Sox's ALCS roster features 2 new relievers

October 15th, 2021

HOUSTON -- Back in the American League Championship Series for the first time since 2018, the Red Sox hope to do what they did three years ago and defeat the Astros on their way to the World Series.

It won’t be easy. Houston is loaded and went 5-2 against Boston this season.

Here is the 26-man roster the Sox submitted for this best-of-seven series that opens Friday night at 8:07 p.m. ET at Minute Maid Park. The notable changes for this round are the additions of relievers Hirokazu Sawamura and Darwinzon Hernandez in place of Austin Davis and Matt Barnes, who replaced Garrett Richards in the ALDS due to a left hamstring injury.

Christian Vázquez, C: The veteran came through for some big moments in the AL Division Series against the Rays, most notably when he hit a walk-off two-run homer to win Game 3 in 13 innings. Vázquez will start ALCS Game 1 with left-hander Chris Sale on the mound. He is smooth behind the plate.

Kevin Plawecki, C: Plawecki will start Game 2 when right-hander Nathan Eovaldi takes the mound. Those two have an excellent rapport. In games Plawecki doesn’t start, don’t be surprised to see manager Alex Cora use him as a pinch-hitter against lefties.

Kyle Schwarber, DH/1B/LF: All Schwarber has done so far in this postseason is cement his reputation as a player who loves the October spotlight. Schwarber has been doing a solid job since Cora moved him to the leadoff spot to open the postseason. The Red Sox hope his inexperience at first base doesn’t show in this series.

Bobby Dalbec, 1B: The right-handed-hitting slugger could get some playing time in this series against lefties, but he’s 0-for-10 with four strikeouts so far in the postseason. Look for Dalbec to enter as a defensive replacement in the late innings when the Red Sox have a lead.

Christian Arroyo, 2B: Considering he didn’t play much down the stretch, Arroyo (5-for-19 this postseason) is holding his own as the everyday second baseman. He had one of the more underrated plays in the ALDS Game 4 walk-off win against the Rays, dropping down a perfect sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning.

Xander Bogaerts, SS: Boston’s team leader is looking for his third World Series ring. Bogaerts ended the regular season in a slump, but he has come on in the postseason, putting up a 1.085 OPS in five games.

Rafael Devers, 3B: The left-handed slugger is playing through a right forearm injury that has made it tough for him to get to high fastballs. However, Devers is still finding moments to make an impact, such as when he belted a three-run homer in Game 4 of the ALDS.

Alex Verdugo, OF: In his first trip to the postseason, Verdugo is proving to be a big-game player, going 8-for-23 in five games. He has also played solid defense in left field.

Kiké Hernández, CF/2B: Talk about getting hot when his team needed it most. That was Hernández in the ALDS, as he went 9-for-20 with three doubles and two homers. He has played outstanding defense in center field all season.

Hunter Renfroe, RF: The Astros should beware of Renfroe, who is due to put one or two in the seats after not having an RBI in his first five games of the postseason. Renfroe had 31 homers and 96 RBIs in the regular season.

J.D. Martinez, DH: The star slugger came back from a left ankle sprain that kept him out of the AL Wild Card Game vs. the Yankees to come through with some big moments in the ALDS. He went 7-for-15 with one homer and only one strikeout in three games against the Rays.

Travis Shaw, PH: Cora loves using Shaw as a pinch-hitter in the late innings against righties. In a big situation in Game 4 of the ALDS, Shaw got his bat on the ball and recorded an infield hit that set up Hernández for the series-ending sacrifice fly.

Danny Santana, UTL: The switch-hitting Santana was used as a pinch-runner in Game 4 of the ALDS, scooting home on Hernández’s sac fly that eliminated the Rays. Santana’s speed and defensive versatility are the two reasons he is on the roster.

Chris Sale, LHP: Considering Sale recorded only 10 total outs over his past two starts, it is somewhat surprising Cora is handing him the ball in Game 1. Look for the hyper-competitive Sale to do everything in his power to reward his manager for that show of faith. Sale, a seven-time All-Star, has made 10 starts since returning from Tommy John surgery.

Nathan Eovaldi, RHP: The flame-throwing righty is again holding up to the October spotlight. Eovaldi has 16 strikeouts while allowing three earned runs in 10 1/3 innings this postseason. He will get the ball in Game 2.

Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP: The veteran lefty struggled in Game 1 of the ALDS, but he bounced back with a strong performance in Game 4. He will likely get a start when this series moves back to Boston.

Nick Pivetta, RHP: The intense righty earned a spot in Boston postseason lore when he tossed four scoreless innings in the 13-inning epic that was ALDS Game 3. There’s a chance Pivetta will be used as a starter in this series, but he will be available in the bullpen in the first two games.

Garrett Whitlock, RHP: The rookie Rule 5 pick has been Boston’s best reliever all season, and that has continued into the postseason. Though the Red Sox don’t have a set closer, Whitlock is most likely to get the ball in the ninth inning with the game on the line.

Tanner Houck, RHP: The talented and powerful righty came through in a huge spot in Game 2 of the ALDS when he tossed five tremendous innings of relief for the win. Houck is most likely to be used in relief in this series, but don’t be shocked if he gets a start.

Hansel Robles, RHP: Robles was an afterthought when he was acquired at the Trade Deadline. However, he turned into a crucial pitcher for Cora down the stretch. He hit a rough patch, though, when he gave up two runs in the eighth inning in Game 3 of the ALDS.

Ryan Brasier, RHP: A key factor in Boston’s brilliant October run in ’18, Brasier had been on a roll before giving up three straight hits to allow the Rays to tie Game 4 of the ALDS in the eighth inning. The Red Sox are hoping that was just a bump in the road.

Hirokazu Sawamura, RHP: Left off the roster for the AL Wild Card Game and the ALDS, Sawamura will be back in action this round. He has gotten big outs for Boston all season, though he struggled after coming back from the COVID-19 injured list.

Adam Ottavino, RHP: For most of the season, Ottavino was one of Cora’s top high-leverage relievers. But he struggled in September and has pitched only one inning in Boston’s five postseason games. Perhaps he will be needed more in this series.

Josh Taylor, LHP: Boston’s most underrated reliever, Taylor is particularly dominant against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .364 OPS in 2021, including three appearances in the postseason.

Darwinzon Hernandez, LHP: The power lefty was left off the roster for the AL Wild Card Game and the ALDS, but Cora thinks Hernandez will be valuable in this round. Hernandez pitched in 48 games this season, but he has pitched only once since Sept. 25, when he gave up a game-breaking grand slam to the Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton.

Martín Pérez, LHP: Pérez began the season as a starter, but he spent the final couple months in the bullpen, where he will remain for the postseason. The Red Sox think that Pérez’s mid-90s fastball will translate into some outs when needed in this series. He also offers some length if a starter gets in trouble. Pérez was on the roster in the ALDS, but he didn’t pitch.