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Red Sox vs. Astros Series Preview

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A look at this week’s big four-game stretch against Houston.

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League Championship Series - Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros - Game Five Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

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The opponent in one sentence

The Astros are baseball’s most hated team right now, but they’re also a good one, keeping their heads above .500 to go with one of the best run differentials in the American League.

Record

28-24

Head-to-head record

0-0

Trend

Down. The good news for the Red Sox is that, while they are starting a brutal stretch of their schedule here on Monday, they are at least catching the Astros at a good time. Houston is in the midst of their own tough stretch, having just drop two of three against the Padres, which came before a split of a two-game set against the Dodgers. But before that, they were swept by the Rangers, making them losers in six of their last eight.

Pitching Matchups

5/31: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. José Urquidy, 4:10 PM ET (ESPN for out-of-market)

Things looked set up well for Rodriguez to bounce back after what has been a tough three-week stretch for the lefty, as he was supposed to make his next start against a pedestrian Marlins lineup. Instead, rain pushed that game off and Rodriguez has to look to get back on track against a very good lineup on the road in Houston. This is certainly not going to be a walk in the park for Rodriguez, who has put up good peripherals of late but has been giving up too much contact that has turned into hits. Some of that is bad luck, but some of that is certainly him leaving too many balls over the plate that can be hit solidly. He’ll need to figure something out here, because this is a lineup that will punish you if you make mistakes.

Urquidy is coming off a brief IL stint, having missed the last couple of weeks. By all accounts, however, he is ready to come back for this series-opener on Monday. The Red Sox are going to have their chances against the young righty, but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Despite a high fly ball rate that leads to balls leaving the yard and a strikeout rate that won’t impress anyone in this era, he’s pitched to an impressive 3.22 ERA this year, and has been good throughout his short MLB career. He has tremendous command, so the Red Sox need to look for a few mistakes and not miss their chances, because they may not get another. Urquidy will throw a low-90s fastball to go with a slider, a changeup, and the occasional curveball.

Atlanta Braves v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

6/1: Garrett Richards vs. Luis Garcia, 8:10 PM ET

Richards has been one of the most important players for the Red Sox over the month of May, and now he’ll look to start June off on the right foot as well in this tough matchup. The righty turned things around in a big way after a brutal start to his career in Boston, though it’s worth noting there are some cracks starting to show once again. Things are certainly better than they were in early April, but after getting his control in check for a few starts he’s issuing walks again. He’s walked four in each of his last two starts and three the one before to give him 11 total over 18 13 innings. He’s still got a 2.45 ERA over that stretch, but he might not have as much luck against the Astros if he’s putting on so many batters for free.

The Red Sox are facing another good, young starter here in the second game, although this one will be a bit different. Whereas Urqidy has his success based on control and command, Garcia is more pure stuff. He’s getting a ton of strikeouts this year, nearly 11 per nine innings, which is helping to mask some mild control issues here and there en route to a really good 2.93 ERA. Now, it should be mentioned he did spend a little time in the bullpen this year, but as a starter he still has a 3.15 ERA, so this will be a tough matchup. To make things even tougher, he’s coming off his best start of the year, allowing just a single unearned run to the Dodgers over six innings on two hits and one walk with seven strikeouts. Garcia will throw a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a cutter, a slider, a changeup, and the occasional curveball.

6/2: Nick Pivetta vs. Framber Valdez, 8:10 PM ET (ESPN)

Things have been trending in the wrong direction for Pivetta his last couple of times out, as he’s started to revert a bit back to the guy we saw for all of those years in Philly. We’re not seeing the absolute worst version of that, to be fair, which was a guy who couldn’t even stick in the majors. But we are seeing a guy who, while missing a lot of bats, will give up hard contact as well. Over the righty’s last two outings, he’s struck out 18 with four walks over 11 innings, but he’s also allowed nine runs (eight earned). He needs to find a way to keep getting the strikeouts while not putting so much over the heart of the plate where it can be hit around. This will be the ultimate test for that skillset.

Valdez had spent most of this season on the injured list after fracturing his finger back in camp, but he made his season debut last weekend against the Padres. They didn’t push him too far, sending him out for only four innings, but he did a solid job in allowing just one run with four strikeouts and two walks. It will be interesting to see how much leash he gets here against the Red Sox. Last season was a good one for the southpaw, as he pitched to a 3.57 ERA with strong peripherals to match along with a high groundball rate. Valdez will lean heavily on a low-90s sinker along with a curveball and the occasional changeup.

6/3: Martín Pérez vs. Jake Odorizzi, 2:10 PM ET

There really isn’t much to be said about what Pérez is doing this year except that it’s incredibly impressive and way outside my expectations. The lefty has allowed more than three runs just once this season, and that was back in his third start of the year. Since that point he’s made eight starts while pitching to a 3.32 ERA. Most impressive has been his strikeout total, as he’s missing more bats than we’re accustomed to, which is helping him avoid some of the bad luck on balls in play he’s run into in the past. No contact is still better than weak contact. All that said, he hasn’t really faced a ton of good lineups in this stretch, so this will be the real test of who he can be in this rotation.

Odorizzi was one of the bigger free agent starting pitchers out there this year, and while there was reportedly some interest from the Red Sox he ultimately landed with Houston. He’s missed a big chunk of the season with injury, though, having just returned to make one start after sitting out for about a month. It was a solid return against the Padres, though, with Odorizzi allowing one run over 5 13 innings on three hits and one walk with four strikeouts. The righty will miss some bats and he has solid control, but he can get in trouble with the long ball. Boston needs to make sure any mistakes thrown are not wasted by the offense. Odorizzi will feature a low-90s fastball to go with a splitter, a slider, a cutter, and the occasional curveball.

Houston Astros v Texas Rangers Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Old Friends

Ryan Pressly was originally drafted by the Red Sox way back in 2007, but he never made it with the team as he was scooped up by the Twins in the Rule 5 Draft. Since then he’s established himself as one of the better relievers in the game and is in the lead spot in Houston’s bullpen these days.

Notable Position Players

Alex Bregman is still the best player on this team and remains one of the best players in the entire league. The third baseman is having another good season here with a 141 wRC+, and he’s doing it while his power hasn’t even really been here. He can hurt you in a number of ways, and will be a tough out every time he steps to the plate.

José Altuve is getting to the latter portion of his career, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him. He still makes a ton of contact with a little pop here and there, getting on base at a high clip atop this Houston lineup.

Yordan Alvarez can be easy to forget in this lineup full of big names, but he has big-time power and is a threat to do real damage every time. His plate discipline can be rough, though, so there is a gameplan against him.

Carlos Correa is a bit like Xander Bogaerts in that they are both big shortstops who are bat-over-glove. I’ll take Bogaerts in terms of who the better player is, but Correa is still a terrific hitter having a very good season.

Yuli Gurriel is also having a big season in this terrifying lineup, walking more than he strikes out while also hitting for legitimate power.

Kyle Tucker is one of the up-and-comers in this lineup, and he’s another guy who is tough to strike out while possessing legitimate power of his own.

Aledmys Díaz is where the break in the lineup begins, although he’s certainly not bad and makes enough contact to keep his line around average.

Myles Straw will also put the ball into play, but his total lack of power is bringing his line down so far.

Martín Maldonado is more of a defensive-oriented catcher, which shows in his numbers at the plate.

Bullpen Snapshot

Pressly, as I said, leads this bullpen. He’s been his normal steady self in the late innings, getting a solid number of strikeouts while showing off plus command that makes him very tough to beat when the game is on the line.

Ryne Stanek has been the primary righty setup guy of late, and he will miss a ton of bats, though there are going to be some mistakes both in and out of the zone to give Boston hitters a chance.

Brooks Raley is the lefty setup guy, and while his 7.29 ERA looks brutal, his 2.88 FIP suggests things may not be so easy if he’s in the game.

Injuries

Michael Brantley has been out for about a week with some hamstring issues, and while it doesn’t appear serious he should miss this whole series.

Lance McCullers Jr. started dealing with some shoulder issues last week, though it’s not clear how long it will keep him out.

Justin Verlander underwent Tommy John late last season, and there’s some chance he’ll be able to come back for the very end of this season, though it’s far from set in stone.

Jason Castro was just placed on the injured list with an ankle injury, though it doesn’t appear serious.

Pedro Báez has had some trouble getting his season going due to a positive COVID test followed by a shoulder issue, and he’s likely a couple weeks away from returning.

Bryan Abreu was just put on the shelf with a leg injury suffered while he was shagging balls. It’s not clear how long he’ll be out.

Josh James is on the 60-day injured list with a hip injury, though it doesn’t appear he’s too far from being back on the mound.

Austin Pruitt missed all of last season after undergoing elbow surgery, and it’s still not clear when he’ll be able to pitch again.

Ken Emanuel was just placed on the IL with an elbow injury this past weekend. It’s not clear how much time he’ll miss.

Blake Taylor is working his way back from an ankle injury, and his return should be imminent.

Francis Martes was suspended for 162 games after a second positive PED test last year.

Weather Forecast

The bad news is there are going to be thunderstorms in the Houston area all week. The good news is they have a roof, so it shouldn’t affect any of the games.


A big thank you to FanGraphs, and particularly their Roster Resource tool, as well as Baseball Savant for research.