If the Red Sox end up making it to the World Series this year, their path through October may very well be remembered as one of the more difficult ones to navigate in recent memory. This will be just the sixth time since 1971 that a team will face two 100-win opponents in the same postseason. Not to mention that one of Boston’s opponents was an arch rival and the other is the defending champ. Not exactly the luckiest draw. Yet going into the ALCS against the Astros, it doesn’t seem like confidence is in short supply for the Red Sox — and rightfully so. Some in Boston feel a little slighted, especially after that Game 2 loss to New York.
“I had the off day and I turned on the TV, everything here is Yankees winning in four. Yankees in four. I’m like what is going on? No one is picking the Red Sox, but all of us in here picked ourselves,” Xander Bogaerts told reporters following the Game 4 win in the Bronx. “How can we have 108 wins and they’ll be like the Yankees are going to win in four? I don’t understand.”
I am a big fan of the chip-on-shoulder approach and I think it’s worked wonders for past Red Sox teams. The bad taste in their mouth, coupled with a huge series win over the Yankees is exactly what this team needs to beat a great Houston team to go to the World Series. Last season, it felt like the Astros had the Sox right where they wanted them throughout the entire ALDS. This year, it feels like Boston holds more cards, gets a few extra cracks at Houston and has the best chance of anyone left to prevent the first back-to-back title run since 2000. And the Red Sox owe a lot of this momentum to the Yankees.
What builds momentum better than beating your arch rival on it’s home field to advance to the ALCS for the first time since 2013, particularly when so many people doubted you? I can’t think of much. I’ll admit that I had my doubts after the Game 2 loss. To be honest, I was a nervous wreck as soon as the score for the Wild Card game was final and I think a lot of people can echo that sentiment. It felt like New York was the big opening test for this team and that doesn’t mean that I think the Astros will be an easy opponent by any means.
I mean, it’s the Yankees in October. If that doesn’t make you nervous, I hope you’re an air traffic controller, because that field needs someone like you. You have to remember that the Red Sox lost seven of their final nine regular-season games last year and three of those losses came against the Astros. Talk about limping into the postseason. Yeah, Boston won the AL East and 93 games. It was a good baseball team with a big chunk of the same roster that will take the field Saturday. But it wasn’t this team — fresh off a series win over the Yankees. When it comes to matchups, the Sox also have better numbers against the Astros than they did against New York for the most part. Maybe I’m using these splits to artificially increase my optimism going into the ALCS, but that type of trickery is a necessary evil this time of year.
One guy who must be relieved to see the Astros is David Price, surprisingly enough. Yeah, yeah, he sucks in the postseason, choked against the Yankees (again) and will never succeed in October — I’ve heard it all before. But just a quick glance at his splits show that he has success against Houston’s lineup. I’m not guaranteeing his first playoff victory since 2015. I’m just saying that he’s probably relieved to not have to face Gary Sanchez again until at least mid-April.
Price has the biggest sample size of all Boston starters against the Astros with 169 career at-bats against their active roster. Price has 56 strikeouts — with 14 of them coming against World Series MVP George Springer — and 11 walks. He has given up a total of seven home runs and has a batting average against of .231 with an on-base percentage of .282 and slugging percentage of .402. Against New York’s active roster, Price has allowed 15 home runs in 302 at-bats and a slashline of .318/.378/.543 with 50 strikeouts and 27 walks.
Perhaps most importantly, Price pitched 6 2⁄3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen against the Astros in the ALDS last year and allowed just five hits. That’s the main reason I think he should be pitching out of the bullpen for the remainder of the postseason, but I won’t even get into that. Overall, he seems to have success against this lineup — with the exception of Brian McCann (who used to be a Yankee so that explains that). This season, Price had one good start against the Astros and one so-so start, but they managed to hit just .159./.213/.295 against him overall.
He’s not alone in terms of success against the Astros. Houston batters have posted a sub-.300 batting average and a sub-.360 on base percentage against Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello and Chris Sale — who will likely all start at least one game this series. Houston starters have had just as much (if not more) success against the Red Sox, though. More on that here.
Obviously Justin Verlander has been of the best pitchers in the league for the last decade — but it’s still shocking to see a zero in the hits column for Mookie Betts against any pitcher. Betts is 0-for-14 against Houston’s Game 1 starter with two walks and two strikeouts. Overall, Boston’s lineup has just 36 hits and 35 strikeouts in 171 career at-bats against Verlander. Steve Pearce is the only Red Sox to homer off of him. Let’s hope that trend is reversed Saturday night at Fenway, where Boston hit 102 regular-season home runs this year.
You have to think the Alex Cora effect comes into play at some point this series too. There are not many people in baseball who know the Astros better than Cora does. Who knows how big of a role that will play, but it’s a leg up that Boston didn’t have in last year’s ALDS.
“Hopefully I learned something from them that is going to make a difference in one of the four games that we want to win,” Cora told reporters this week, per the Providence Journal. “If that happens, being familiar with them really helped. But it doesn’t guarantee anything.”
There are absolutely no guarantees in postseason baseball — aside from the fact that it will be wild and crazy and unpredictable as hell. The Red Sox have managed to navigate these waters successfully three times in the last 14 years. If they are going to make this one the fourth, it’s only fair that they have to beat one of baseball’s best teams to do so.