It’s not often in sports that the two best teams actually have a chance to meet. We are lucky enough to have our baseball dreams come true as the defending World Champions the Houston Astros will meet the best team in baseball in 2018 the Boston Red Sox. No matter who wins this the victor will come out as the favorite in the fall classic. Let’s break it down.
Starting Pitching- Advantage Houston Astros
The Boston Red Sox are no slouches when it comes to the starting rotation. Sporting a stud like Chris Sale, former Cy Young winner David Price as well as proven winner Rick Porcello can make any team formidable. Assuming Porcello stays in the bullpen the Sox can also trot out the talented but inconsistent Nathan Eovaldi or strikeout stud Eduardo Rodriguez. All are formidable starters for any contending team sporting a combined 3.42 ERA in one of the most offensively gifted divisions in baseball. In most cases this rotation would be an advantage for any team. But they aren’t playing just any team, they are playing the Houston Astros.
The Astros feature a rotation of All Stars Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton. Each of them could be a candidate to start Game 1 or Game 4. Both Verlander and Cole went through the season with sub three ERA’s while Charlie Morton was just on the other side at 3.13, in a time of offense Astros starting pitching has been as dominant as any we have seen in the game.
Both teams have their strengths in the rotation especially with the strikeouts per nine innings ranking first and third. Houston will look for more from their starters and most likely get more. The Stros don’t have as many question marks behind their ace as the Red Sox do, that’ why we have to give the rotation advantage to the defending world champs.
Bullpen- Advantage Houston Astros
The Houston Astros will rely more on the ability of their starters. But the bullpen is no push over Colin McHugh, Tony Sipp, mid season addition Roberto Osuna all have proven themselves as reliable pitchers to say the least. New weapon Ryan Pressly was a force in the ALDS, establishing himself as a stopper in the middle innings. The Astros have multiple option to finish games, look for someone to establish themselves as this series goes on. My money would be on Osuna but it wouldn’t shock me to see Colin McHugh get a few chances to finish off games.
The Red Sox have a few more question marks in their bullpen outside of Closer Craig Kimbrel. To their advantage they sport a bullpen of mostly righties against a lineup that is heavier on the right side. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier will play big roles in transitioning the starters to Kimbrel in the 9th.
Both bullpens have strikeout pitchers but the Astros seem more versatile. They also will mostly likely not ask for nearly as much out of there bullpen, that’s why you have to give the slight advantage to the Astros.
Lineup- Advantage Boston Red Sox
When you have the two best lineups in baseball going against each other it’s pretty hard to pick the best. Both have speed, power and clutch from the top to the bottom.
The Red Sox may have arguably the best all around player in baseball leading off in Mookie Betts. His success though is predicated on the fact that you really can’t pitch around him. Putting him on base is an automatic risk with his speed on the base paths. Manager Alex Cora will give him the green light to run in almost any count. Following Betts is a litany of heavy hitters headlined by offseason signing JD Martinez whom has proven himself to be worth every penny he was paid. The bounce back season for shortstop Xander Bogaerts has been a huge boost to a lineup that already had great depth. The key for the Reed Sox may be at first base in this series, Steve Pearce has been great since being picked up in the mid season but his specialty is against left handed pitching. Veteran Mitch Moreland, known more for his glove work, quietly had a solid season. Cora will be forced to utilize Moreland against the heavy right handed rotation of the Astros. This lineup has role players that have played their parts to perfection during the regular season and I see no reason they won’t do the same in the ALCS.
The Astros are deep, Alex Bregman has emerged as the star of the team perhaps sooner than what was expected. Bregman lead the Astros in homers, RBI’s, hits and OBP during the regular season and has brought that success into the playoffs. George Springer continued his post season heroics in the ALDS clubbing three homers off of Indians pitching. The surprise of the division series was the bat of Marwin Gonzalez. Gonzalez was a constant headache for the Indians hitting .538 in the series in 13 at bats. If Gonzalez can continue to hit he will take pressure off of stars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Until game three of the NLDS Correa had been on a cold streak that forced AJ Hinch to move him down to sixth in the order, perhaps the three run homer he hit could be the jolt he needs to get back on track. The Astros will have to go with defensive specialist Martin Maldonado in the lineup rather then the offensive minded veteran Brian McCann due to the speed and aggressive nature of the Boston lineup.
The Astros have a solid offense, especially against lefties were they mash to a team average of .270 and a .803 OPS. The Red Sox would be smart to counter their efficiencies by moving up Eovaldi and Porcello in the rotation. That would me having David Price potentially in the bullpen or just getting one start. On the other hand the Red Sox were able to contain a the second best lineup against left handed pitching the New York Yankees.
Both offenses are good but the edge has to go to the Red Sox lineup because they have to true MVP candidates in the lineup along with great pieces all around them. They have the ability to bring more speed and power off the bench in roles that they are comfortable with. This one is close but gotta go with the Sox for a lineup advantage.
This series can go either way. The Red Sox have been the best team in baseball all year but the Astros are built for the post season with dominant pitching and stellar defense at multiple positions. My heart says Boston but my head says Astros.