The American League Championship Series begins tonight in Boston and if the NLCS is a David v. Goliath showdown as I discussed yesterday, the ALCS is a battle of the Titans. The Red Sox won a franchise record 108 games in 2018. The Astros were second in MLB with 103 wins. The Red Sox have the highest payroll in the league, but the Astros are still in the top 10. Both teams have former Cy Young Award winners, MVPs, and a lot of ways to beat you on the field. So in preparation for tonight’s game I wanted to take a look at five things to keep an eye on during what promises to be an epic battle of baseball powerhouses.
Mookie Betts & J.D. Martinez
In all likelihood Mookie Betts will win the AL MVP this year, and since I can already see you getting your “but Mike Trout exists” comments ready it’s worth noting that, at least this season, Trout wasn’t penalized for playing for the Angels. He was just outplayed by Betts. The chart below represents the top ten players by fWAR who are still playing in the LCS plus Mike Trout, it’s pretty eye opening for just how good Betts has been this year:
Top Ten Players by fWAR in the LCS plus Trout
Yesterday I spent some time on the unbelievable streak Christian Yelich has been riding. Mookie has basically been that guy for most of the year. He’s an electrifying player and if he has a good series the Red Sox offense can be tough to beat.
It’s worth noting that the Red Sox are the only team left with two players in the top ten in fWAR, it’s also worth noting that J.D. Martinez was flirting with the Triple Crown earlier this year before Betts starting hitting everything in sight and Khris Davis hit all the home runs.
The back end of the Red Sox offense isn’t as potent as the Astros, but Betts and Martinez at the top is a force to be reckoned with. If they are having a good series the Astros are going to need to score a lot of runs to stay in these games.
Luckily for the Astros they have a player in this conversation as well. Incredibly it’s not their reigning MVP Jose Altuve, nor is it former Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa. It’s not even World Series MVP George Springer (see where I’m going with the depth of this offense?) No, the man who’s been leading the charge for the Astros offense is sophomore 3B Alex Bregman and he couples a .286/.394/.532 slash line with an electrifying personality off the field. Be on the lookout for gems like this:
I love the swag. Bregman is not shy and he certainly knows he’s having a great year. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Astros 3B can bring to prime time in the ALCS.
Astros starting pitching
I feel like I should preface this section by saying it’s not like the Red Sox have bad starting pitching. I mean, their rotation is anchored by Chris Sale. It’s just that, well, the Astros have the best rotation in baseball and it’s not particularly close. To illustrate this I looked at the top 20 pitchers in the American League who threw at least 150 innings sorted by fWAR (Sale only threw 158 innings due to an injury, so this ensured he made the cut) and this is the result:
American League Pitchers by fWAR
|Chris Sale||Red Sox||158.0||13.50||1.94||0.63||.283||82.5%||44.2%||9.3%||2.11||1.98||2.31||6.5|
|J.A. Happ||- - -||177.2||9.78||2.58||1.37||.272||74.9%||40.1%||13.4%||3.65||3.98||3.88||3.2|
|Lance Lynn||- - -||156.2||9.25||4.37||0.80||.336||70.1%||49.7%||11.3%||4.77||3.84||3.98||2.9|
|Rick Porcello||Red Sox||191.1||8.94||2.26||1.27||.285||70.9%||44.1%||13.8%||4.28||4.01||3.87||2.7|
|David Price||Red Sox||176.0||9.05||2.56||1.28||.274||77.3%||40.1%||13.2%||3.58||4.02||3.95||2.7|
The Astros have four pitchers in the top twenty. That is their rotation for this series. They rank first, third, thirteenth and fifteenth. That is absurd. The Red Sox will counter with three pitchers in the top twenty, plus Nathan Eovaldi. Their pitchers rank second, nineteenth and twentieth. While that still looks good, one of those pitchers is David Price who may be the anti-Lester when it comes to the postseason.
The Red Sox bullpen
The Red Sox have an outstanding closer in Craig Kimbrel, but they have struggled to bridge the gap between their starters and their closer. This is complicated by the fact that Kimbrel just hasn’t been all that good in a more flexible role.
Our friends at Over the Monster had a good write-up on the struggles of the bullpen in September:
There is no denying that when everyone is on this can be a unit that flashes above average. Craig Kimbrel can be the best reliever in baseball at times. We have collectively written so much about Matt Barnes this year that you already know how dangerous he can be. Joe Kelly for all of his inconsistency occasionally looks unhittable and occasionally looks, well, Extremely Hittable. Ryan Brasier has been one of the better stories of the year and throws 97 for strikes. I could go on and on here, but consistency is where this unit fails.
Overall, I think Fangraphs comes closest to capturing the essence of what this unit actually is—an upper-third, but not elite, bullpen over the course of the season. The unit has talent, but a lack of consistency keeps them from feeling like a true team strength. It must also be pointed out that the unit that we see make the roster for ALDS might be significantly different than the pitchers that were relied upon all year and drove the fWAR of the bullpen. Stalwarts like Heath Hembree and Joe Kelly remain very much on the bubble, for example, and a starter like Eduardo Rodriguez could join the ranks.
If the Red Sox bullpen holds up and gets the ball to Kimbrel this could be a rough series for the Astros, but if the Astros potent offense takes advantage of a bullpen that is often “Extremely Hittable,” the Red Sox could get into a lot of trouble late.
The Ump Show
I absolutely hate that this is a thing that needs to be watched in a series that doesn’t need any distractions, but when the umpire crew for the ALCS was released earlier this week I audibly groaned:
Your ALCS and NLCS umpires.— Yahoo Sports MLB (@MLByahoosports) October 11, 2018
We'll save the trouble: No Angel Hernandez. pic.twitter.com/8b6nomjR9I
It looks like Bregman isn’t the only one getting a shot at prime time. Joe West is on this crew and we all know what that means. It’s not just West, either. Here’s a Vic Carapazza highlight from 2016:
Oh, you thought I was done? Nope, we have more serial offenders in this crew. Here’s a Dodgers’ fan account giving Wegner a shout out from opening day:
What I’m trying to say is, it’s almost like an All Star team of #UmpShow offenders, and I’m going to be pretty disappointed when this crew gets in the way of what should be an outstanding ALCS between two incredible baseball teams.
Who will win the ALCS?
This poll is closed