All eyes on David Price as the Red Sox try to avoid an 0-2 hole

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Is tonight’s game a “must-win” for the Red Sox? No. A lot of teams have gone down 2-0 before and have come back to win a seven game series. But given how the ball flies out of Minute Maid Park, Boston does not want to head for three games in Houston needing to win four out of five to stay alive in the postseason. And no matter where you’re heading for the middle three, a team does not want to drop both home games to open a series. So yes, there is pressure on Boston tonight, even if it’s not must-win pressure.

And most of that pressure falls on the shoulders of David Price.

ALCS Game 

Astros vs. Red Sox
Ballpark: Fenway Park
Time: 7:09 PM Eastern
Pitchers: Gerrit Cole vs. David Price

Price took the only loss for the Red Sox in the ALDS, giving up two homers, walking two and allowing three runs in an inning and two-thirds against the Yankees. In doing so his career postseason record moved to — all together now — 0-9 with a 6.03 ERA in 10 starts, becoming the first pitcher in history to not have a postseason victory as a starter after starting that many games (Price has two wins in the postseason as a reliever). If you watch the pregame show and listen to the TBS broadcast tonight I suspect you’ll hear that fact quoted to you 50 times.

On the one hand it’s overplayed. At this point everyone is aware of how small sample sizes work in baseball and how if you pick out one of a countless number of potential splits for a ballplayer, it stands a good chance of being unrepresentative. Those ten postseason starts stick out, but against nearly 300 total starts in which he’s won 143 games and posted a career ERA+ of 122, it’s insignificant from an analysis perspective. Price has been bad in the postseason, yes, but that does not make him a bad pitcher and, given what he has shown at all other times, it’s not analytically sound to say that he stands a poor chance to do well in the postseason in the future.

On the other hand: he’s David Price, and David Price has a bit of a track record of letting things get into his head.

Last year he got into an expletive-filled spat with the media— a day after he said he would no longer be talking to the media — and the account of that altercation strongly suggested it was about Price reading things people said about him and getting really, really, really mad. Like over-the-top, yelling and dropping F-bombs mad. He also berated Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley during a charter flight last year in response to something critical Eckersley said about Price during an NESN broadcast.

It’s OK to get mad sometimes, but it’s not super common for players to get angry-outburst mad like Price has, especially over mere — and not unfair — media criticism. This is was not some talk radio goon calling Price a “punk” or insulting him personally or something. It was two well-respected media members, one of which is himself a Hall of Fame pitcher, commenting on Price’s performance and behavior as a pitcher. And Price lost it.

Both of these incidents took place at around the same time and he has not had similar outbursts that we know of. Still, it shows that Price is keenly aware of what is said about him and that, even if he has handled himself better in the past year, it’s very likely he’s still reading and being affected by such stuff. Which is to say that I doubt there is any way on Earth he is doing what most athletes say they do and is putting it all out of his mind and just focusing on his game. He is either thinking specifically about whether or not he has some post-season choke tendencies and/or he is angry that anyone is suggesting he does.

Again: I don’t think that means Price will pitch poorly tonight. As I said above, he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past 11 seasons and was a well above average starter in 2018. Alex Cora would not hand him the ball tonight if he doubted Price could do the job and, in fact, Price could come out tonight and dominate.

But if any pitcher in this postseason is going to feel the moment, it’s Price. To deny at least the possibility of the moment affecting him negatively would be to put one’s head in the sand.

Mr. Price, get ready for your closeup. It comes just after 7PM tonight.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today

ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.