The Red Sox got clobbered by the Astros in the regular season. They were outscored, 42-25, out-hit, 70-49, and they lost five of seven games the teams played, all in an 11-game span from May 31-June 10.
That inglorious past is irrelevant to manager Alex Cora. The playoffs take place in another dimension.
“We should be OK. I think the regular season is the regular season,” he said before the Red Sox’ workout Wednesday at Fenway Park. “I think in the playoffs, you have more time to prepare for the opposition. It’s a more team-oriented attack than actually an individual attack. You saw that against the Rays.”
The Red Sox pitching staff stifled a dangerous Tampa Bay lineup, holding it to a .211 batting average and .688 on-base percentage for four games. The Astros lineup is more formidable. Their offense was tops in the majors in runs, hits, batting average, and on-base percentage.
Pitching to those hitters in October, however, is almost like speaking in another language. Starters will be on short leashes, and relievers will be on tenterhooks beginning at the end of the national anthem.
That worked in the Division Series against the Rays, and it worked against the Astros and Dodgers three seasons ago in the ALCS and World Series. Nothing’s changing.
Everyone’s on call.
“They understand, they understand where we’re at, they understand what it takes,” said Cora. “It’s good that in our group we’ve got three guys who’ve been there, done that — [starters] Eduardo [Rodriguez], Chris [Sale], and Nate [Eovaldi]. There’s no excuses. If you are healthy and you feel good, you know what you have to do. They’re on the same page, everyone’s on the same program. We’re going to keep doing this in the ALCS, then we’ll see where we go.”
Cora joked “we’re probably going use” outfielder Alex Verdugo, who reiterated a desire to pitch early in the Rays series.
“I think the versatility of our guys will help us to maneuver our rotation and our pitching staff the way we want to, being aggressive,” Cora said.
Who’s on first?
Per custom, Cora was not about to name his Game 1 and 2 starters with slightly more than 48 hours before first pitch in Houston. It will be surprising if Eovaldi does not get the ball for Game 1, but nobody should be surprised if the Game 2 starter is a name outside of the list of most likely suspects: Rodriguez, Sale, and Nick Pivetta.
The deep dive the Red Sox coaches and baseball operations staff have embarked on regarding how to pitch to the Houston hitters takes precedence over announcements.
“When we announce the starters for Game 1 and 2, the rest of them will be in the bullpen. So whenever we decide that . . . we’ve done it before that way and that’s the way we’re going to do it,” said Cora. “These two games in Houston, they’re very important. We know what we want to do. And we will have our starters be part of the bullpen in Games 1 and 2, and then we’ll decide what we do 3 and 4.”
Chris Sale’s standing
A role for the struggling Sale is not ready for public — and maybe even private — consumption. “He’ll pitch, he’ll pitch,” said Cora. “He’ll be a part of this and he’ll be an important part of this.” Before Sale’s ugly five-run inning in Game 2 of the Division Series, both Sale and Cora voiced confidence that he had made progress with his pitches, especially his changeup. “We feel good about him, he feels good about where he’s at,” Cora said on Wednesday. “I had a conversation with somebody today and it was music to my ears, because they said something about ‘he found it’ in the bullpen. The last time I heard somebody found it in the bullpen was David Price in ‘18 and he took off. Hopefully he found something in the bullpen, but I think we recognized a few things that are going to get him to the point that he’s more balanced and he’s more direct to the plate, he’s over the rubber. If he does that, he’ll be fine” . . . Cora and Houston shortstop Carlos Correa, a fellow Puerto Rican, are close. “I’m very proud of him, I love that kid,” said Cora. “He’s very important to our family. I know I’m important to his family. But at the end we know what’s most important the next 10 days. It’s gonna be fun to watch him compete. He loves competing against me — although I’m not gonna dive for a ground ball or anything, but I wish him the best, you know, 10 days on” . . . Cora said he’s hearing from home that the Red Sox and this upcoming series are being taken very seriously. “It has that ‘18 feeling, a lot of friends just watching games, everybody locked in,” said Cora. ”I know, I’ve got a few friends that have sports bars, and they’d rather have us separated so they can watch one game and then the other one” . . . The Sox’ two-hour workout at Fenway included infield drills, batting practice, and live batting practice sessions for taxi squad pitchers Darwinzon Hernandez and Eduard Bazardo . . . Catcher Connor Wong, who was selected to play in the Arizona Fall League, will remain with the Sox through the postseason as an extra player in the event of injury . . . The Sox are scheduled to fly to Houston on Thursday and have a 6 p.m. (ET) workout scheduled at Minute Maid Park.
Peter Abraham of Globe Staff contributed to this report.