MLB players who aren't vaccinated for COVID can't play games in Toronto and land on the restricted list. The Red Sox lost two of three games north of the border to start this week and may have won two had closer Tanner Houck been available -- but he wasn't. Neither was good-looking rookie outfielder and leadoff man Jarren Duran, but they are off the restricted list and available for Friday's matinee series opener at the Chicago Cubs. The Sox are -135 at Caesars Sportsbook. (See tickets at StubHub)
Houck has started four games this season and then transitioned a bit to a bulk reliever behind Rich Hill, who is no more than a five-inning pitcher these days. Eventually, though, Houck took over as Boston's closer. As a reliever this year, he's 3-1 with a 2.93 ERA and six saves (no blown saves). In save situations only, he has a 1.35 ERA. As a starter, he's 1-2 with a 4.32 ERA.
One never knows what might have happened, but the Sox were up 5-4 entering the bottom of the ninth in Toronto on Tuesday. With Houck not available, Tyler Danish and Hansel Robles split ninth-inning duties and it didn't work out well. The Jays scored two runs for a 6-5 win. The Boston bullpen almost blew a 6-3 lead in the bottom of the 10th on Wednesday but held on for a 6-5 victory to avoid the sweep. Sox fans were not kind to Houck on social media during that series.
Duran, meanwhile, got a chance to play everyday and leadoff with Kiké Hernandez's injury and is hitting .327 with a .386 OBP and four stolen bases in 13 games. When leading off an inning, he's 11-for-22 with three walks. Duran had gone 6-for-10 with two doubles in his final two games before the team left for Toronto.
Friday will mark Boston's first game at Wrigley Field since 2012. Hill gets the start against the team he broke into the majors with way back in 2005. The 42-year-old stayed with the Cubs through 2008 until beginning his long journey around the majors. The lefty is 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA this season and was good in June at 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA. In eight road starts this year, he's 3-1 with a 2.50 ERA.
The Cubs are at a minor disadvantage because they had to play Thursday night against the Reds – and banged out 15 runs -- but obviously didn't have to travel. They will start 30-year-old journeyman Adrian Sampson (0-0, 1.69), only his fourth appearance of the year and second start. He has faced the Red Sox twice in his career but not since 2019 while with Texas and has a 9.31 ERA in 9.2 innings against them – he has given up at least seven hits and two home runs in both of his previous starts vs. Boston.
Chicago is just 2-9 vs. the American League this year, while Boston is 4-3 vs. the Senior Circuit.
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