BOSTON -- One thing that would aid the Red Sox greatly in their quest to upset the Astros in the American League Championship Series that starts tonight?
The resurgence of ace Chris Sale.
The past two trips to the mound have not gone well at all for Sale, who has made 10 starts since coming back from Tommy John surgery.
It’s doubtful Boston can beat Houston in a best-of-seven without a functional Sale. The Red Sox feel the seven-time All-Star might be on the verge of a breakthrough.
Cora actually had Sale warming up in the bullpen in Game 4 against the Rays in the ALDS and said the left-hander would have come on for the series-clinching save opportunity if Boston had the lead going into the ninth inning.
With the game tied, Garrett Whitlock stayed in for a second inning. It turns out that warming up Sale could wind up being something that helps him in this series.
“He feels good about where he’s at,” Cora said. “I had a conversation with somebody today, and it was music to my ears because they said something about, ‘He found it in the bullpen.’ The last time I heard somebody found it in the bullpen was David Price in [October ] ’18, and he took off.
“Hopefully, he found something in the bullpen, but I think we recognized a few things that are going to get him to the point that he’s more balanced and he’s more direct to the plate, he’s over the rubber -- and if he does that, he’ll be fine.
“Maybe we’re making a big deal out of it too. He’s just struggled three times against [the Rays]. You never know. For how much we look into stuff, sometimes we don’t find it and other teams find it. But I do believe he feels good where he’s at. He’s going to pitch such meaningful innings in this series and, hopefully, the World Series, and all this talk is going to be in the past.”
Cora will announce his starters for the first two games of the series Thursday during a workout in Houston. There’s a chance Sale will be in play for one of those games. If not, he will be available as a reliever.
A home-field scenario for the Red Sox?
After winning the AL Wild Card Game, it seemed safe to assume the Red Sox wouldn’t get home-field advantage in any round of these playoffs.
In Division Series and Championship Series rounds, the Wild Card team starts on the road regardless of record.
However, the rule is different for the World Series. At that point, the team with the best record is granted home-field advantage.
If the Red Sox (92-70 in the regular season) beat the Astros in this round and the Braves (88-73) defeat either the Dodgers and Giants in the National League Championship Series, Boston would host Games 1 and 2 of the World Series, as well as 6 and 7, if necessary.
The Dodgers and Giants both had better records than Boston, so the Sox would start on the road in a matchup with either of those squads.
In their four World Series appearances since 2004, the Red Sox have held home-field advantage every time. They won all four of those Fall Classics.
The Astros are ‘a great team’
Cora has a lot of respect for the team he is about to go up against in the ALCS. Houston went 5-2 against Boston during the regular season.
“It's a great team, complete team,” Cora said. “Obviously, there's certain guys that I know that we worked together before, but they added some great players the last few years, like [Michael] Brantley. He is one of the best hitters in the big leagues. Obviously, pitching-wise, they're a lot different than the past. Throughout the season, they did good job just staying on top of the West in a tough division with the Mariners and A’s.”
Though he wasn’t prompted to do so, Cora went out of his way to praise Astros manager Dusty Baker.
“And there's a reason they're here. They're very well managed, and Dusty has done this, since he became a manager with the Giants back in the day in Candlestick Park,” Cora said. “For him to still be around and have the energy to do it, it’s impressive.”
“I would say it's the same as '13. I don't feel like it's the same as '18,” said Bogaerts. “That '18 team was just a PlayStation team that you created. All the names and all the players that we had on that team, it was unbelievable. But this one reminds me a lot of ’13. A lot of guys have to play different roles, respect the role, understand the role. It's fun so far to see a lot of guys stepping in when it's needed.”