OCTOBER BASEBALL IN MAY.
The Red Sox, who have cleaned up on some weaker competition, now play six of their next 10 games against the Houston Astros starting with three this weekend at Fenway and ending with three in Houston over the holiday weekend.
The Red Sox have won six of their last seven, nine of their last 11 and 12 of their last 15.
The Astros, coming off a three-game sweep in Detroit, have won eight straight and 10 of their last 11. They have outscored their opposition 66-17 during the eight-game run and it was 24-6 in Detroit. They have already opened a big lead in the AL West.
The teams have faced each other the last two Octobers, the Astros winning the World Series in 2017, Boston winning in 2018.
Obviously, these two series won’t determine much in relation to where the teams finish. But depending on whom you’re asking, these may well be the two best teams in baseball.
A couple of breaks for the Red Sox heading into this weekend: Jose Altuve is on the Injured List and Justin Verlander (7-1) won’t pitch at Fenway.
Chris Sale goes for the Sox on Sunday, looking to build on two rather incredible starts; and leaving the outing Tuesday night amid a bit of some controversy.
He threw 108 pitches in striking out 17 — the most ever by a pitcher through seven innings — and some screamed for manager Alex Cora to leave him in the game. Cora didn’t — and it was the RIGHT move.
Remember, the goal is to have Sale, who faces the Astros his next two times out, overcome what has been a history of faltering late in the season, fresh and healthy when it matters. Strikeout records don’t matter.
The Mets once left Johan Santana out to throw a million pitches to finish a no-hitter and it basically ended his career. Once upon a time, the same thing happened to Pete Vuckovich in a game at Fenway Park.
“There’s a bigger goal here, and we’ve been very disciplined throughout the process,” said Cora.
Asked about his skinny lefty’s reaction, the manager said, “In the tunnel he goes, ‘You’re not going to let me get 20?’ Sarcastic, but probably serious too.”
Said Sale: “You got 17 punchouts, you definitely want to go out for the last inning. But I respect him as much as anybody on the planet, and I’ll never question anything he does.”
The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, appearing with Chris Russo on MLB Network Wednesday, made a valid point: Strikeouts just don’t mean what they once did. Everyone is swinging from the heels. To that I add: How many times would someone like Nolan Ryan be making a run at 20 Ks in the current game?
Meanwhile, Sale is back.
Consider the following from the Sox’ post-game notes after the Tuesday night game:
“Chris Sale struck out his first 6 batters, the longest streak of his career to begin a game, and tied for the longest by a Red Sox in the Expansion Era (1961-present; also Ray Culp, 5/11/70 at CAL) (source: Elias Sports Bureau).
“Chris Sale struck out a career-high 17 batters and walked none in 7 IP last night, after he had 14 SO and 0 BB in his previous start...Elias notes that Sale is just the 2nd pitcher since 1900 to strike out 30+ batters and walk none over a 2-start span, joining Dwight Gooden in 1984.
“Elias also notes that Sale is only the 2nd Red Sox pitcher ever to post back-to-back starts of at least 10 SO and 0 BB, joining Cy Young (9/19 & 9/23, 1905). It had been 19 years since a Sox pitcher struck out 17+ batters (Pedro Martinez, 17, 5/6/00 vs. TB)...Sale is the 1st pitcher ever with 17+ SO in a start of 7.0 IP or fewer.”
Get all that?
Count owner Wyc Grousbeck as being sympathetic to the fans over the puzzling Celtics this season.
This team was the favorite to go to the NBA Finals, but, as you know, it didn’t quite work out that way and now the team is facing an offseason of uncertainty and perhaps even a big of rebuilding.
“I felt like it just wasn’t knitting together, and then it did knit together for five games in a row, and then it fell apart again,” Grousbeck said on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
“We’re all annoyed and upset and disappointed. I feel like there was a mismatch between the talent that we had on paper and the way that it was expressed on the court. The actual and the potential, there was a gap.”
Now what? July 1 looms as the big date on the calendar. What happens with Kyrie Irving? Do the Celtics have a shot at landing Anthony Davis? What about the Kevin Durants of the world?
I asked column pal Larry Rosoff what he would deal to New Orleans to get an unsigned Davis, who has one year left before free agency — Boston taking him WITHOUT a new deal.
His answer? Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Aron Baynes and the 20th and 22nd picks in the first round. Interesting. Potentially, for one year.
The mock drafts began to flow almost immediately after the Celtics wound up with the 14th pick in the first round. A quick sampling of what was projected to Boston in the first round; from Sports Illustrated: PJ Washington, power forward, Kentucky; shooting guard Nickeil Alexander from Virginia Tech; and guard Luguentz Dort from Arizona State.
On Washington, SI wrote: “Whether or not the Celtics get Kyrie Irving back long-term, the thing they certainly don’t lack is scorers, and a potential glue guy like Washington might make sense in this slot, He wouldn’t be a sexy pick, but has an appealing, translatable skill set that should fit into an NBA frontline sooner than later. If Washington can continue to improve his outside shooting (although his free throws remain subpar), it will go a long way.”
With Memphis roaring into the second spot in the draft, their top-eight protected pick that’s going to Boston switched to next year. Now, the Celtics have the Grizzlies’ top six-protected pick next year. Memphis isn’t likely to be in the top six, but if that does happen, the pick moves back to 2021, with zero protection.
Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.