By: Andrew Tashian
Postseason baseball is back! The Boston Red Sox will play the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series. For the first time in franchise history, the Red Sox (93-68) have won back-to-back American League East titles. Trying to erase the horrid memories of last year’s first-round loss to the Cleveland Indians, the Red Sox are aimed at winning their 3rd World Series Championship in the last 11 years. Much like last year’s post-season, the Sox are facing quite the adversary. Boston will travel to Houston, where the teams will play the first two games of a best-of-five game series, on October 5th & 6th.
Houston (101-61) won the American League West this season by 21 games. They landed future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, on August 31st, to bolster an already terrific pitching staff led by Dallas Keuchel & Brad Peacock, as well as, closer Ken Giles. The Astros offense, led by MVP candidate Jose Altuve, led the A.L. in batting average(.282), runs(896), doubles(346) & were second only to the Yankees in homers(238.) Altuve, the A.L. batting champion, led the Majors in hits(for the 4th straight year) with 204, while finishing tied for second in runs. The Red Sox will need to control Altuve in order to have any chance at winning this series.
Boston is not the offensive juggernaut Houston is. The Red Sox finished dead last in the A.L. with 168 home runs — none of them a grand slam. Out of the 16 American League teams, they finished with the 9th best batting average, just .258 — not the Red Sox we’re used to seeing. They’ll need to be aggressive on the base paths(Sox were 3rd in SB w/106), take advantage of any mistakes the Astros, so rarely, make & get phenomenal starting pitching. With the way the season ended, highlighted by the poor effort of Boston’s starters specifically, the Red Sox so desperately need their starting pitchers to step up.
The Sox have a slight advantage when it comes to pitching, Boston’s 3.70 ERA was the second best in the A.L., compared to Houston’s 5th best 4.12 ERA. Boston finished 3rd in runs allowed per game at 4.12 — Houston finished 4th with 4.32 runs allowed per game. The Astros finished 8th in walks per 9 innings pitched, averaging 3.2 while the Red Sox finished 2nd allowing 2.8 walks per 9. The Red Sox also had a 300 strikeout pitcher, no other team can say that. Boston’s bullpen is better, too. With the mid-season acquistion of Addison Reed, the Red Sox have found their set-up man to all-star closer Craig Kimbrel. Boston’s not-so-secret-weapon David Price could potentially pitch 3 innings in a game, although Farrell could elect to use him in shorter, more frequent appearances. Other relievers like Carson Smith, Joe Kelly & Brandon Workman will help solidify a potent Red Sox bullpen.
With injury concerns still hovering over key players like Eduardo “The Identity” Nunez & 2B Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox will need the bats of Mookie Betts, Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts to carry them. Mookie turned it on in September reaching 100 RBIs for the second consecutive season & he became the first Red Sox player to have back-to-back 20 HR 20 SB seasons. Bogey, who battled a hand injury sustained on July 6th, also had a good end to the season. Over his last 15 games, Bogaerts batted .326 (15-for-46) with 2 HR, 6 RBI, 10 BB & 13 R.
Hanley Ramirez, who hit 30 homers and drove in 111 runs while batting .286 in 2016, had a down season in 2017. Hanley hit just 23 home runs, drove in just 62 men and hit a measly .242. He scored only 58 runs which is his lowest total since 2012 when he played in just 64 games for the Dodgers. The Red Sox will need Hanley to do DH-like things in order to score runs. Hanley has been swinging the bat better as he carries a 5-game hitting streak into the series
ALDS GAME 1. Houston, Texas. Thursday, October 5th. 4:00 PM
The newest member of the 300 strikeout club, Chris Sale, will make the first playoff start of his career on Thursday. Sale finished the season 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA & 308 strikeouts. The Condor is 5-1 with a 1.31 ERA in 6 career starts versus Houston, striking out 65 hitters in just 48 innings. Needless to say, Boston’s odds of winning this series will greatly hinge on the performance of their ace.
The newest member of the Houston Astros, Justin Verlander, will make his first playoff start for the AL West Champs on Thursday. Verlander finished the season 15-8 with a 3.36 ERA in time split between Houston and Detroit. However, since being dealt to the Astros, he is 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA.
ALDS GAME 2. Houston, Texas. Friday, October 6th. 2:00 PM
Drew “Big Smooth” Pomeranz (17-6 3.32 ERA) will make the first playoff start of his career on Friday. The emergence of Pomeranz has been a huge part of Boston’s success this year. At times, Big Smooth has been more consistent than any other pitcher on the staff. Becoming a vital member of the rotation, when he was slated to be Boston’s 4th arm in the rotation in spring training, Drew Pomeranz has earned the opportunity to showcase his talents on the big stage.
Houston will send 2015 Cy Young Winner Dallas Keuchel to hill in game 2. Keuchel finished the season 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA in 23 games. He’s won 43 games for the Astros in the last 3 seasons and is as good as any Game 2 starter we’ll see all post-season. In 3 career playoff games, Keuchel has pitched 14 innings allowing 4 runs on 10 hits while striking out 14 batters. Lifetime, he is 2-0 in his playoff career.
Without knowing the starters on either side for game 3, one would assume Houston’s skipper A.J. Hinch, would send Brad Peacock (12-2 3.00 ERA) to the hill. Red Sox manager John Farrell has to make one of his most difficult decisions of the season in deciding who starts game 3. Doug Fister, Eduardo Rodriguez and Rick Porcello have all pitched inconsistently down the stretch. E-Rod makes the most sense given the Astros handle right-handed pitching better than southpaw’s. Porcello had the second most strikeouts on the team and could use that ability to get outs in relief. John Farrell has indicated that Doug Fister is an option for the starting rotation only and NOT for a bullpen spot.
As a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan, I can tell you that Red Sox Nation is so ready to kill off 2016 once and for all. We’re tired of hearing about playoff sweeps and how our 217 million dollar relief man can’t pitch in October. Us fans are as resilient as the team, staying up for a franchise-tying 15 extra inning wins this season. We watched bases loaded with no men out situations yield zero runs over and over again. We stood by pitchers like Rick Porcello who — OK OK — I, alone, stood by pitchers like Rick Porcello who gave up home run after home run. As a fan, and I hope I can speak for most fans when I say, we have earned the right to celebrate some post-season wins.
One thing we do know is that when the series gets back to Boston, no matter the series score, Fenway Park will be electric. Fans flood the streets of Boston the hours before games start, often becoming best friends with complete strangers. They stay in those very same streets hours after the games end, blissfully celebrating or powerfully reiterating who needs to fired or benched. Fenway offers the most ecstatic, unique playoff experience in all of America, not only for fans, but players too. Whether it’s the fans, the city or the 40 degree weather, when baseball is played at Fenway in October, you get goosebumps.
Photo Credit – CSNNE.com