Boy, is this going to be fun. We get to watch two teams that combined for 211 wins, second-most all-time to play in a playoff series and the first time two 100-win teams play each other in 41 years. How lucky is that!
The Astros are coming off of an epic World Series win last year and haven’t missed a beat. They come in off of a dominant sweep of the Indians, with both the best rotation and best bullpen in the league. The Red Sox, meanwhile, won 108 games and deposed of fellow 100-win squad New York Yankees by winning two straight at Yankee Stadium. Now, these two Goliaths face off in what should be a brilliant series.
Both of these teams can really hit the baseball. The Red Sox’ top five is lethal. MVP favorite Mookie Betts is in the leadoff spot, with his .438 OBP and .640 slugging percentage. Betts also has speed and can always start the game with a bang. Andrew Benintendi, a very good second-year hitter follows before either Steve Pearce or Mitch Moreland. JD Martinez has been one of the best hitters in the game in the last two years, driving in a league-leading 130 runs this season. A testament to the group in front of him.
Xander Bogaerts also drove in triple-digit runs from the five-spot in the order. This offense exploded for 16 runs in a Game 3 rout over the Yankees. In that game, utility man Brock Holt hit for the first cycle in postseason history. The depth of this lineup will be important, and we will see if Holt or other low-lineup guys like Sandy Leon or Ian Kinsler can step up against a great Astros pitching staff.
For the Astros, Alex Bregman has been the key cog for a lineup that has struggled through injuries to 2017 MVP Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. After having an OPS of .926 in the regular season, Bregman went deep twice in the ALDS against the Indians and got on base 10 times in 14 plate appearances. In addition, George Springer has continued his postseason run after a down year, hitting three homers in the ALDS to go along with five as last year’s World Series MVP. Add that to Altuve, and this top of the lineup is scary in the playoffs.
Outside of those three, it’s unclear who the Astros’ next best hitter is. Evan Gattis hit 25 long balls, while Yuli Gurriel drove in 85 in the regular season. The Astros offense will definitely do enough to let the pitchers work their mastery. But the Red Sox have the better overall lineup, scoring 5.41 runs per game this year.
Edge: Red Sox
The Astros have the best rotation in the league, hands-down. Every one of their starters, four of whom started 30 games, ended the year with an ERA below 3.86. Both Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole had Cy Young-candidate seasons, with 2.52 and 2.88 ERAs, respectively. Verlander didn’t lose a game as an Astros starter until the World Series last season, going 9-0 in September and October before that loss. His experience is huge as the Game 1 starter for the Astros. He reinvented himself at age 34 and won the ALCS MVP last season.
Cole was a good pitcher for the Pirates but has stepped it up with the Astros pitching coaching, with an 80-strikeout increase from last season to this one. 2015 Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and veteran Charlie Morton (15-3 in 2018) round out a rotation that subtracted a good pitcher in Lance McCullers Jr. for the playoffs.
For the Red Sox, Chris Sale was the Cy Young favorite before injuries slowed him down in September. He was having his best year, but injuries may make it tough on him against these Astros. David Price had a solid year but is just 2-9 in the playoffs. Both Nathan Eovaldi and Rick Porcello pitched very well against a powerful Yankees lineup, but are lower-rotation starters. Boston is missing a playoff-tested starter, while the Astros bring back a whole group of them from last year.
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The Astros also are the best statistically in the league out of the bullpen, with a 3.03 ERA. Moving Collin McHugh to the pen couldn’t have worked out better, as he threw 72.1 innings with a 1.99 ERA. Roberto Osuna has also been very good since coming over in a trade at the deadline. The rest of the bullpen has been solid, with MucHugh, Osuna, McCullers, Ryan Pressly, and Will Harris combining for 9 ⅔ innings allowing just one run in the playoffs.
For the Red Sox, Craig Kimbrel is a force at closer but struggled in Game 4 against the Yankees, allowing two runs. Joe Kelly throws heat but hasn’t been great this year, while Heath Hembree has allowed 10 home runs. Ryan Brasier has been a bright spot with a 0.772 WHIP. But this Red Sox bullpen, barring a Chris Sale appearance late in a big game, does not stand up to the Houston bullpen.
Whoever doesn’t play first for the Red Sox is going to be a big pinch-hitter if needed, whether it be Steve Pearce or Mitch Moreland. Brock Holt will also likely be coming off the bench, along with backup catchers Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart. The Red Sox will likely shuffle all infield positions except for shortstop, and look for someone to come up huge in the clutch off the bench.
For the ‘Stros, Tyler White has been great off the bench, while Tony Kemp is a speedy outfielder. Marwin Gonzalez can play anywhere, and Martin Maldonado is a great defensive catcher if needed off the bench. Boston’s bats in big moments give them the advantage here.
Edge: Red Sox
Alex Cora is in his first year but doing very well. He has played JD Martinez right at DH and Boston’s offense has reached its full potential this year. Meanwhile, AJ Hinch managed the Astros well in the World Series last year and hopes to get back there again. He will leave Houston pitchers in longer than any other manager, but that is because he has the best starters in the game. The experience, especially in the playoffs, will pay dividends.
The Pick: Both of these teams deserve to be in the World Series after great seasons. But only one can make it. Mookie Betts’ biggest series so far will probably be a good one, but it will be tough against the Astros great rotation. Game 1 will be a classic between Verlander and Sale in Boston. Look for Houston to take advantage of Boston’s third and fourth starters at home. George Springer will continue his playoff greatness with a big home run to win one of the games.
I think the Houston bullpen won’t be as great as it has been, and JD Martinez will hit well off of them late in games. This series could very easily go to seven games, with Verlander and Sale coming in long-inning relief appearances. In the end, I see Verlander closing out Game 7 in Boston with four or five innings, outdueling Sale in the Madison Bumgarner role and finishing off a classic series.
Astros in 7
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