On Friday night (well, Saturday morning to be accurate), the Houston Astros pit their sketchy stuff against the Boston Red Sox.
Despite scraping into the postseason and progressing to the ALCS via the Wild Card, the Red Sox only won three fewer regular season games than the Astros. There is very little to choose between these two teams.
Houston easily disposed of the White Sox in the ALCS, adding fuel to the fire that Chicago only reached October baseball thanks to the fluke of being in MLB’s worst division. Houston’s Holy trinity of Jose Altuve (1.102 OPS), Alex Bregman (.882 OPS) and Carlos Correa (1.068 OPS) lived up to their billing and were supported (or perhaps outshone) by youngsters Yordan Álvarez (1.166 OPS) and Kyle Tucker (1.000 OPS).
Let’s break down the teams ahead of the best of seven series.
Boston: Christian Vázquez
Houston: Martin Maldonado
His motivational tweet in response to the faux outrage at Ryan Tepera’s “sketchy stuff” comment worked wonders. The 35-year-old catcher registered a hit to finish the White Sox series 1-for-15.
Verdict: Red Sox
Boston: Kyle Schwarber
Oh my! Eight postseason homers with an on-base percentage over .400.
Houston: Yuli Gurriel
The AL batting champ (.319 AVG) had an uninspiring series against the White Sox but I like the symmetry of his slash line .176/.176/.176.
Verdict: Red Sox (just)
Boston: Christian Arroyo
The absence of postseason-ineligible José Iglesias, who posted .915 OPS with the Red Sox, hands the opportunity to light-hitting Arroyo. The 26-year-old went 5-for-16 in the Rays’ series.
Houston: Jose Altuve
Diminutive and devastating. In over 300 postseason plate appearances, the Venezuelan superstar has a triple slash of .306/.384/.568.
Verdict: Astros (not even close)
Boston: Xander Bogaerts
The 29-year-old has just produced his fourth straight elite season, and has already homered against the Yankees and the Rays during this postseason.
Houston: Carlos Correa
Simply the best shortstop in the game (if you take out Trea Turner for his defection to second base, and part-time outfielder Fernando Tatis Jr. I saw Correa mouth “This is my time” after his crucial hit against the White Sox. He could be right.
Boston: Rafael Devers
He is only 24 years old and he has five home runs and .925 OPS in 20 postseason games.
Astros: Alex Bregman
Another injury-plagued season means we still haven’t seen the best of the Bregman since his 2019 superstar season. He hit .375 against the White Sox ALCS but noticeably only one extra-base hit.
Verdict: Red Sox
Boston: Alex Verdugo
Decent season with .289/.351/.426 but has saved his best for the postseason. Eight hits and six RBI in five games.
Astros: Michael Brantley
I’m a sucker for high-contact, low-strikeout hitters, and Brantley has been one of my favourite players to watch for 10 years now. Career 3.8% swinging-strike rate. Swoon.
Boston: Kiké Hernández
The versatile Puerto Rican has made a staggering 63 postseason appearances. Two homers against the Braves in the NLCS last season, and two homers against the Rays in the ALDS this year. Big game power.
Verdict: Red Sox
Boston: Hunter Renfroe
With 31 homers and .501 slugging percentage, 2021 was a great season for the oft strikeout-prone slugger. Although he only has one extra-base hit this postseason, Renfroe possesses game-changing power.
Houston: Kyle Tucker
With 147 OPS+, the 24-year-old outhit the rest of the Astros roster. He produced a similar season to Aaron Judge… but without the hype.
Boston: J.D. Martinez
One of the best hitters of his generation, the 34-year-old doesn’t go yard as often – only 28 home runs in 2021 – but he led the league with 42 doubles and he drove in 99 runs.
Astros: Yordan Álvarez
I didn’t foresee a 145-game season for the injury-susceptible man mountain, but Álvarez hit 33 homers with 104 RBI. His .529 OBP/.636 SLG in the White Sox series was simply awesome.
I’m not sure Eovaldi will be as good or Sale will be as bad as we have seen in the postseason. Rodriguez, Houck and Pivetta seem erratic. Five scoreless innings seem as likely as five earned runs in two innings.
McCullers made two great starts against the White Sox, tossing 10⅔ innings for just one earned run, but he was pulled with a forearm issue. His health could be the single most critical factor in determining the outcome of the series.
Verdict: No decision
Hmmm, after not conceding a run in September, Robles blew his stellar streak against the Rays. The two Garretts will need to carry their elite form into the ALCS.
With 26 saves in 28 opportunities, Pressly was one of the most dominant closers of 2021, but really, who knows what we will see from Graveman, Garcia or Maton – all three of whom have failed to produce the goods since their deadline moves to Houston.
Verdict: Astros (only just)
Astros in six.
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Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo
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