SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
The Astros have been one of the best teams in all of baseball from the start of the year and throughout the season because of a dynamic offense and a strong pitching staff.
Red Sox 2, Astros 1
Up. The Astros are currently in a fight with the Indians for the top seed in the American League playoffs and have been doing their part of late to achieve their goal. They’ve won 12 of their last 15 games and are coming off a dominant sweep of the Rangers in which they scored at least 10 runs in each game while never allowing more than three. Unfortunately for them, Cleveland has been just as hot.
9/28: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Brad Peacock, 7:10 PM ET
This is a fairly big start for Rodriguez, who is looking to solidify his spot in the Red Sox playoff rotation. Granted, it would seem almost certain he’s already done enough to this point, but another strong start wouldn’t hurt. He’s been noticeably different over his last few starts, and that has been a very good thing. The key for Rodriguez has always been mixing his pitches and that will continue to be the case in this series.
Peacock is starting on a regular basis for the first time since 2014, and he’s looking much better than we’ve ever seen him. The righty has been outstanding in the Astros rotation, pitching to a 2.98 ERA with over 11 strikeouts per nine innings. It should be noted that 13 of his 33 appearances have come out of the bullpen, but he’s been in the rotation since late-May and is on fire right now. Over his last six starts, the righty has a 2.10 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 11 walks in 34 1⁄3 innings. Peacock features a four-seam and two-seam fastball, both in the low-to-mid-90s, to go with a slider that has been getting him whiffs all year.
9/29: Doug Fister vs. Charlie Morton, 7:10 PM ET
While Thursday is an important one for Rodriguez, Friday is much more important for Fister. With Rick Porcello failing to take control of the fourth rotation spot, the door is open for Doug Fister to potentially get a start in an ALDS. Obviously, things have gone downhill for the veteran righty of late, but he looked better in his last start. He was still a bit too hittable, but the bar is fairly low for the fourth rotation spot at the moment.
Like Peacock, Morton is a veteran righty who is around for a while but is looking as strong as ever in 2017. His strikeout rate has risen considerably from his career norms, going from a guy who generally strikes out around six or seven batters per nine to one who is striking out over ten. Combining that with an ability to induce ground balls and keep the ball in the yard, he’s pitched to a 3.63 ERA over 24 starts. Morton leans heavily on a mid-90s two-seamer along with a mid-90s four-seamer, a cutter and a changeup.
9/30: Drew Pomeranz vs. Lance McCullers, 1:10 PM ET
These last two starts are question marks for the Red Sox. If they are able to clinch the division over the next two days — something that can be done with some combination of two Red Sox wins and Yankees losses — then they can give Pomeranz and Chris Sale some rest. My guess would be, if Pomeranz doesn’t make this start, they’ll give it to Hector Velazquez.
McCullers is one of the more intriguing young pitchers in the game, though he hasn’t really been able to put it together on a consistent basis. On the one hand, he has legitimate swing-and-miss stuff. On the other hand, he struggles with command and that leads to run totals that doesn’t quite reflect his peripherals. He’s also battled injury this year, so the Astros have limited his workload of late. McCullers features a four-seamer and a two-seamer, both in the mid-90s, along with a curveball and a changeup.
10/1: Chris Sale vs. Collin McHugh, 3:05 PM ET
Like with Pomeranz, the Red Sox would like to avoid Sale making this start. As long as they are able to clinch the division, I would guess the Red Sox will either give this start to Roenis Elias or they will make it a bullpen game.
McHugh missed the majority of the season due to injury, but he’s been solid since returning. His ERA has been better than his peripherals, but he gets a solid number of strikeouts and his command is in check most games. McHugh will never blow anyone away, but he’s the kind of consistent, solid starter contending teams need. He features a low-90s fastball, a curveball and a slider.
Josh Reddick was once one of the more promising prospects in the Red Sox organization, but was dealt to Oakland back before the 2012 season in the Andrew Bailey trade. He hasn’t turned into a star by any means, but he’s been outstanding this season for the Astros thanks to great contact skills and solid power. He’s been hurt for a few days, though, and he may not be playing this weekend in Boston.
Jose Altuve is the best player on the Astros and could be the front-runner in the MVP race. The small second baseman is an incredible player with legitimate power, great speed, strong contact skills and a good glove at second base. In short, he’s good at just about everything.
Altuve is the face of the Astros, but Carlos Correa is a close second behind him. The former first overall pick missed some time in the middle of the year with injury, but when he’s been healthy he’s provided Houston with strong defense at shortstop along with big-time power and on-base skills. Perhaps no team is as well-suited up the middle for years to come.
Finshing up the up-the-middle combination for Houston is George Springer, the Astros center fielder. A UConn product and Matt Barnes’ college teammate, Springer does everything at the plate. The Astros are a strong offensive team, if you couldn’t tell.
Marwin Gonzalez has been a huge breakout for the Astros this year in left field, showing off surprising power and strong contact skills.
Alex Bregman has been an under-the-radar young player, likely because he’s simply good at everything at the plate without having a standout trait.
Carlos Beltran was supposed to be the big free agent acquisition for the Astros, but he’s had a disappointing year thanks to a surprising lack of power and solid contact in general.
Brian McCann and Evan Gattis form the Astros catching tandem and they provide big power but not a ton of on-base ability.
Yulieski Gurriel is a former Cuban baseball star who disappointed in 2016 but has come back this year with solid production from third base for the Astros.
Ken Giles serves as the Astros closer and while he’s not quite elite he is in the next tier down with a chance to jump up at some point in his career. He gets a ton of strikeouts and does a good job of keeping the ball in the yard. His biggest issue is his command, which can lead to bad streaks with lots of walks and line drives.
Chris Devenski is the second best reliever in Houston’s bullpen. A surprising breakout in 2016, he hasn’t taken a step back this year thanks to a devastating changeup that gets him a ton of strikeouts.
Joe Musgrove came up as a starting pitching prospect but converted to the bullpen in the middle of this year and has looked much better in this role, working his way into a high-leverage role.
The one big weakness on Houston’s roster is a lack of a reliable left-handed reliever. Tony Sipp and Francisco Liriano are their primary options right now and both have significant command problems.
Jake Marisnick has been a big part of Houston’s outfield this year with big power to hide his big strikeout issues but has been out with a thumb injury since mid-September.
Brady Rodgers was a depth starter who spent most of his time in Triple-A, but he underwent Tommy John surgery at the start of September.
Jandel Gustave has the potential to be a solid reliever in this league but he underwent elbow surgery in April and has missed essentially the whole season.
It should be a solid weekend in Boston. The humidity is finally breaking, and weather should be more September-like. The one questionable day will be Saturday. There are showers in the forecast all afternoon and it wouldn’t be surprising if that game gets significantly delayed. They should be able to play at some point that day, though.