Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander throws against the Mariners during the first inning at Safeco Field in Seattle. (Photo: Joe Nicholson, USA TODAY Sports)

ALDS Preview: Boston Red Sox vs Houston Astros

Red Sox and Astros 2017 Regular Season

Astros – 101-61 (1st AL West)

The Houston Astros came into this season as not only the AL West favorite, but as a team many thought could get to the World Series. The Astros did not disappoint, winning a staggering 101 games, the 2nd most in franchise history behind their 1998 102 win club.

While the Astros’ pitching staff was in the top 10 in the MLB overall, it was their elite lineup that got them over the 100 win mark. The Astros led the MLB in wRC+ at 121, 13 points higher than the number two Yankees at 108. Their lineup was so incredibly impressive that of the 11 players with minimum 250 plate appearances, 40-year-old Carlos Beltran was the only one to produce lower than a 105 wRC+. Six players (Jose Altuve – 160, Carlos Correa – 152, Marwin Gonzalez – 144, George Springer – 140, Josh Reddick – 127, Alex Bregman – 122) had over a 120 wRC+ in the lineup as well.

Getting back to the pitching staff, it does include some impressive starting pitchers including a former Cy Young winner with Dallas Keuchel, but overall no one overly dominating this season. One problem for the Astros this season was reliability, as no pitcher in the rotation pitched more than 160 innings pitched. Well, until late August, anyway, once Justin Verlander was acquired before the August 31st waiver trade deadline.

Although Verlander had only 5 starts for the Astros (34.0 IP 1.06 ERA 2.69 FIP), he was as durable as ever pitching to a 3.36 ERA and 3.84 FIP in 206 innings pitched. Verlander was especially dominant in the 2nd half, pitching with a 1.92 ERA and 3.36 FIP in 108 innings pitched from 7/8 to the end of the season. The addition of Verlander to this staff gives them a former Cy Young and MVP winner to go along with their own former Cy Young winner in Keuchel, as well as their young fireballers Lance McCullers and Brad Peacock. The Astros can even go five starting pitchers deep and add in veteran Charlie Morton, who had a very good season with a 3.62 ERA and 3.46 FIP in 146.2 innings pitched.

Red Sox – 93-69 (1st AL East)

The Red Sox had some of the highest expectations of any team entering the 2017 season. This was a team that went 93-69 the year prior, and then they went out and got Chris Sale in the off-season. By adding Sale to the rotation, that gave them two former Cy Young winners and the best active pitcher to have never won a Cy Young. Not only was the Red Sox pitching staff was looking to be monstrous, but their lineup was once again set up to be great.

Even with the departure of David Ortiz due to his retirement, the Red Sox had a potentially great lineup going forward. In 2016, the Red Sox had nine players with a 115 or higher wRC+ and at least 100 plate appearances. Taking out Ortiz and his 164 wRC+, that still left a lot of potential for 2017. So with the potential for both a top-five rotation and top-five lineup, it seemed as if the Red Sox may challenge for a 100 win season. On paper, that is.

In reality, the Red Sox had some very real struggles. The same lineup that finished best in the majors by wRC+ in 2016 at 114, slumped all the way down to 22nd with a 92 wRC+. This was not just the loss of David Ortiz hurting them, it was everyone in the lineup taking a huge step back. Of anyone with over 250 plate appearances, Mookie Betts led in wRC+ at just 108. Andrew Benintendi and Dustin Pedroia were the only others over 250 plate appearances to finish over 100 wRC+, with 103 and 102 respectively. Luckily the mid-season acquisition of Eduardo Nunez paid off nicely hitting .321/.353/.539 and a 133 wRC+ in 173 PA. Red Sox top prospect Rafael Devers also made an impact at 3B hitting .284/.338/.482 and a 111 wRC+ in 240 PA after his mid-season call-up.

Much like the lineup, the pitching staff had its fair share of problems. 2016 AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello slumped to a 4.65 ERA and just 2.0 fWAR in 203.1 innings pitched. David Price managed only 74.2 innings pitched, 66 of those as a starting pitcher. However, the real stories for the Red Sox in 2017 were yet another all-time great season by closer Craig Kimbrel putting up a 3.3 fWAR season in just 69 innings pitched, and more importantly, a 300-plus strikeout season from newcomer Chris Sale. Sale was one of the two best pitchers in the MLB this season, and arguably the very best. He put up a 2.90 ERA, 2.45 FIP, and 308 strikeouts in 214.1 innings pitched and really anchored the rotation. The combination of Sale and Kimbrel more than made up for the regression of Porcello and the time missed by Price.

Players to Watch In The ALDS

It is a surprise to no one, but these two teams are filled with stars. For the Red Sox, some of theirs may have had down years, but they still have tons of talent. Here are some players to watch on both teams:

David Price

David Price has had a rough go of things in the playoffs for his career. In 66.2 innings pitched, he has given up a 5.54 ERA. Although he has only walked 14 and struck out 62 in those innings, he’s given 68 hits, 12 of those home runs, along with 43 runs overall. If you believe Clayton Kershaw has a problem in the playoffs, it appears to be nothing compared to David Price. Interestingly enough, the Red Sox may actually use Price out of the bullpen, where he spent some time late this season for 11 innings. Whether its in the rotation or out of the bullpen, Price will be someone to watch to see if he can reverse the trend.

Justin Verlander

As mentioned above, Verlander has been excellent since being acquired just over a month ago by the Astros. In five games started, Verlander has a 1.06 ERA and 2.69 FIP in 34 innings pitched. He also has been very good in the playoffs in his career, pitching to a 3.39 ERA and 112 Ks in 98.1 innings pitched. His last start was back in 2014 against Baltimore, pitching just 5 innings and giving up 3 runs. However, in his previous 3 starts in 2013, Verlander pitched at least 7 innings with 1 or 0 runs given up and at least 10 strikeouts. It’s been a while since then, but Verlander has proven he can still dominate an opposing lineup like he used to.

Craig Kimbrel

Although Kimbrel has been in the MLB since 2010, he has just 8 innings of post-season experience. That may be due to situations just not coming up for him to be used, or Fredi Gonzalez mistakenly not bringing Kimbrel into the 8th inning of the 2013 NLDS against the Dodgers. What happened next was Juan Uribe hitting the game and series winning home run while Kimbrel stood in the bullpen. But now, as ace relievers like Andrew Miller and Kenley Jansen are being used in non-traditional situations, Kimbrel may see more action than he ever has in the playoffs. This combined with the uncertainty of the Red Sox rotation after Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz could lead to seeing Kimbrel much earlier than the 9th inning if the Red Sox follow the trend of the 2016 playoffs.

Bobby’s ALDS Series Prediction

While the Red Sox have the best starting pitcher and best reliever of the two teams, the Astros have a much deeper starting pitching staff and the best lineup in the MLB. I believe any game that Chris Sale starts automatically favors the Red Sox, he can only start two games in the series. I even believe one of those games the Astros will beat up on him and give Sale the loss. The Red Sox just don’t have the bats this year to overcome, and the Astros are just too overwhelming. The Red Sox would need players like Hanley Ramirez and Mookie Betts to step up, and if the second half of the season is any indication, that seems unlikely.

Houston Astros Win ALDS In 4 Games