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The Astros and Red Sox are both so good, forget about analyzing the games the way you’re used to

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It’s not about a starting pitcher succeeding or failing. It’s about entire rosters built out of all-stars who are as talented as the starting pitchers.

League Championship Series - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Two Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox defeated the Houston Astros, 7-5, in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. I mention the details of the game in this opening paragraph for search-engine optimization only. I have no hot takes to offer about this game. In fact, my only hot take is that baseball is becoming completely immune to hot takes.

Let’s back up a bit.

There is nothing more natural than wanting to understand the world around you. That’s a big concept, but it trickles down to our dumb sportsball games, too. It’s why people call up talk radio shows and explain exactly what managers or players or GMs or owners need to do. It’s why people leave comments about sports behind on internet articles about sports. After watching a game (or a full season), we need to make sense of it all. What’s the point if we can’t make sense of it all?

This is how we begin the process of carving a baseball game up. This guy should have done this. That guy should have done that. Swing, you idiot. Don’t swing, you idiot. Don’t throw it there ... throw it there. There are quibbles with pitch selection to parse, and there are decisions to cover the base or hit the cutoff man or slide or don’t slide or ...

It sounds exhausting, but it actually comes quite naturally. It’s what we’re used to. And in Game 2 of the ALCS, there was a temptation to keep up with traditions. Here are some headlines that probably would have done well:

David Price just doesn’t have that clutch gene

Heck yeah, share it on Facebook.

Gerrit Cole saw the bright lights for the first time, and he froze

Mmmph, that’s spicy. I have no evidence for it, but it looks great in a headline.

Starting pitchers are going extinct

I have no idea what that means, but it’s catchy. Go, go, go!

I watched Game 2 looking for angles like this because that’s baked into my job description. The epiphany happened about halfway through the third inning, when David Price threw a 93-mph fastball where nobody could hit it. It was a beautiful pitch that reminded us that he’s still abnormally talented. He’s still better at throwing a beseamed orb better than almost anyone who came before him.

It’s just that everyone around him is nearly as talented. The entire Astros lineup ... they’re all like the David Price of hitting.

This also goes for the Red Sox lineup, which is a cavalcade of disgustingly talented hitters. When they’re slapping Gerrit Cole around, is it because Cole is screwing up, or is it because the entire Red Sox lineup is filled with hitters who are the Gerrit Cole of hitters?

These teams are so talented, so absurdly talented, that the lines are getting blurred. David Price right now might not have the same raw talent as the David Price who helped the Rays reach the World Series in 2008, but he has the wisdom and experience of a 10-year veteran, so maybe he should be just as good?

Nope. If Price just as good as he was 10 years ago, he’s already fallen behind. And it’s not only that everyone else is coming up with heads filled with the new language of baseball, the spin rates and launch angles and what have you, It’s that the Astros have more of the best of the best, an accumulation of baseball’s finest that towers over just about every other team. They have players with natural talents, and they’ve polished them with a new-era sheen, the kind that comes with analytics and biometrics and an armada of smart people drilling down to the last variable.

Oh, and also, the Red Sox have way too many of these players, too.

Both rosters are so talented, you can’t seriously look at Price or Cole and extrapolate anything other than, “Yeah, those other players are also pret-tay, pret-tay good.”

Take Craig Kimbrel, who is a freak, an absolute freak, a hook-armed nightmare who makes baseballs do things that baseballs shouldn’t do. He sure spends a lot of time worrying about what hitters are going to do to whatever freakiness he’s throwing. This is one of the reasons he’s walking batters and nibbling this postseason.

I’m not saying this is all bad theater. It’s great theater. It’s a lot of fun. We’re getting to watch hyper-talented players square off against each other, which is the whole point of the sport.

But we’ve transcended the idea that a starting pitcher or cleanup hitter needs to be blamed, or that we can get granular about something like What Is Wrong With David Price. Maybe he’s really good, and all these other dudes are pretty good, and one of them screams rock when the other one screams scissors, and — ha, ha, ha — that’s just how it works. Now reset and try it again.

This is where bullpenning comes from. This is the genesis of the opener. This is all happening because raw physical talent isn’t enough for pitchers now. It needs to be cut even more with the element of surprise. Making sure that the other team is only facing your pitchers once or twice, while seeing an endless parade of new arms, why, that’s the only way to succeed. Having a rotation of dudes who are able to throw a ball faster and more accurately than just about anyone on Earth isn’t enough.

And when you get to the ALCS, and the other team is a 100-plus-win monster, the element of surprise might not be enough. The other team has had nothing better to do than study this one team and itemize all their weird tricks. Now you’re just trading body blows with another unstoppable robot.

These are the 2018 Red Sox. These are the 2018 Astros. Neither team is a whole lot of fun to play, and when they’re playing each other, just assume that the player succeeding is like the David Price or Gerrit Cole of baseball. Which is to say, a player that talented used to be a special all-star.

Both of these teams are so overstuffed with talent, I think that means their best pitchers are only as valuable as the next guy. It makes for fun baseball. I’m not sure if it makes for baseball that’s easy to dissect and study. When you have a team filled with David Price-level talents going against a team filled with Gerrit Cole-level talents, it’s going to be a fantastic, gory mess.

Just note that the emphasis will be on the mess. Good luck trying to analyze it the way you used to.