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Mike Shalin's Working Press: Playoff-bound Sox are hot at the right time

By MIKE SHALIN
September 22. 2017 12:18AM


IT REALLY came down to a formality, but the Red Sox are back in the postseason for the second straight season (yes, last year counts.)

These are their first back-to-back trips to the October fun since going three straight years from 2007-09.

They have gotten hot at the right time, and this year they don’t have to deal with all the David Ortiz fanfare in the final week.

It’s easy to forget that before losing five of their last six games amid the Ortiz stuff and then getting swept by the Indians in the ALDS that the Red Sox had won 11 straight games before the miserable ending, thus salting away the division. This September, they’ve again gotten hot at the right time and are holding the surging Yankees at bay entering the final 10 games.

Consider this: The Yankees swept the Twins in New York this week, all but clinching at least a wild card spot. Through Wednesday, they had won 14 of their last 18 games — a run usually worthy of making up ground. The Red Sox, though, swept the Orioles in Baltimore and have won 11 of their last 14.

So, the lead is three and it appears the only thing the Red Sox have in front of them is waiting to see if they will play Houston or Cleveland in the first round. Oddly, with four games here against the Astros next weekend, they could have something to say about that, which presents a potentially interesting scenario.

It seems to be no secret around New England and probably around baseball that the Red Sox would be better off avoiding the Indians in the return ALDS matchup, right? OK, let’s say we enter the final four games and the Astros, who trailed Cleveland by 1½ games through Wednesday night, are tied with the Indians for best record. The Red Sox could then be in a position of creating a tougher matchup for themselves if they lose, say, three out of four to the ’Stros.

In other words, they could be fighting for their own playoff lives even though they’re cemented in the third seed. Interesting.

Bullpen takes shape

After sending a message out of Facebook the other night, I have to talk about something regarding John Farrell: For all the heat this guy takes — even when he wins — let’s not overlook the job he is doing with his bullpen.

Basically, the return of Carson Smith and the addition of David Price to the ’pen have given the Boston bullpen a bit of that look that tends to be so important in the postseason. This group is deep and Farrell has managed to get these guys, including Smith, ready for multiple roles. And, for the second straight year, his team has rallied in September and he deserves credit for that too.

Now, the starters.

We had Doug Fister penciled in as No. 3 but his quick drop and the apparent return to form of Rick Porcello changes all that. Now, it looks like Fister will be fighting Eduardo Rodriguez for the fourth start — and probably for a spot on the roster.

Pats getting healthier?

Newcomer Brandin Cooks, asked Wednesday what it was like to see fellow receivers Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Philip Dorsett back on the practice field, said, “It was awesome.”

No guarantees for Sunday against the battered and bruised Texans, but Dont’a Hightower was also back at practice and Rob Gronkowski was at least out there, even though he was listed as a non-participant. Gronkowski was listed as a limited participant on Thursday.

J.J. Watt, who did not play against the Pats in last year’s playoff game, comes to Foxborough with exactly no sacks of Tom Brady in four career games.

The Texans have never won at Gillette and the Pats lead the series 8-1, counting playoffs.

You have to keep an eye on Deshaun Watson, who will be making his second pro start Sunday, but Bill Belichick is 8-0 against visiting rookie QBs, who have thrown five touchdowns and 16 interceptions and run up a 50.7 passer rating in those eight games.

Worthy cause

Watt revealed Wednesday that Brady had donated $100,000 and Belichick $50,000 to his Hurricane Harvey relief effort. Brady didn’t want to take much credit and said, “I think everybody was pretty touched by what happened,” Brady said. “I have a lot friends down there. I’d rather not comment too much, other than a lot of people need a lot of help.”

Another worthy cause: added box seat netting in MLB parks after that little girl was hit in the face by a Todd Frazier line drive Wednesday. Ten teams have already extended their netting and the guess is all will by next season — the Yankees likely to have it when they return home to play Monday.

Not worth reading?

Belichick said Wednesday he will not read Brady’s new health and fitness book “The TB12 Method.” “We see Tom every day,” the coach said. “I don’t really feel like we need to read a book.” Said Brady, after shrugging: “Maybe I’ll give it to him at Christmas.”

The Vegas Golden Knights have a fun Twitter feed. After winning their first two preseason games, they bragged about having more wins than the Patriots, Cowboys and “the Washington Pro Football Club.” Then, they knocked the Canadiens, the Yankees of their sport, proclaiming, “We’re definitely proud! But not as proud as @CanadiensMTL are of how many championships they won when there were only 6 teams in the league.”

Torey Krug will be re-evaluated in three weeks after breaking his jaw Tuesday — not a great sign for a questionable Bruins defense. … Finally, after the Knights scored nine goals in their first game, column pal Ken Powtak pointed out “they should have scored seven” because that’s a Vegas magic number.

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is shalinmike@yahoo.com.


Sports Patriots/NFL Red Sox/MLB

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