J.D. Martinez twists ankle in win over Nationals, leaving status for Wild Card Game against Yankees up in air

The Red Sox may have secured their spot in the American League Wild Card Game with a hard-fought, 7-5 win over the Nationals on Sunday night, but they lost J.D. Martinez to injury in the process of doing so.

Martinez, who got the start in right field for Sunday’s series finale with there being no designated hitter in a National League Ballpark, sustained a left ankle sprain in the middle of the fifth inning.

While jogging out from the visitor’s dugout to take his position, the 34-year-old slugger tripped over the second-base bag and came up lame as a result.

That prompted Red Sox manager Alex Cora and a team trainer to pay Martinez a visit in the outfield, though he was able to talk his way into staying in the game at that point.

After moving very slowly on Alex Avila’s two-run double to right field in the bottom of the fifth, however, Martinez’s day ultimately came to a close, as he was pinch-hit for by Jose Iglesias in the top of the sixth and replaced by Hunter Renfroe in right in the bottom of the frame.

Following Sunday’s dramatic, come-from-behind victory over the Nationals, Cora provided an update on Martinez, who was at least able to celebrate with his teammates despite being hobbled.

“He twisted his ankle on the way to right field,” Cora told reporters via Zoom Sunday night. “He stepped on the bag and twisted his ankle. He grinded that inning defensively.”

In Martinez’s place out of the No. 5 spot in Boston’s lineup, Iglesias, who took over at second base while Enrique Hernandez moved to centerfield, went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles and one run scored.

“We took [Martinez] out, Iggy did a good job. Got two hits, played good defense,” said Cora. “And the guys stepped up. That’s what we do. Somebody goes down, somebody has to come in and do the job, and tonight was really good.”

When asked if Martinez would be ready to go for Tuesday’s highly-anticipated Wild Card Game against the Yankees at Fenway Park, Cora could only respond by saying he and the team will know more on Monday.

Before his removal from Sunday’s contest, Martinez had gone 0-for-1 with a strikeout while also getting plunked by a pitch.

That said, the four-time All-Star finishes his 2021 campaign having slashed .286/.349/.518 with 42 doubles, three triples, 28 home runs, 99 RBI, 92 runs scored, 55 walks, and 150 strikeouts over 148 games and 634 plate appearances.

(Picture of J.D. Martinez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Rafael Devers crushes 2 homers as Red Sox come back to clinch Wild Card berth with 7-5 win over Nationals

It was no simple task, but the Red Sox secured a spot in the American League Wild Card Game by finishing off a three-game weekend sweep of the Nationals on Sunday.

Boston held on to top Washington by a final score of 7-5 at Nationals Park, which ensures that they will not have to play in a tiebreaker on Monday.

Chris Sale, making his ninth and final start of the regular season for the Sox, was unable provide length in his first-ever appearance against the Nationals.

After getting off to a solid start in which he struck out the side in the bottom of the first, the veteran left-hander ran into some trouble in the second when he gave up a leadoff double to Josh Bell. Jordy Mercer followed by ripping another double off Sale that brought in Bell and gave Washington their first lead of the day at 1-0.

The Nationals doubled their advantage an inning later, as Sale loaded the bases with one out on a walk and a pair of singles before issuing another free pass to Ryan Zimmerman that plated Lane Thomas from third to make it a 2-0 contest.

Despite throwing just 62 pitches (37 strikes), Sale’s afternoon came to a close right then and there, with Red Sox manager Alex Cora forced to turn to his bullpen far earlier than expected.

Hirokazu Sawamura was the one who got the first call from Cora out of the Boston bullpen, and despite inheriting a mess, he officially closed the book on Sale’s outing by getting Mercer to ground into a huge inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play.

To that point, the Red Sox lineup had been stymied by Nationals starter Joan Adon, managing all of one hit off the right-hander making his first career big-league start on Sunday.

Rafael Devers changed that quickly, though, as he led off the fourth inning by clubbing a 432-foot solo blast to deep center field off a 1-2, 95 mph sinker on the outer half of the plate from Adon.

Devers’ 37th home run of the season cut Boston’s deficit in half at 2-1, but that was all they got in the fourth after J.D. Martinez struck out, Alex Verdugo unsuccessfully tried to turn a one-out single into a one-out double, and Hunter Renfroe fanned on three straight pitches.

Sawamura continued to keep the Nationals off the board in the bottom of the fourth, presenting the Sox with the opportunity to get something going in the top of the fifth after the pinch-hitting Christian Arroyo and Enrique Hernandez reached base with one out on a walk and base hit.

A wild pitch from Adon allowed both runners to advance into scoring position, but Boston could not capitalize — as Kyle Schwarber and a struggling Bogaerts rolled over back-to-back groundouts to extinguish the threat.

Perhaps taking advantage of the Sox’ inability to score, the Nats jumped on the newly-inserted Garrett Richards in their half of the fifth. Richards yielded a leadoff double to Alcides Escobar and intentionally put the dangerous Juan Soto on base.

A passed ball from Richards moved Escobar and Soto up to second base for Bell, who drew a five-pitch walk himself to fill the bases once again. Richards recorded the first out of the inning, but allowed Escobar to score from third on an RBI groundout off the bat of Mercer before serving up a two-run double down the right field line to Alex Avila.

Avila, playing in his final major-league game on Sunday, put Washington up 5-1, though is counterpart in Christian Vazquez got one of those runs back in the sixth when he drove in Jose Iglesias on an RBI single off Nationals reliever Patrick Murphy — thus making it a 5-2 ballgame.

Iglesias came into the game as a pinch-hitter for Martinez, who suffered a left ankle sprain after tripping on the second-base bag while running out to right field in the middle of the fifth inning. He was replaced in right field by Renfroe, while Iglesias took over at second base and Hernandez shifted to center field.

Following all that defensive shifting, Martin Perez took over for Richards in the bottom of the sixth inning. The left-hander maneuvered his way around a two-out walk in an otherwise clean frame of work.

A half-inning later, the Boston bats continued to chip away at the deficit in front of them while matched up against Erick Fedde.

Schwarber ignited the rally with a one-out single that was followed by another base hit courtesy of Bogaerts. Devers then plated Schwarber from second on an RBI single to trim Washington’s lead down to two runs. He also moved Bogaerts up to third base.

Iglesias may have popped out to foul territory for the second out of the seventh, but Verdugo did not let a prime scoring opportunity go to waste.

Making up for his earlier base-running gaffe, Verdugo laced a game-tying, two-run double to the gap in right-center field, driving in Bogaerts from third and Devers all the way from first.

Verdugo’s clutch double knotted things up at five runs apiece, and Garrett Whitlock — who was activated from the injured list on Sunday after a two-week absence — kept it that way going into the eighth by fanning two in a scoreless bottom half of the seventh.

Bobby Dalbec pinch-hit for Whitlock in the top half of the eighth, which paved the way for Eduardo Rodriguez to take over for the right-hander. Rodriguez, who threw 93 pitches in his start on Friday, needed all of eight pitches — six of which were strikes — to retire the Nats in order in the latter half of the eighth.

Potentially down to their final three outs in the ninth, Schwarber led off against Kyle Finnegan by reaching base on a fielding error committed by Mercer, which would prove to be costly for Washington.

That being the case because after Bogaerts struck out, Devers came through with the hit of the night — if not the season.

On a 2-1, 87 mph splitter on the outer half of the plate from Finnegan, Devers obliterated his second home run of the day, with this one leaving his bat at a scorching 113.4 mph and traveling a whopping 447 feet over the center-field wall.

By going yard for the 38th time this season, the 24-year-old slugger not only came through for the Sox yet again, but he also gave them their first lead of the day at 7-5.

Nick Pivetta, who made his most-recent start on Thursday, was called upon to end things in the bottom of the ninth. The right-hander did just that by slamming the door on the Nationals to preserve the 7-5 victory for the Sox and notch his second career big-league save.

With the win, the Red Sox finish the regular season with a record of 92-70. They also punched their ticket to the postseason, as they will be hosting the Yankees, who defeated the Rays on Sunday, in the American League Wild Card Game at Fenway Park on Tuesday.

Boston will turn to right-hander Nathan Eovaldi for that all-important contest, while New York will roll with fellow righty Gerrit Cole.

First pitch from Fenway Park on Tuesday night is scheduled for 8:08 p.m. eastern time on ESPN.

(Picture of Rafael Devers: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Tanner Houck starting, hitting for himself Saturday as Red Sox go for series victory over Nationals

In their penultimate game of the regular season, the Red Sox will turn to Tanner Houck to start Saturday afternoon’s contest against the Nationals at Nationals Park.

The Sox came into the weekend having not named a starter for Saturday’s game, likely under the assumption that Houck could be needed out of the bullpen on Friday if Eduardo Rodriguez was unable to pitch deep into his final start of the year.

Instead, Rodriguez provided Boston with five-plus scoreless innings before five different relievers (Ryan Brasier, Matt Barnes, Darwinzon Hernandez, Adam Ottavino, and Hansel Robles) combined to close out a much-needed 4-2 win over Washington.

Houck, meanwhile, last appeared in a game this past Tuesday, allowing one earned run on three hits and one walk to go along with three strikeouts in a 4-2 loss to the Orioles in Baltimore.

The 25-year-old right-hander needed 41 pitches (27 strikes) to get through those two frames, but Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters (including The Eagle-Tribune’s Mac Cerullo) that the club will be treating Saturday as a normal start for Houck even though he will be working on just three days rest.

Since making his major-league debut last September, Houck has only pitched in a National League ballpark on two separate occasions — both of which came against the Marlins and Braves during last year’s COVID-shortened campaign.

Major League Baseball adopted the universal designated hitter rule for the 2020 season on account of the pandemic, meaning pitchers in National League ballparks did not have to hit for themselves.

That is no longer the case this year, though, as Houck will step up to the plate for the first time in his big-league career and bat out of the nine-hole for Boston on Saturday.

Here is how the rest of the Red Sox will line up behind Houck as they go up against fellow rookie right-hander Josiah Gray for the Nationals.

First pitch from Nationals Park Saturday is scheduled for 4:05 p.m. eastern time on NESN. As noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “a Red Sox win would mean Boston is guaranteed to play past Sunday, either in a tiebreaker game or the American League Wild Card Game on Tuesday night. If the Sox win their last two games, they are guaranteed a spot in the Wild Card Game.”

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Where Red Sox stand in Wild Card race heading into last week of regular season

Following an off day on Monday, the Red Sox (88-68) come into play Tuesday trailing the Yankees (89-67) by one game for the top American League Wild Card spot after getting swept in a three-game series by their division rivals over the weekend.

If the regular season were to have ended on Monday night, the Yankees would be hosting the Sox in the Wild Card Game in the Bronx exactly one week from Tuesday.

But the season did not end on Monday, as both clubs each have six games remaining on their respective schedules between now and Sunday. Both Boston and New York also have two other teams hot on their trails, with the Blue Jays (87-69) currently one game and the Mariners (87-70) currently 1 1/2 games behind the Sox.

The Mariners gained a half-game on the competition in front of them on Monday when they trounced the Athletics by a final score of 13-4 at T-Mobile Park, thus dropping the A’s to 85-72 and putting 3 1/2 games back of the Red Sox to kick off a pivotal three-game set.

While Seattle and Oakland both have five games left this season, all three of New York, Boston, and Toronto have six contests — with the Yankees and Blue Jays set to open yet another crucial three-game series at Rogers Centre on Tuesday night.

According to FanGraphs, the Red Sox have an 86% chance to make the postseason, which edges out the Yankees (81%), Blue Jays (27.5%), Mariners (5.5%), and Athletics (0.1%).

Baseball-Reference, meanwhile, gives the Sox a 74.8% chance to reach the playoffs, which ranks tops among the four other clubs they are competing with despite their odds decreasing by 15.2% over the last seven days.

Of the five teams remaining in the Wild Card hunt, Boston has the easiest schedule over the final week of the regular season, per Tankathon.com. That being the case because they will be playing both the lowly Orioles (50-106) and Nationals (65-92) on the road to close out the year.

Taking all that into consideration, there are several scenarios to keep in mind once play begins on Tuesday. Here they are:

If the Red Sox win and the Yankees lose/Blue Jays win: Boston and New York would be tied atop the Wild Card standings, while Toronto would trail both teams by just one game.

If the Red Sox win and the Yankees win/Blue Jays lose: Boston would still trail New York by one full game for the top Wild Card spot, though they would gain an additional game over Toronto for the second Wild Card spot.

If the Red Sox lose and the Yankees lose/Blue Jays win: Boston would still trail New York by one full game for the top Wild Card spot, though they would now be tied with Toronto for possession of the second spot.

If the Red Sox lose and the Yankees win/Blue Jays lose: Boston would now trail New York by two games for the top Wild Card spot, though they would maintain their one-game lead over Toronto for the second spot.

So, at best, the Red Sox can move back into a tie with the Yankees for the top American League Wild Card spot on Tuesday. At worst, they can fall into a tie with the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card spot.

(Picture of J.D. Martinez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Where Red Sox stand in Wild Card race heading into final stretch of regular season

Following a three-game sweep of the lowly Orioles at Fenway Park over the weekend, the Red Sox find themselves in an encouraging spot heading into the home stretch of the 2021 regular season.

Having won five straight and seven of their last 10 games, the Sox have improved to 86-65 on the year and currently hold a one-game lead over the Blue Jays (84-65) for the top American League Wild Card spot.

So, if the season were to have ended on Sunday night, Boston would be hosting Toronto in a one-game playoff come October 5. But the season did not end on Sunday, as the Red Sox still have 11 games remaining on the docket.

Of those 11 games, the next five will take place at home with the Mets coming into town for a two-game interleague series that begins on Tuesday and the Yankees visiting for a three-game weekend set that begins on Friday.

Following the conclusion of next weekend’s series with New York, the Sox will embark upon a six-game road trip that includes stops in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. to close out the season.

With that being said, strength of schedule plays into Boston’s favor here. Of the four teams they will be playing over the next two weeks, only the Yankees (83-67) have a winning record — though none of the four teams would have qualified for the postseason if the regular season had ended on Sunday.

According to Tankathon.com, the Red Sox have the third-easiest schedule in baseball and the easiest schedule in the American League the rest of the way, as the four clubs they will be facing off against have a combined winning percentage of .437. Only the Phillies (.407) and Reds (.419) have easier remaining schedules.

As of Monday morning, FanGraphs gives the Sox an 89.7% chance to make the playoffs, which is up dramatically from where it was at this time one week ago (63.2%).

Baseball-Reference, on the other hand, currently gives the Red Sox an 85.9% chance to make the playoffs after giving them a 71.4% chance just last week.

Of the five teams competing for the two American League Wild Card spots, the Sox are the only club that is off on Monday. The Blue Jays will be opening up a three-game series against the division-leading Rays at Tropicana Field, the Yankees will be opening up a three-game series against the lowly Rangers in the Bronx, and the Athletics and Mariners commence a pivotal four-game series in Oakland.

Taking all that into consideration, the Red Sox at best can carry with them a 1 1/2 game lead over the Jays for the top Wild Card spot coming into play on Tuesday. At worst, it could be just a 1/2 game lead.

(Picture of Alex Verdugo, Enrique Hernandez, and Hunter Renfroe: Winslow Townson/Getty Images)