We’re just a few hours away from the first pitch of the Red Sox-Astros ALDS. I can only speak for myself, but my anxiety and anticipation is through the roof right now. I am beyond ready for this series to start. As we continue to wait, we’ve all been thinking about and discussing the keys for the Red Sox to pull off an upset against this extremely talented Houston team. A lot of that has been focused on the pitching. Boston needs Chris Sale to pitch like the ace we all know he is. They need Craig Kimbrel to be as dominant as he was during the regular season. They need the bullpen as a whole to shut down this Astros lineup and give the Red Sox lineup a chance to pull off one of their late-game comebacks if that’s what’s needed.
It’s not all about the pitching, though. Boston’s offense needs to do some of the work, too, even if they’ve been a secondary reason the team has made it as far as they have this year. While suddenly hitting a bunch of home runs and putting crooked numbers on the board would be a welcome change, it’s not something anyone can bet on. Therefore, they need to find other ways to score. As they’ve done all year, one of the big ways to do so will be to keep the pressure on Houston’s defense by running wild.
This is not your typical Red Sox team, as we’ve seen all year, and one of their biggest advantages is having a number of guys in their lineup who can make an impact on the bases. Mookie Betts is one of the truly elite baserunners in all of baseball. Xander Bogaerts, while not a prototypical burner, is an incredibly smart baserunner who provides a ton of value on the bases. Rajai Davis is a designated pinch runner who is on the roster strictly because of his ability to run. Andrew Benintendi makes some big mistakes, but he’s still a great athlete who can create plenty of value with his legs. Eduardo Nuñez’ health is a question mark, but if he’s healthy he’s instantly one of the most valuable baserunners on the team. The Red Sox need to use all of these guys to their advantage.
The most obvious way to do so will be to swipe bags whenever the opportunity presents itself. While Houston has a couple of strong offensive catchers in Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, they are not as strong when it comes to holding opponents to first base. On the season, no team was worse at preventing steals than the Astros. Opponents attempted 116 steals against Houston in 2017 and they were only able to catch 14 of them for an abysmal 12 percent rate. (For what it’s worth, the Red Sox were second in baseball with a 39 percent caught stealing rate, behind only the Indians.) The Red Sox don’t have that big bat in front of whom they’ll be afraid to attempt a steal, so they need be thinking about swiping that extra bag just about every time they reach third. There is also the possibility of one of those big Betts/Benintendi double steals we’ve seen a few times late in the regular season.
It’s not just stolen bases where the Red Sox need to run, though. This team has practiced aggressive baserunning all year, and while it’s certainly come back to bite them it’s also produced huge value. In this instance, they don’t need to be quite as aggressive, but they can’t play scared, either. They are going to be facing great pitchers in this series, particularly in the first two games. Runs are going to be hard to come by. While the Astros don’t have a bad defense, they don’t have a great one, either. Guys like Betts and Bogaerts are incredibly smart baserunners and they can use that intellect to put major pressure on Houston’s defense. If they can force mistakes, they can run their way into some runs and keep these games close for when the bullpen enters.
The Red Sox will need to do just about everything right if they want to pull out a win in this series. As everyone has discussed this week, the pitching will be most crucial for Boston. But in order to score runs, this is not a Red Sox lineup that can rely on the big home runs to win games. They need to find other ways to get on the scoreboard, and the biggest way for them to do so is to use their legs. That means they need to steal bases at will and they need to push for the extra bases. If they can run wild and run successfully, this team is going to be scary.