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Series Preview: Red Sox vs. Astros

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The defending champs come to town

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MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

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The Crawfish Boxes

The Opponent in one sentence

The Astros are the defending champs, and while they’ve hit a bump or two in the road they are still an elite team in this league and one of the favorites to make it back to the World Series and possibly win it again.

Record

87-53

Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 2, Astros 2

Trend

Up. The Astros have been good all year, but starting with the last ten days of August they’ve really started to hit their stride as they look to run away with the AL West and get ready for October. They’ve won each of their first five games this month and have won 12 of their last 15 overall. That run does include taking two of three in a monstrous series against the A’s.

Pitching Matchups

9/7: David Price vs. Gerrit Cole, 7:10 PM ET

Price comes back from a brief stint on the shelf after being hit on a line drive back to the mound, and he’s looking to pick up right where he left off. With Chris Sale suffering from a much more extended absence, Price has taken the mantle of Red Sox temporary ace and he’s done so admirably. Over his last eight starts the lefty has pitched to a 1.94 ERA over 51 innings with 51 strikeouts and only seven walks. It’s been the control and command that has been most impressive, along with Price’s willingness to use more than just his fastball. That is going to be key in what should be a big test for the veteran, as Houston possesses a great lineup featuring a lot of right-handed talent. Earlier this year Price allowed three runs over six innings in Houston with seven strikeouts and one walk.

Cole was one of the best acquisitions by any team this past winter, as the Astros got him for a relatively unspectacular package of young players for the Pirates, and the righty has immediately realized that potential he was only able to flash while with Pittsburgh. He’s been one of the best pitchers in the American League all year, pitching to a 2.86 ERA over 28 starts with a 2.70 FIP and a 2.56 DRA. Cole has massive strikeout stuff — over 12 strikeouts per nine — and keeps the ball in the yard while limiting his walks enough to succeed. He has been a bit worse since the start of August with a 4.11 ERA over that time, but a lot of that comes down to allowing a .372 batting average on balls in play. The Red Sox scored three runs in seven innings off Cole in June, and the righty will feature a high-90s fastball along with a slider and a curveball.

9/8: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Charlie Morton, 4:05 PM ET

The Red Sox received a big boost to their rotation when Rodriguez returned from the disabled list last week. He had taken a big step forward in the weeks leading up to his injury, finally combining the stuff he’s always shown with efficiency that only seemed to come on rare occasions. There was a question about how he’d return from injury, as he always seems to have a lack of confidence after an ailment. Well, he looked great in his return against the White Sox, allowing just one run over 5 23 innings with 12 strikeouts and only one walk. If the Red Sox can get that kind version of Rodriguez the rest of the way, this rotation looks a lot better. The lefty didn’t appear in the series against the Astros earlier this year.

Morton is another reclamation project from the Astros and he’s been a dominant force since joining Houston’s rotation last year. The righty has been particularly impressive in 2018, pitching to a 3.14 ERA through his first 26 starts with a 3.62 FIP and a 3.89 DRA. Like Cole, Morton has big-time strikeout stuff with 11 strikeouts per nine innings, though he doesn’t have the same command. His home run rate is still fine, particularly when considering his home park, but he does fall into lapses of poor control at times. Morton is coming off a brief DL stint and had allowed nine runs in 9 23 innings over his previous two starts. The Red Sox did get to him earlier in the year as well, scoring six runs off the righty over 5 13 innings back in June. Morton will feature a pair of mid-to-high-90s fastballs along with a curveball.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Chicago White Sox Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

9/9: Rick Porcello vs. Dallas Keuchel, 8:05 PM ET

Porcello has been a rollercoaster all year, and this is going to be a big test for the righty. The biggest issue for the 2016 Cy Young winner has easily been his propensity for giving up home runs, and he’ll be facing a powerful lineup that could very well abuse the Monster and the seats on top of it. Porcello obviously needs his command at all times (who doesn’t?) but he’ll need to working just about perfectly against this Astros lineup. He’s certainly struggled a bunch lately, but he’s seemingly stepped up in the biggest games. His last three good games, including his last time out, came against the Braves, Phillies and Yankees, which happen to be the last three potential playoff teams he’s faced. Hopefully he can keep that going against Houston on Sunday Night Baseball. The Astros scored three runs (two earned) off Porcello in 6 13 innings when they faced off in June.

Keuchel won the Cy Young back in 2015, but he hasn’t really been able to get back to that level since then. Granted, that’s not the same as saying he’s been bad and the lefty did pitch to a 2.90 ERA in an injury-shortened 2017, but the dominance hasn’t been there. This season, through 29 starts, Keuchel has pitched to a 3.46 ERA, a 3.63 FIP and a 3.62 DRA. He’s not going to miss many bats, making him an entirely different beast than the first two pitchers Houston sends out in this series, but he does induce a ton of weak contact and keeps the ball on the ground. If the Red Sox can get the ball in the outfield, they’ll have a big night. If not, it will be frustrating. Keuchel missed this series back in June, and he’ll feature a pair of high-80s/low-90s fastballs along with a slider, a cutter and a changeup.

Old Friends

Josh Reddick was a top prospect for the Red Sox towards the end of last decade but he never was able to find proper playing time in Boston thanks to the presence of J.D. Drew. Eventually, the team sent him to Oakland in the Andrew Bailey deal, and he’d carve out a solid tenure with the A’s. Reddick eventually signed in Houston prior to last season and he posted a career-year in 2017 before coming back to Earth a bit this season.

Ryan Pressly never made the majors with the Red Sox but he was a minor-league arm who was lost in the Rule 5 draft. Since then he’s turned into one of the more underrated relief arms in the game and was a potential Boston target at the deadline. Instead, he was sent from Minnesota to Houston and he’s continued to be extremely impressive in a late-inning role with the Astros.

Notable Position Players

Jose Altuve is still the face of this Astros franchise and last year’s American League MVP is having a great year again, even if it’s not as great as 2017. The second baseman has spent some time on the DL, but when healthy as he is now he still gets a ton of hits and gets on base. His power is a bit down this year compared to last season.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Bregman has been the best player on the Astros this year and has been particularly hot over the last month or so. If he continues this don’t be surprised if he makes his way into MVP conversations, though I think he’s too far behind to actually win. Bregman walks more than he strikeouts while also hitting for big-time power. That’s a scary combo.

Carlos Correa has spent a lot of the year on the disabled list, and while his overall numbers are still good they are not the kind of otherworldly stats that you expect from one of the most talented players in the game. Don’t sleep on him because of that, though. He’s always capable of exploding.

George Springer sits atop the Astros lineup and gives them an intriguing power/speed combination that won’t strike out much. His power is down a bit this year, though again like Correa he is capable of going on a hot streak in the blink of an eye.

Yuli Gurriel is going to be aggressive and will put the ball in play almost every time up, but he hasn’t been able to do damage on a consistent basis with those balls in play. That’s led to an average year at the plate.

Tyler White took a while to get a role with this team, but since earning regular playing time he’s been terrific thanks to massive power.

Marwin Gonzalez was an under-heralded star last season, and while his offense has taken a step back he’s still above-average and can still play all over the diamond.

Brian McCann simply isn’t the player he once was and no longer hits for the big power that made him one of the best catchers of his generation.

Evan Gattis will play this series because of Boston’s two southpaws and he’s still the aggressive power hitter he’s always been. He’ll be a threat to go deep every time up.

Tony Kemp won’t be hitting for much power, but he rarely strikes out and walks enough to make him a firmly above-average presence at the plate.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Bullpen Snapshot

Roberto Osuna was a controversial addition at the trade deadline given the allegations of domestic abuse and his pending trial on those charges. The former Blue Jay has taken over as the Astros closer and has pitched well in that role. Hopefully the Red Sox change that, for reasons beyond what it means in this series.

Hector Rondon and Collin McHugh serve as the two-headed monster ahead of Osuna, and it’s really three-headed if you include Pressly. It’s a tough late-inning combination, though the one weakness is that it’s entirely right-handed.

Tony Sipp is the top lefty in the Astros bullpen and while he has an impressive ERA it seems hinged on a fluky ability to keep the ball in the yard.

Injuries

Lance McCullers has been out of the Astros rotation since early August, but he’s working his way back. He likely won’t start again this year, but he was a monster out of the bullpen last October and should serve in that role again this season.

Jandel Gustave underwent Tommy John surgery last summer and is still working his way back.

Weather Forecast

Things are finally about to start and cool off a bit out East this weekend, but that won’t be accompanied by rain. There shouldn’t be any issues getting these three games in.