The Red Sox surprised a lot of people by handily dispatching of the Tampa Bay Rays in four games and the Astros elite offense proved too much for the White Sox pitching which set up an American League Championship Series that promises to score a lot of runs over the next week or so.
I can already see a handful of readers rolling their eyes and I won’t name names regarding the people who are grumpy in my DM’s about this ALCS “cheaters” matchup. You know who you are. I mean, I get it. We saw this matchup in 2018 — you know, right before a handful of year long suspensions for the Astros cheating scandal, not to mention a smaller Red Sox scandal shortly thereafter. Social media is full of hot takes on the haters’ brackets that exist between the remaining teams. However, whether you’re hate-watching or cheering there are a lot of things to keep an eye on in this ALCS, and I’ve got all of them in this Cubs fan’s guide to the series.
One note, I’m not going to rehash every single stat for each roster because those already exist in the Division Series guides I put out last week. Rather, these guides will focus more on comparisons between each team and interesting observations both from the Divisional round, and from their head to head matchups earlier this season. The same will be true for tomorrow’s guide for the National League.
As always, there are a few roster tweaks from each team. Let’s start with the Red Sox:
The position players the Red Sox will play in the ALCS are the same as in the ALDS. The pitchers, on the other hand, are not. Former closer Matt Barnes was a late add to the ALDS roster and he’s the first man off the ALCS roster. He’s been struggling since August and didn’t do much to assuage any of those concerns in his one inning of work with a six-run lead in Game 2 of the ALDS. Lefty reliever Austin Davis is also off the roster. Barnes and Davis will be replaced by right-handed pitcher Hirokazu Sawamura and left-handed pitcher Darwinzon Hernandez. Neither Sawamura or Hernandez really lives in manager Alex Cora’s circle of trust, so I don’t imagine they’ll be seeing a ton of high-leverage innings. I think both of these swaps just acknowledge they are more likely to be used in games than Barnes or Davis were.
The Astros were forced into much bigger changes with their roster, which you can see here:
The Astros lost their best pitcher between the ALDS and the ALCS in Lance McCullers Jr. McCullers threw 10⅔ innings against the White Sox in the ALDS and allowed only one run in two starts. His combined line for Games 1 and 4 was: 10⅔ IP 1R 1ER 9H 3BB 9K. But if you have to replace a staff ace between the Division and Championship Series, there are worse ways to have to do it than replacing him with the likely Hall of Famer you have stashed in the pen in Zack Greinke or 24-year-old pitching sensation Cristian Javier.
The Astros also moved their third catcher, Garrett Stubbs, to the taxi squad and rounded out their roster with bullpen arms in righty Jake Odorizzi and lefty Blake Taylor.
These teams can mash
One of the things that jumped out immediately as I wrote about Boston and Houston last week was how potent their offenses each are. The Astros scored 31 runs during their four games against the White Sox this postseason. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have scored 32 runs across five games this postseason. Oh, and the one game they were shut out against the Rays? The Red Sox hit nine balls over 100 miles per hour in that game, they just had the bad luck of half of those balls turning into outs and the other half being limited to singles.
What I’m trying to say is, both of these teams can rake. They combined for 67 runs over the seven games they played against each other in the regular season and I see no reason that will change in the playoffs.
Rotation question marks
The Red Sox will start Chris Sale in Game 1 and Nathan Eovaldi in Game 2. The Astros will counter with Framber Valdez and Luis Garcia. After that there is a lot of TBD on the probable pitcher pages and honestly I don’t think that is just gamesmanship. There are some big questions on both sides.
In Boston they must be asking: “Will the real Chris Sale please show up?” after he struggled in his last two starts. A tidbit in The Athletic earlier this week indicates that teammate Eovaldi might have helped Sale right the ship with some advice on his delivery. An effective Chris Sale would be a huge boon to the Red Sox, but even if he struggles we’ve seen that Cora is not scared to pull his starters out of the bullpen in the name of victory. Keep an eye on how he’s using rookie Tanner Houck and veteran Nick Pivetta, who could both start or come in in long relief as needed for the Red Sox.
I already talked about the huge blow to the Astros rotation as they lost McCullers for at least this series, but another big question for the Astros is how likely Game 3 starter José Urquidy might fair. Urquidy was originally scheduled to start Game 4 against the White Sox, but they opted to hand to ball to McCullers after the game was rescheduled due to rain. It has been 15 days since Urquidy last pitched, and he has yet to pitch in the 2021 postseason, which could have implications of its own.
In addition to the head-to-head matchups resulting in a lot of runs for both teams, it is worth noting that it was pretty lopsided for the Astros. Houston took three out of four games against the Red Sox at home, and then turned around and took two out of three in Fenway less than a week later. That was good for a 5-2 record against Boston between May 31 and June 10 this season.
In terms of pitchers who could see action this series, the Astros hit Eduardo Rodríguez pretty hard. They struggled the first time they saw Martín Pérez but definitely had him figured out the next time around. On Boston’s side, they saw success against Greinke and Odorizzi — not so much against Framber Valdez or Cristian Javier, who threw a four-inning save against the Red Sox on June 9.
Who are you cheering for in the ALCS between the Astros and the Red Sox?
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