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Getting to know the Astros lineup

It’s an extremely talented group that is going to put up tough at bats pretty much every time up.

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Division Series - Houston Astros v Chicago White Sox - Game Four Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Red Sox are going to have their hands full in this ALCS against the Astros, and that’s largely going to be because of a lineup that was statistically the best in baseball this season. Houston’s offense led the league in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage, strikeout rate, and wRC+, while merely finishing third in slugging percentage. They go seven deep with hitters who can be considered anywhere from very good to elite, and really there is only one “break” in the lineup overall. Here’s a look at the individual hitters with whom Boston’s pitching staff will have to try and deal.

Jose Altuve, 2B

While some of the stars from past Houston rosters to have made it this far are gone, Altuve is the face of the team and he remains. The diminutive second baseman is most known for that heigh, but he’s a hell of a hitter as well. Like most of this lineup, he’s going to be very tough to strike out, finishing with a rate of just 13 percent. The righty also walked at a higher rate than ever this year, and finished the regular season with 31 homers and a .211 Isolated Power. He’s been putting the ball in the air more than ever before, and with his pull-heavy hitting style he can take advantage of that short left field in both venues really, but especially in Houston. The way to beat Altuve is to get ahead in counts and put yourself in a position where you can lean on the breaking ball, as he struggles much more against those pitches than any other this year and over his career.

Michael Brantley, LF/DH

Brantley is certainly not the best hitter in this Houston lineup, but he’s a key piece who almost always hits second, and he’s the kind of player who can be a total pest for Red Sox pitchers all series. In a lineup full of contact hitters, he’s the toughest to strike out with a rate under 11 percent. That’s almost unheard of in today’s game. He’s getting older, currently in his age-34 season, so he doesn’t have the same power he had in his hey day with Cleveland (and even then it was more average than great) and his walk rate has actually fallen as well. But his ability to put nearly everything in play while also carrying an above-average hard-hit rate could make him a tough matchup for a shaky Red Sox defense. Brantley has struggled to square up lefties this year, though, so expect to see a lot of Josh Taylor and Austin Davis when they can make the matchups work.

Division Series - Houston Astros v Chicago White Sox - Game Four Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Alex Bregman, 3B

On true talent, there’s a good argument that Bregman is the best player on this Astros team, but his numbers this year don’t really jump off the page. The star infielder missed some time in the middle of the season with a quad injury, playing in just 91 games on the season. When he was in the lineup, the power was strangely absent relative to what we would typically expect from the Astros third baseman. His plate discipline was typically great, walking 11 percent of the time and strikeout at a 13 percent clip, but his ISO was just .152. A big part of that issue was that Bregman was hitting more balls on the ground than he typically does, especially against fastballs.

Yordan Alvarez, DH

Alvarez first burst onto the scene in 2019 when he looked like the best hitter on the planet in his rookie year. He then missed most of the shortened 2020 season, but he’s come back and been a huge presence in this lineup yet again in 2021. The slugger finished the year with a 138 wRC+. He hits the ball as consistently hard as anyone in the game, and draws a good amount of walks to go along with it. He will strike out some, which makes him something of an anomaly in this lineup, though he did carry reverse splits this season. It’s going to be offspeed pitches with which he has the most trouble, so look for Red Sox pitchers to attack him with changeups and splitters when he’s at the plate.

Yuli Gurriel, 1B

Gurriel kind of gets lost in the shuffle in this Houston lineup a lot of the time, but the first baseman has been a key component for a few years now. He doesn’t really hit for the power you’d expect from a first baseman, but like most everyone else in this lineup he is nearly impossible to strike out with a rate just over 11 percent on the season. In the past, he could be tempted into expanding the zone to neutralize the contact rate, but he’s changed that this year with a nearly 10 percent walk rate. His previous career-best was six percent. That’s a huge change in his game and was a big reason he finished more than 30 percent better than league-average by wRC+. Breaking balls have given him the most trouble this year, so look for Chris Sale in particular to lean heavily on the slider.

Carlos Correa, SS

Correa is another one of the faces on this franchise, though his time in Houston may be nearing an end as he’s set to hit free agency at the end of the year. The big shortstop has improved defensively, and at the plate he’s still one of the best in baseball at his position. He finished with a strikeout rate below 20 percent for the first time since 2017, walked more than he ever has in his career, and also finished with an ISO over .200. Put it all together and you get a 134 wRC+ at a premium position. His Savant page is almost all red, which is not great as an opponent. He’s a monster of a fastball hitter, which is tough when he’s hitting sixth behind all of these other hitters who are so great at getting on base.

Kyle Tucker, LF

It’s almost comical that Tucker is a seven hitter, because on talent he is certainly much better than that. A former top prospect, he had been blocked from full-time roles by the likes of George Springer. He was merely good in the first half with a 125 wRC+, but in the second half he finished with a mark of 177, a mark bested only by Bryce Harper and Juan Soto among qualified hitters. He’s another all-around beast, with a low strikeout rate, high walk rate, and above-average power. Tucker also had a lot of success against the Red Sox earlier this year, finishing those two series with an OPS over 1.200. He’s also a double-digit base stealer to top it all off. In the past he was most easily beaten with breaking balls, though he seemingly shored up any issues there this season.

Jake Meyers, CF

There is certainly a drop off with the bottom two lineup spots, but Meyers did have himself a solid run in the bigs at the end of the year. The former 13th rounder made his debut this season and only had 49 regular season games under his belt before the postseason, putting up a 111 wRC+. Some of that was due to a high BABIP that is likely just small sample size noise, but there is some pop in the bat. That said, his profile looks a lot like you would expect from someone with his lack of experience, as he has been spectacular against fastballs but has struggled mightily against anything else. Again, hitting behind such good hitters can give him the opportunity to see more fastballs with runners on base, but Red Sox pitchers have to do everything they can to pepper Meyers with breaking balls and offspeed pitches.

Martín Maldonado, C

Maldonado is the one break Red Sox pitchers should get in this lineup, as he is much more of a defensive-minded backstop. The catcher strikes out a ton and doesn’t hit for much power, finishing the year with a 63 wRC+. That said, he will draw some walks so the Red Sox absolutely need to throw him strikes. If he beats them with contact, it is what it is. But they cannot afford to put the one below-average hitter (by 2021 wRC+, at least) in this lineup on base for free.