Banged up Blue Jays find themselves in a bind

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Jose Bautista thought he was finished being a third baseman. Brett Lawrie had never even gotten started at shortstop. Yet both players were forced to change positions after Yunel Escobar injured his groin in Sunday’s loss to the Rangers.

With Kelly Johnson absent due to a sore hamstring and Yan Gomes getting sent down before the game, the Blue Jays opened Sunday with only Rajai Davis and Jeff Mathis on the bench. After Escobar’s injury, manager John Farrell shifted Bautista to the infield for the first time in 2012 and put Lawrie in a position he hadn’t played since high school.

Bautista started 25 games at third base last year and is certainly no stranger to the position, but he had started in right field exclusively this year. Lawrie started out as a second baseman in the minors before being shifted to third upon being acquired by the Blue Jays in the Shaun Marcum trade with the Brewers.

The Blue Jays could have simply used Lawrie at second and moved Omar Vizquel to shortstop after Escobar went down. However, they probably didn’t want to risk Lawrie having to turn a blind double play when he hasn’t worked on it in a couple of years. At least at shortstop, he could see a runner bearing down on him. The Jays certainly didn’t want to risk an injury to such a big piece of their future.

The Jays also had the option of forfeiting their DH and using Edwin Encarnacion at third base or even shortstop had they wanted to go that route.

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.