The Boston Red Sox just dropped their second game in a row to the Houston Astros, handing them their first home series loss in their last 10. The Astros are looking like the top competition for the Red Sox in the playoffs, and it is clear that they will not make things easy on them.
The Astros put their strengths on display in their two victories against the Red Sox, and it has been made abundantly clear how important Chris Sale is going to be in a potential playoff series.
When you look at what they both do on offense, it is difficult to find an edge. They both have balance and power, with the kind of depth that make sure you are never safe. They are both able to score in bunches, and come through when it matters most.
What we have also seen in these last two games, however, is how dangerous their bullpen can get. The Red Sox have a pitching staff that they can win with, but the Astros have the best bull pen in the MLB, putting a lot more pressure on their starters.
The Red Sox had many opportunities to mount comebacks in this game. Given the success they have seen coming form behind all season long, you should not understate the significance of the Astros bullpen in these two games.
The Red Sox cannot expect to be mounting comebacks facing the kind of bullpen the Astros will have in the playoffs, and that makes it vital for their starting pitchers to be coming out with leads.
It will be difficult for the Red Sox to expect more from their offense when the bullpens are being used, but the same can be said for the Astros against starting pitching.
As great as the Astros pitching is, they do not have a weapon like Sale. Sale stands out in this series, and it is hard to imagine the Red Sox having enough to take down the Astros if he is not as full strength.
The games he starts are absolutely must wins, and they need him to be going deep every single time. Sale works quick, and brings all of the strikeouts. Sale is the exact pitcher the Red Sox need to try and neutralize the superior bullpen of the Astros, once again bringing the edge back to their offense.
Both of these teams have the depth and talent to win with their batting and their pitching, but the team that gets the most out of their pitching advatage should be the team that wins.
The Astros bullpen can do a lot, and have a massive impact on this series. If, however, Sale is at his best and shuts down the Astros like everyone knows he is capable of, then that bullpen will not be enough to overcome the Red Sox.
The Astros are in a much better position to accommodate a starter having to leave a game early. If these teams get into that kind of shootout, the Red Sox may not be able to overcome the weaker bullpen.
If, however, they have starters that stay in the game, and put all the pressure on a bullpen to keep up with some of the best pitching in the world, the Astros will struggle to stay with an offense that will find ways to exploit any pitching staff.
If Sale is not healthy, then the Red Sox lose that starting pitching edge, and it becomes difficult to see them winning without the Astros giving them some help by making mistakes.
Sale is set to return, and they have been doing a good job of making sure he is getting the maintenance he needs. The Red Sox have been careful in making sure he can be fresh for the playoffs, but he needs to stay that way until an eventual series against the Astros.
Sale gives the Red Sox an edge over any team in the AL right now, and making sure he stays healthy throughout the playoffs could be the most important part of a championship run.