As the suspense of the American League East race fades with Boston steaming ahead, we focus on other events worth watching.
Monday is a good example.
At Fenway Park, another playoff contender comes to town, with the Cleveland Indians visiting.
And at Hadlock Field, a key part of the Red Sox rotation might be walking to the mound, as Eduardo Rodriguez continues his journey back from an injured ankle.
Meanwhile, keep a check on the team’s health; not only Rodriguez’s ankle but Chris Sales’ shoulder, Rafael Devers’ hamstring and Christian Vazquez’s finger.
As for the Indians, they’re the only team Boston has yet to face. Terry Francona’s gang was 70-52 after Saturday’s loss to Baltimore. The Indians play four games in Fenway and the Red Sox visit Cleveland for three more on Sept. 21-23.
Not only are these games a possible preview of the American League Championship Series but a good test for the Red Sox, who are feasting on lesser teams.
Boston, 87-36 before Saturday night’s game, is crushing most noncontenders – 14-2 against Baltimore, 12-4 vs. Toronto, and a combined 19-2 against Texas, Kansas City, Miami and the Angels. The only blip for now is a 1-2 record against the lowly White Sox.
Now look at the Red Sox against American League contenders: 4-3 vs. Seattle, 2-2 vs. Houston, 2-4 vs. Oakland and 8-5 against the Yankees. Boston still has six games left with New York, three against Houston, and of course the bunch against Cleveland.
The Indians play in the terrible AL Central but aren’t to be overlooked. Boston is first in the AL in runs; Cleveland is third. Boston is third in starters’ ERA (3.56); Cleveland is second (3.30). The bullpen has been a problem in Cleveland, but the team traded for Brad Hand, then got Andrew Miller off the disabled list two weeks ago. Starters Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber are both 15-6. Trevor Bauer (12-6) is on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his right foot but is due back for the postseason.
Cleveland is expected to throw Kluber on Monday, Shane Bieber (6-2) on Tuesday and Carrasco on Wednesday.
These are not must-win games for Boston but the challenge is obvious. A contender is coming to town. How will the Red Sox respond?
RODRIGUEZ FIGURES to make a rehab appearance this week and initial reports had Rodriguez pitching in Portland on Monday, when Triple-A Pawtucket has a day off. As of Saturday afternoon, the team hadn’t made an announcement.
If Rodriguez comes back to his pre-injury form, it will be quite a boost for Boston and give Manager Alex Cora more options with his staff. Before Rodriguez hurt his right ankle while covering first base on July 14, he was riding a 19-inning scoreless streak.
Rodriguez could slide into the No. 4 slot in the rotation behind Sale – assuming his latest DL stint is only a precaution – Rick Porcello and David Price. Newly acquired right-hander Nathan Eovaldi would be a strong No. 5 starter. His bullpen experience is limited but that high 90’s fastball should work well in relief.
Dominant pitching is a premium in the playoffs (not exactly breaking news), and Rodriguez adds to the depth – which may mean less reliance on others (re: Drew Pomeranz and his 6.34 ERA).
OTHER INJURIES will be concerning if they become more problematic than expected – especially Sale and his “mild” shoulder inflammation. Sale said the shoulder is less sore than the last time he hit the DL (July 28 to Aug. 12) and he could pitch now if the team was in a tight division race.
Also recently returning to the DL was Devers and his balky hamstring. It’s not a bad idea to make sure Devers is closer to 100 percent. It’s also not a bad idea for Devers to get some rehab games, seeing that he’s batting .215 in his last 15 games.
Vazquez had surgery for a broken pinkie last month. He likely will return in September when a counter roster move doesn’t have to be made because rosters can be expanded next month.
The question is what role Vazquez will have. He was only batting .213 when he went on the DL on July 8. Sandy Leon is batting only .212 but judging by the pitchers’ praise of his game-calling, appears to have cemented the No. 1 job. And Blake Swihart, since getting more playing time, is batting .333 (14 for 42) in July and August.
WHILE THE Red Sox keep winning, there will be talk of breaking the franchise record for wins (105 in 1912) or winning percentage (.691, also in 1912, in a 154-game schedule). Winning 112 games would be a .691 percentage.
It’s nice to talk about it but the obvious prize comes in late October. Winning a lot of games is not everything if you don’t win the last one (re: the 2007 New England Patriots).