbury – who had a terrific game (two hits, two walks, a stolen base, a run scored and a RBI) – doubled to center field, plating Hicks for the Yankees’ second run (WPA: +.166).
Bottom Play (WPA): The bottom play of the game came in the top half of the fifth inning. After Jackie Bradley Jr. grounded out to start the inning, Ryan Hanigan, getting his first start in two weeks, singled to center. Unfortunately, the threat of any run scoring was quickly extinguished, as CC Sabathia got Travis Shaw to roll over a slider, grounding it down the first base line. Yankee first baseman Tyler Austin fielded the ball, touched first base and then threw to second in time to get the plodding Hanigan (WPA: -.069). It was the closest the Red Sox would come to having a player reach second base safely the rest of the night.
Key Moment: It did not have much bearing on the final outcome of the game, but Xander Bogaerts’ game-tying home run in the fourth inning off CC Sabathia was a welcome sight. It is also worth noting that the ball he hit in the ninth probably would have left the yard on another night, but the nasty wind howling around Yankee Stadium late last night knocked it down. These moments are noteworthy because Xander has scuffled significantly in the second half, leading to questions about him being fatigued and worries about how he will hold up through the playoffs. While it is almost certainly the case that he is fatigued after playing in all but five of the Red Sox’s 159 games, Xander’s performance over the last two weeks suggests he is fine. Over that period, he has posted a batting line of .261/.370/.435 (54 PA), which is much closer to his impressive first half line (.329/.388/.475) than it is to what his second half line was two weeks ago (through September 14: .250/.302/.394). Hopefully he has regained his stroke at the plate and can continue his recent string of success into the postseason.
Trend to Watch: Playing time. How will John Farrell manage to give his players time off between now and the start of the Division Series? It is a good idea to give the regulars a day or two off before next week’s postseason games, but also important to give them enough playing time to keep them fresh and ready to roll. It will be a juggling act. There is also the concern of winning enough to earn/maintain home-field advantage in their playoff series. Given Cleveland’s injury issues, I think the Red Sox’s preference should be to play Cleveland, rather than the winner of the Wild Card game (Toronto/Baltimore/Detroit). So securing the second best record in the AL is of interest, but chasing the top spot is likely not worth it.
Coming next: The Red Sox head home to Fenway and welcome in the Toronto Blue Jays for the final series of the season. There was a time not too long ago when this series had the potential to be very important, but now the Sox are playing out the string, and will be focusing on lining themselves up for the playoffs as best they can. Rick Porcello will take the hill for the Red Sox looking to finish up his strong season on a positive note. Opposing Porcello on the mound will be the Blue Jays’ Marco Estrada. Estrada has had another solid season in Toronto, as his ability to get batted balls turned into outs continued at an incredibly high rate. Ideally the offense can knock Estrada around a bit and make Toronto’s quest to secure the top wild card spot difficult.
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