We are only a few hours away from first pitch in this ALCS, which pits what most would call the two best teams in baseball against each other. There is a lot to break down on Houston’s side, and no matter how many numbers we look at we can never have the insight that comes from following a team on an everyday basis. With that in mind, I asked the crew over at Crawfish Boxes, SBN’s Astros blog, some questions to help get a better idea of the Red Sox’ opponent heading into this series.
1. When I was looking through some of the numbers from the Astros lineup it really stood out that a lot of the hitters had down years in terms of power. Has that been the case all year, and is it a concern?
First, let me say how cool it is for these two teams to meet in the playoffs. I lived in Boston for nine years, loved going to Fenway, and at the time (roughly 1992-2002), it seemed very unrealistic that these two teams would meet in the playoffs. So here we are for the second year.
Yes, power numbers are down except for Alex Bregman. Compared to 2017, 33 less HR and the ISO is down from .196 to .170. The most disturbing lack of power is from Correa, who has looked terrible at the plate since his injury. He’s so huge and has such a great natural swing and bat-to-ball ability, that he’s a guy who could scouts thought would be a .300 hitter consistently, or somebody who might sell out a bit and hit .275 with 40 bombs. He hasn’t hit for average or power. Nothing Altuve does surprises anymore, but a HR total in the teens seems realistic, with 2017 being an outlier. Springer has always been streaky, and when he’s going good he can hit HRs in bunches. Sometimes his swing gets too big and he will turn into a singles hitter for a couple of weeks. He got locked in recently and if he stays locked in he’s a nightmare. Gurriel had a hand injury that generally robs players of power even when they’re healed. His ISO is down from .187 to .138, but he had a sneaky great September with an ISO of .211 and a wRC+ of 161. The only three players with an ISO over .200 (the gold standard for power) were Bregman, Gattis, and White. Bregman is no secret, Gattis might not even make the roster, or if he does, will PH, but White helped the team a lot by providing a shot of power, especially late in games.
The Astros were not as good as an offensive team, and certainly not as powerful as last year. They still had ten guys with double digit HRs, and everybody but Kemp is capable of crushing a mistake out of the ballpark. Astros fans are probably more worried about GIDPs and bad at bats with guys on base than about the lack of power. My added take would be that the Sox will probably win the series if they can control the bottom of the lineup (Correa, White, Maldanado/McCann, Kemp). Can’t wait for this one to start. - Exile in St Louis
2. Alex Cora was obviously part of the coaching staff on last year’s championship team. Is there any worry that he might have some inside information that could give the Red Sox an edge?
It’s tempting to think that Cora knows all the Astros’ secrets, the weaknesses of all the players, the coaching tendencies, etc. but much of what he thinks he knows may be wrong by now, and in some cases the Astros’ front office may be able to use what Cora thinks he knows against him. If he can second guess the Astros then he has done a poor job so far. The Astros have a 119 wRC+ against Boston this year, nine points above their average, and Boston is hitting 100 wRC+ against Houston, 10 points below their average.” – Bilbos
3. Gerrit Cole has been one of the biggest breakouts in all of baseball this year. What should Red Sox fans be on the look out for in his Game 2 start that has made him so successful this year?
I always cringe when I think about breakout players, largely because there’s a chance that it is just a fluke / streak of luck. Gerrit Cole has always had the tools to be one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. Then he met Strom and the Astros analytics department, and they made the most out of those tools. The Astros are huge believers in pitch tunneling and effective velocity, which has caused a bit of a shift in the way Cole approaches batters as a whole. In addition, I think the momentum of being on the best team in baseball, knowing he would be competitively pitching in October, and having Verlander as a mentor and competitor has driven him to new levels.
As for what to look for, Gerrit still leads with his fastball throwing it 56% of the time (down from the high 60’s with the Pirates) with an average velocity of 96.6. He throws four pitches Fastball, Slider, Curve, and Change Up. He pitches with emotion on his sleeve, which as you can imagine is only heightened in the playoffs.
If his performance against the Indians (7 IP, 1 ER, 12K, 0 BB) is any indicator, you should be looking for him to shut down the offense with a gaudy strikeout total. - TheHebrewHammer
4. From the outside it seems as if Carlos Correa is really being affected by his injury. Is the concern shared from inside the Astros fanbase?
The Astros fans are very concerned about Correa, to the point that the discussion seems to vary between” he’s too injured to play; leave him off the roster until next year,” to “he may not be able to hit but he’s too valuable defensively to be kept out of the lineup.” Since his injury is related to his back, there are some whispers that this could hamper his career, although few want to go that far, hoping that a winter’s rest is all he needs. - Bilbos
5. If you had to pick one X-Factor on the Astros in this series, who would it be?
If you assume Correa is too injured to hit, he could be the Xfactor, as he showed improvement at the end of the season. And although he only had one hit against Cleveland, it was a home run, and he hit the ball hard numerous times without hits. He may be due to get hot.
Another Xfactor is Josh James if the Astros need long relief. You got a taste of him in September, and he shut down the meat of your order, and we think he is the next Luis Severino. - Bilbos