BOSTON -- In a game in which so much went wrong for the Red Sox, third baseman Eduardo Nunez stands out as a primary culprit in Boston's loss to the Astros in ALCS Game 1 on Saturday night ( ). and Red Sox pitchers allowed 13 free baserunners (10 walks and three hit batsmen), and that's no way to win a postseason game, but Nunez was no help either.
In the second inning Nunez was unable to knock down George Springer's hard-hit ground ball, which turned into a two-run single and gave the Astros a 2-0 lead. Based on the exit velocity and launch angle, Statcast gave that particular ground ball a 53 percent hit probability. Essentially a 50-50 play and Nunez couldn't make it. At the very least, you'd like him to knock it down and keep it on the infield, holding Houston to one run.
"I think I had a chance to catch the ball. He hit it hard -- he's a pretty good hitter -- but I have to catch the ball," said Nunez about the play following Game 1.
Later on, in the sixth inning, Nunez botched a potential 5-4-3 double play ball and turned it into zero outs. Yuli Gurriel hit a chopper to third base with a runner on first and no outs, and Nunez simply flubbed the transfer. The ball popped out of his glove, everyone was safe, .
"In that situation, that can't happen. In a game like this, so close, I should turn the double play on that ground ball," Nunez said. "I think I was too quick, too fast, tried to rush a little bit. I know it's a (high chopper) and I had to rush a little bit, but it was too much."
Here is Nunez talking about his Game 1 defense, specifically Springer's ground ball and the non-double play turn. You can see both plays in the video:
"Routine ground ball double play, he didn't make the play," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said after the game. "The one on Springer, that was a rocket. He tried to knock it down. He didn't. But at this stage you don't turn double plays, you don't make the routine play that our teams are going to make you pay. That's a tough team over there. You give him more than 27 outs and most of the time they're going to cash in."
To be fair to Nunez, he did make a stellar diving play in the seventh inning Saturday night to rob Josh Reddick of a leadoff hit, likely a double. The throw was a lawn dart into the grass, but he made the stop on the hard-hit grounder and got the out at first, and that's really all that matters.
In a way, Game 1 was a microcosm of the Eduardo Nunez experience. He'll botch a fairly routine play like Gurriel's would-be double play chopper and then pulled a great play out of nowhere on the Reddick would-be base hit. Between the Springer single and the Gurriel chopper, not to mention going 0 for 3 with a walk at the plate, Nunez was a net negative in Game 1. He wasn't the reason the Red Sox lost, but he certainly was a reason.
Nunez has started at third base in four of the Red Sox's five postseason games this year and, during the ALDS, Cora explained he wants him in there because of his glove. (Yes, really.) Youngster Rafael Devers is a brutal defender at third base and Cora wants the more reliable -- relatively speaking -- Nunez at the hot corner in these important games.
"Although we feel good about Rafy with his range and everything, throughout the season he wasn't consistent making the routine play. So in the end we decided to go with (Nunez) at third base, because we feel he's been the better defensive player," Cora said last week. "Metrics-wise you can look at the numbers. It may not show you that way, but we do feel he can make the routine play."
Through his four postseason games Nunez is 2 for 14 (.143) at the plate with two errors in the field, not to mention a few other defensive plays that weren't made that don't go into the record book as an error. The Springer single, for example. That wasn't an error but it was a play you'd like your third baseman to make in the postseason, you know?
The Red Sox have two choices at third base right now. Option No. 1 is Nunez, who gives you shaky defense and not much offense. The guy did hit .265/.289/.388 (81 OPS+) during the regular season, after all. Option No. 2 is Devers, who gives you bad defense and at least the potential for offensive impact. Devers hit .240/.298/.433 (94 OPS+) during the regular season, so he wasn't great, but he did hit 21 home runs in 121 games. And, in his first ALDS at-bat, he did this:
That is a 97.2 mph fastball that Devers yanked into right field at 115.7 mph. He hit that ball so hard he held himself to a single. Statcast data goes back to Opening Day 2015 and since then Nunez has hit 14 balls with an exit velocity of 100 mph or greater. His best exit velocity on record is a 112 mph double back in 2016. Devers -- 21-year-old Rafael Devers -- smoked a ball 115.7 mph the last time he played.
Nunez has carved out a fine big league career for himself, but I don't think many folks will argue with me when I say Devers has more offensive potential. Not even potential, really, more offensive ability right now. Devers has a chance to alter the game with one swing every time he steps in the batter's box. Nunez can't really do that. Yet, so far this postseason, Red Sox have deemed Nunez's defense, which is shaky as it is, to be more valuable than whatever Devers can do at the plate.
This situation is similar to the Gary Sanchez/Austin Romine decision the Yankees had to make in the ALDS. Sanchez is far and away the more talented hitter, but Romine is more consistent defensively, and he would've been the safe choice behind the plate. Instead, the Yankees bet on Sanchez's upside, and he rewarded them with a two-homer game in ALDS Game 2. The Yankees might've been swept in the series if not for Sanchez's heroics in that game.
If the Red Sox were sitting Devers for a defensive stud at third base, I'd get it. But that is not the case here. Nunez is shaky in the field and he's not really someone you expect to have an impact offensively. Given how dominant the Astros pitching staff can be, I think it would be best for the Red Sox to start Devers at third base -- against right-handers at the very least -- and hope he does some damage, then sub him out defensively late in games.
Fortune favors the bold. Devers may be a liability on defense, but so is Nunez, and he doesn't have the potential to change a game every time he steps to the plate. Devers is supremely talented and he's capable of not only hitting high-end pitching, but doing serious damage against it. Sticking with the safer choice in Nunez the rest of the postseason offers similar downside to Devers with basically none of the potential reward.