ALDS Preview: Red Sox vs Astros
ALDS Preview: Red Sox vs Astros
After finishing up a four-game set to close out the regular season, the Red Sox (93-69) faceoff against the Astros (101-61) in the ALDS.
|Game 1||Thu, Oct 5||Minute Maid Park||4:08 p.m.||MLBN|
|Game 2||Fri, Oct 6||Minute Maid Park||2:05 p.m.||FS1|
|Game 3||Sun, Oct 8||Fenway Park||TBD||FS1|
|Game 4*||Mon, Oct 9||Fenway Park||TBD||FS1|
|Game 5*||Wed, Oct 11||Minute Maid Park||TBD||FS1|
The Boston Red Sox ended their regular season losing five of their last seven games. Boston has an offense that has its ups and downs and despite their recent losses, they’ve still put up at least four runs in eight of their last 11 games. Overall, Mookie Betts leads the Red Sox with 166 hits and 102 RBI while Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi have combined for 311 hits and 152 RBI. However, the Red Sox are in the postseason due to a pitching rotation that has an ERA of 3.70, which is fourth best in all of baseball. The Boston Red Sox are in the playoffs for the third time in five years and have won the World Series in two of their last five trips. Chris Sale gets the ball, and he is 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA and 308 strikeouts this season. Sale is 5-1 with a 1.31 ERA and 65 strikeouts in his career against the Astros.
The Houston Astros ended the season winning eight of their last 10 games, rebounding completely from a shaky start to the second half of the season. The Astros bulked up their pitching, but they’re the ultimate offensive team, as Houston led MLB with 896 runs and 1,581 hits. The Astros were also second in homers with 238 and first with a .282 batting average, making them downright scary. Overall, Jose Altuve leads the Astros with 204 hits and 81 RBI while Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel have combined for 316 hits and 146 RBI. The Houston Astros are in the playoffs for the second time in three years and hope things end better than they did back in 2015. Dallas Keuchel gets the ball, and he is 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA and 125 strikeouts this season. Keuchel is 0-1 with a 9.88 ERA and 12 strikeouts in his career against the Red Sox.
The Astros hold an enormous advantage offensively per the 162-game samples, but, as we know, anything can happen in a five-game series. Still, the Astros blew away the rest of the league with a .349 wOBA, which was 13 points higher than the Indians, who finished second. Houston finished about average in the Fangraphs baserunning metric labeled BsR, which takes into account a little bit of everything, ranging from stolen bases to extra bases taken. Houston’s .282 team batting average was the best in the bigs and the team’s .478 SLG was the best in baseball by a significant margin. Their 121 wRC+, which means that the Astros were 21 percent better than league average as a team, was the best in baseball by 13 points over the Yankees.
Perception and reality are not the same thing about the Red Sox offense. Boston’s offense finished 20th in wOBA at .316. In a season when hot dog vendors were coming down from the stands to jack home runs, the Red Sox only hit 168. Throughout the season, they were one of the biggest laggards in HR/FB%. This is a big deal in the playoffs because you’re facing highly-specialized arms more often than not and stringing together hits to score runs becomes even more difficult. A lot of scoring this postseason projects to be done with the long ball. The Astros had 11 guys with 10 or more home runs. The Red Sox had five. Boston was a bit more efficient on the basepaths, but the offense just isn’t where it needs to be.
Game 1: Chris Sale vs Justin Verlander
Game 2: Drew Pomeranz vs Dallas Keuchel
Game 3: Doug Fister* vs Brad Peacock*
Game 4: Eduardo Rodriguez/Rick Porcello vs Lance McCullers/Charlie Morton*
Game 5: Chris Sale* vs Justin Verlander*
*Teams have not confirmed
Having Chris Sale is the biggest equalizer in this series. Barring a sweep, Sale should pitch twice in what could very well a Cy Young-winning season for the southpaw. Sale has a 2.90 ERA with a 2.45 FIP and a 2.65 xFIP. He has struck out 36.2 percent of opposing batters, which is downright absurd. The Astros have had issues with premier lefties when they have faced them, so this is the matchup that concerns me for Houston. It would concern me with any team, but given the inherent variance of the playoffs, two dominant starts from Sale would put the Astros in a position where one game of things not falling their way will send the Red Sox forward.
Quietly, the Astros have a pretty decent rotation with everybody healthy. Justin Verlander has been an outstanding addition. In five starts, Verlander was worth 1.1 fWAR for the Astros. With his high-spin-rate fastball and big hammer curve, he has the right type of arsenal to have postseason success. I knew this was a great fit from the start and the numbers back it up. Verlander had 43 strikeouts in 34 innings with just four runs allowed on 17 hits. The Astros are deep into advanced metrics and Verlander seems like a guy that would embrace that type of stuff.
Dallas Keuchel and Drew Pomeranz are slated to both start Game 2. Pomeranz wrapped up the year with a 3.32 ERA, a 3.84 FIP, and a 4.15 xFIP. The high xFIP will be cause for concern with some, but it doesn’t worry me, given that it was a crazy year for HR/FB%. Pomeranz is a solid #2 here, but I do wonder how long his leash will be, with a 9.3 percent BB% and the quick trigger finger for managers.
Keuchel is a tough matchup because of his command from the mid-thigh down. He can pound the bottom of the zone. Like any ground ball hurler with his batted ball distribution, he can be subject to variance and batted ball luck. On the year, 66.8 percent of Keuchel’s balls in play were on the ground. We’re not in an era when teams string hits together to score. They hit dingers. Keuchel doesn’t allow many. The Red Sox don’t hit many.
If you watched the AL Wild Card game last night, you know how crucial a teams bullpen is. No one expected David Robertson to pitch in the third inning and last 3+ innings with over 50 pitches thrown–a career high.
David Price is the new wild card in this series. Price isn’t going to start, but could be used in an Andrew Miller capacity. I’m not sure how that will work with a guy that has never done it before, but Price’s talent is undeniable. Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly have both been solid arms, though they are largely unproven in this format. Kelly throws an effortless 100, but he only worked 54 games and didn’t have the type of strikeout rate you’d expect from a dude pumping triple digits in there. Heath Hembree is another good right-handed option. Fortunately for the Red Sox, who don’t have a lot of great left-handed options, the Astros are a pretty right-handed-heavy bunch.
Only the Yankees had a higher K/9 this season than the Astros. On the other hand, only the Padres and Reds had a higher HR/FB% allowed than the Astros bullpen. The Astros have a lot of options in the bullpen. Whichever starters don’t make the rotation, like Collin McHugh or Charlie Morton or Brad Peacock can be effective in short bursts. My favorite weapon in the game is Chris Devenski, who had a 2.68 ERA during the season with 100 strikeouts in 80.2 innings of work. Devenski is a multi-inning, right-handed version of Andrew Miller and his usage will be fascinating to watch. Ken Giles will also be used in late-inning high-leverage.
We’ll have to see how AJ Hinch deploys his assets. How much trust is there in Luke Gregerson? What spots will he find for Will Harris? Can Francisco Liriano be an effective LOOGY (Lefty One-Out Guy)? The multi-inning capacity of the Astros bullpen gives them a slight edge in my mind, as well as my personal beliefs that Hinch will manage his bullpen better than Farrell.
The Red Sox have had a better defense all season, they finished third in defensive runs saved with 45 and led the Major Leagues in UZR. The Astros were 21st in defensive runs saved and 28th in UZR.
As a unit, Astros catchers only caught 12 percent of runners attempting to steal. The Red Sox caught 39 percent of attempted runners. Boston has to play like the underdog here. Because they don’t hit home runs, the risk/reward of stealing bases is increased a little bit. They need to be aggressive on the bases and put pressure on the Houston defense and pitching staff.
I am more confident in AJ Hinch managing his ball club than John Farrell, who at one point this season was rumored to “have lost the locker room” and reportedly came close to losing his job midseason.
Facing Chris Sale twice is a challenge to say the least, but Houston easily has the better offense and the deeper starting staff. Those are two things that I cannot overlook when the bullpens are relatively similar. The Red Sox may be better defensively, but in a 5-game series it rarely sways the advantage to one side. If the Astros can win Game 1, they should easily win the series, but if they were to lose we could be looking at playing all five games.