HOUSTON -- Ever the optimist, Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell sat behind the desk in the visiting clubhouse here Friday morning and said he's more likely to pitch ace Chris Sale in Game 5 against the Houston Astros than bring him back on short rest for Game 4.
At this point, Farrell might as well just pencil in Sale for Opening Day -- in 2018.
Let's go right ahead and call this best-of-five American League Division Series what it is: a colossal mismatch. If it wasn't clear before the past two days deep in the heart of Texas, it's plain to see after twin 8-2 Astros routs Thursday and Friday. The Red Sox might have won 93 games and a division title during the regular season, but they aren't in the Astros' class. Not even a little bit.
The Astros have a prolific offense that bashes home runs and eschews strikeouts with equal proficiency; the Red Sox have less power than any team in the league and rely on daring baserunning and assembly-line-style rallies to scratch out runs. The Astros have a right-left combination atop their rotation with Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel; the Red Sox have a fatigued Sale and a good bullpen that is rarely handed a lead.
Were this a boxing match, the referee would've stopped the fight by now. Truth be told, Red Sox stars Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia probably wouldn't object to that outcome, considering they're playing through painful left wrist and left knee injuries, respectively, that flared up at times during Game 2.
But the Red Sox will have to endure one more loss before being put out of their misery. And the only thing that stands between them and a division-series sweep for the second year in a row is 33-year-old right-hander Doug Fister, who was unemployed until May, claimed off waivers by Boston in June and tabbed to start Game 3 on Sunday at Fenway Park.
"We can't go out and bang like [the Astros] and can't do a lot of things they can do," said Betts, confident he will be able to start Game 3, despite receiving an injection of cortisone in his left wrist last week and aggravating it on a swing in the eighth inning on Friday. "But we can do what we can do. What we do got us in the playoffs, and I'm pretty sure it can win us the World Series too."
That's wishful thinking from Betts, a defensive whiz in right field whose dropped throw on a fly ball contributed to the Astros' four-run sixth inning on Friday and symbolized the Red Sox's full-scale meltdown in the series thus far.
"They've done everything right and we haven't done anything right," Pedroia said. "We just got our ass kicked twice. We've got to take a step back in the off day [Saturday] and regroup and get after it in Game 3."
For the second year in a row, the Red Sox are being soundly beaten by an AL opponent. Last October, it was the Cleveland Indians' core of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller that did them in. This season, if it's possible, the 101-win Astros are humiliating the Red Sox even more en route to looking like a postseason juggernaut.
Jose Altuve was a one-man wrecking crew in Game 1, becoming the ninth player ever to hit three homers in a playoff game. So, when the Red Sox wisely decided to stop pitching to the AL MVP front-runner (Farrell called for two intentional walks of Altuve), Carlos Correa and George Springer carried the offense.
After combining to go 0-for-8 in the series-opener, Correa and Springer each homered against Red Sox starter Drew Pomeranz, who got KO'd before he could record an out in the third inning. Correa added a two-run double in the sixth inning and finished with four RBIs.
"We have good, quality at-bats,” Springer said. “And if there isn't success in one, we believe the guy behind us is going to get the job done. When you get everybody from top to bottom pulling the same direction, it makes it fun."
The Astros led 2-0 after the first inning and 4-1 after the third. And although ace-turned-reliever David Price recorded eight outs over 2⅔ scoreless innings to keep the deficit at three runs, the Red Sox lacked the offensive firepower to come back.
In September, during an 8-1 road trip, the Red Sox made a habit of coming from behind to win games. But that was against non-contending Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Cincinnati. It's a different story when they're facing Keuchel, a former Cy Young Award winner who retired 13 batters in a row at one point in the game. Even when the Red Sox looked like they had Keuchel on the ropes, forcing him to throw 30 pitches in the second inning, they still came away with only one run because they're unable to strike quickly with home runs.
The Astros have hit six homers through two games. The Red Sox have hit none. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, the most recent AL team to go an entire playoff series without homering was the 2009 Minnesota Twins in the division series. The Red Sox haven't gone homerless in a playoff series since the 1918 World Series.
Betts has three hits, including two doubles, in eight at-bats through the first two games. But shortstop Xander Bogaerts is 0-for-9 with three strikeouts; left fielder Andrew Benintendi is 1-for-8 with two strikeouts; Pedroia is 1-for-6 with two walks; and rookie third baseman Rafael Devers is 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.
"We just haven't collectively come through, starting with me," Bogaerts said. "If I get on base in that first at-bat, it can change the whole game. We've got to find a way to get on base, grind out at-bats. That's the type of team we are. We have to get on base.
"All of us haven't been clicking right now. We got one more chance to start playing better before they kick us out, so we got to do it. We got to come through."
Of the 44 previous teams that won the first two games at home in a best-of-five series, 38 have gone on to win the series and 26 have swept. It's no wonder Astros manager A.J. Hinch described his team as "a confident group," while Pedroia couldn't even summon his typical "Laser Show" bravado in saying, "Confidence is irrelevant at this point."
"We couldn't really script it any better," Keuchel said. "The playoffs are tough. We knew what we were facing with the Red Sox, and that's a difficult task in itself. But just to be at home, everybody is so comfortable here and we played so well. Couldn't have picked a better spot to be."
Bogaerts insists the Red Sox stand a better chance this season than they did against the Indians. That too might be wishful thinking. The Red Sox haven’t led in either game of this series. Going back to the final four games of the regular season, when the teams met at Fenway Park, the Astros won five of six games by a combined score of 38-17.
"They’re first in everything in baseball, offensively,” Betts said. “They don't strike out much, put it in play a lot. One to nine, they can bang."
By now, it's clear that the Sox can neither bang -- nor hang -- with the Stros. There's no sense in analyzing this series any more than that.