The “IT” ALCS: 2 teams with a shared history

In their first 55 seasons, the Astros made the NLCS four times in 1980, 1986, 2004 and 2005. Now, starting Friday, they will be in their fifth ALCS in five consecutive seasons.

Leading the team across the way, the Boston Red Sox will be manager Alex Cora. Alex Cora, the supposed architect of “IT”. He was with the Astros as they merged modern technology (video feeds) and old school signalling (trash can banging) into a scandal that tainted the only championship the team has ever won. The Astros were by far the best offensive team in the majors in the 2017 season, and the Red Sox under new manager, Alex Cora, were the best offense in the majors in 2018 as they roared off to a championship. Cora was punished for cheating with the Astros, but not for anything he did with Boston, and after sitting out a season, he returned as the Sox manager in 2020.

Flash forward to 2021, and the Astros and the Sox are the last two teams standing in the AL. Boston knocked their two division mates to the side, knocking out the Yanks in the Wild Card play-in game and rolling the team with the best regular-season record in the AL, the Tampa Bay Rays. The Astros ramped up their offense and beat the Chicago White Sox in a not that competitive series.

So, one team that chose to remove their manager (A.J. Hinch) and their general manager (Jeff Luhnow) over “IT” plays a team where cheating in 2018 was placed at the feet of a single video assistant. It should be an exciting matchup, and it should be interesting whether the Boston crowd is more vociferous (and frankly hypocritical) than the Chicago crowds.

Playoff History. In this golden age of Astros baseball, the team has played the Red Sox twice in the playoffs. In their 2017 Championship season, the Astros met Boston in the first round ALDS. They came out of the box strong, beating the Red Sox twice at Minute Maid by identical 8-2 games. The third game was tight until the Sox put the Astros away with a six-run rally in the 7th, making Joe Kelly the winner. Yes, Joe (drill every Astro you see) Kelly. The 4th game was a classic where the team’s two aces Justin Verlander (win) and Chris Sale (loss), pitched in relief and took the decisions. The Astros bounced forward from this 3-1 win in the ALDS to knock off the Yankees and Dodgers on their way to a World Series championship.

The very next season, they met farther down the line in the ALCS. The Astros beat the same Joe Kelly in the first game, and then the Red Sox roared away, having every fluke play, umpire’s call, and late hit fall their way in sending the Astros home 4-1.

Recent History. In the 2021 regular season, the Astros were 5-2 against their ALDS opponent, the White Sox outscoring them 35-23. They were also 5-2 against the not-so-pale Red Sox with an even more considerable run margin of 42-25. The Astros played two series against Boston in late May/early June, beating them 3 out of 4 at Minute Maid and 2 out of 3 at Fenway.

General View. There will be many stories and pundits talking about how the Red Sox are not the same team they were when they played the Astros early in the year. But the truth is after those two series, the Sox were still a solid 38-25 and one game back of the Rays in the AL East. At the end of the season (92-70), their record was eight games back of the AL-best Rays and one game different from the Astros first-round opponent, Chicago (93-69). This team is good, and they are red hot after knocking off the Yanks and the Rays.

Health. The biggest health issue in this series is the likely loss of Astros ace (He’s the ace – prove me wrong) Lance McCullers Jr. If that is confirmed, the Astros would likely move Zack Greinke back in the rotation with Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy with Jake Odorizzi and Cristian Javier being the safety nets for long relief out of the bullpen. There have been no updates on Jake Meyers, who busted up his left (throwing) shoulder on a White Sox home run. His loss would move Chas McCormick into the starting lineup, and he is not concerned about the McCullers’ loss.

The Red Sox biggest injury problem would be that reliever Garrett Richards is out for the ALCS after getting injured in the ALDS.

Managers. Dusty Baker had an excellent ALCS outside the injuries and certainly looked a bit more mature than his 77-year-old opponent, Tony LaRussa. If McCullers is a no-go, this will be just another challenge for Baker, who worked through a ton of injuries in 2020 and some significant ones in 2021. To date, Sox manager Alex Cora has guided his team through a challenging playoff gauntlet and has likely told his minions that they are not to speak the “c” work in talking about their opponent in this round.

Hitting. The Astros and Red Sox had very similar offenses in the regular season, with the Astros just a bit ahead in all the major categories (5.33 to 5.12 runs/game, .267 to .261 BA, .339 to .328 OBP, and .783 to .777 OPS). The most significant disparity between the teams is that the Sox struck out one more time per game than the Astros for the season. The Astros are coming off a series where everyone not named Yuli Gurriel (.319 BA, 15 HRs, 81 RBIs) or Martin Maldonado (.172 BA, 12 HRs, 36 RBIs) knocked the snot out of the ball as they averaged 7.75 runs per game with a low game of six runs. The Sox have averaged 6.4 runs in 5 playoff games to date, but that included getting shut out with the Rays’ opener. The Sox have a powerful and balanced lineup featuring stars like Rafael Devers (.279 BA, 38 HRs, 113 RBIs), Xander Bogaerts (.295 BA, 23 HRs, 79 RBIs), Hunter Renfroe (.259 BA, 31 HRs, 96 RBIs) and J.D. Martinez (.286 BA, 28 HRs, 99 RBIs). Enrique (Kike) Hernandez (.250 BA, 20 HRs, 60 RBIs), who, like Martinez, is a former Astro, was the surprise star of the ALDS and knocked in the winning run. The Astros rode the big bats of Jose Altuve (.278 BA, 31 HR, 83 RBIs), Kyle Tucker (.294 BA, 31 HRs, 92 RBIs), Michael Brantley (.311 BA, 8 HRs, 47 RBIs), Carlos Correa (.279 BA, 26 RBIs, 92 RBIs), Alex Bregman (.270 BA, 12 HR, 55 RBIs), and Yordan Alvarez (.277 BA, 33 HRs, 104 RBIs) in the ALDS and will need those plus a warmed up Gurriel to beat Boston.

Starting Pitching. The Astros had one of the top starting staffs in the AL in 2021. They had the most wins (63) and the second-best ERA (3.63) and WHIP (1.19) in the AL. The Red Sox’s starting staff was middle of the road coming in 5th in wins (50), 8th in ERA (4.49) and tied for 12th in WHIP (1.37). However, not having their best starter in McCullers would tamp those numbers downward for the Astros. In contrast, the Red Sox numbers do not reflect that first game starter Chris Sale (5-1, 3.16 ERA) did not pitch until mid-August, at which point he has been effective, though not going deep into games.

If McCullers (13-5, 3.16 ERA) is out, the Astros will likely be riding a lot of youth in this series between last year’s best starter, Framber Valdez (11-6, 3.14 ERA), plus Luis Garcia (11-8, 3.30 ERA) and Jose Urquidy (8-3, 3.62 ERA). Even though he struggled with performance, illness and injury down the stretch, it is a positive that Zack Greinke (11-6, 4.16 ERA) is available for high leverage starts and Jake Odorizzi (6-7, 4.21 ERA) may get a chance to earn his contract in long relief or a spot start. Cristian Javier is an option too, but not a stretched out one.

Behind Sale, second game starter Nathan Eovaldi (11-9, 3.75 ERA) has had a solid season and was tough on the Astros back in the 2018 ALCS. Edouardo Rodriguez (13-8, 4.74 ERA) and Nick Pevetta (9-8, 4.53 ERA) are likely penciled in for next up in the rotation; however, Alex Cora has stated that it is an all hands on deck in the first two games of this series. Former Ranger Martin Perez (7-8, 4.74 ERA) started 22 games this season, but none since early August. Tanner Houck (1-5, 3.52 ERA) has bounced between starting and the bullpen down the stretch.

Even without McCullers, the Astros starters match up positively with the Red Sox if they can survive the first couple of games.

Relief Pitching. The Red Sox and Astros bullpens have base numbers (3.99 ERA vs. 4.06 ERA for the Astros and 1.39 WHIP vs. 1.30 WHIP for Houston) that are very comparable. But Boston’s results have been much better as they have a 42-23 record with 49 saves vs. 32-31 record with 34 saves for the Astros. The Sox bullpen has one of the highest walk rates in the AL, and that is something the Astros tend to feast off of late in games. While a lot of focus will go towards the starting pitching matchup, the bullpen matchup may likely tell the tale in what looks like a big offensive series.

Ryan Pressly (5-3, 2.25 ERA, 26 saves), Kendall Graveman (1-1, 3.13 ERA), and Ryne Stanek (3-5, 3.42 ERA, 2 saves) are penciled in for the late-inning situations. Phil Maton (4-0, 4.97 ERA), who had been shaky in the regular season, has been a vital bridge in the postseason. Brooks Raley and Yimi Garcia have been shaky in the postseason. There will be a couple long-relief options out of the bullpen, likely Cristian Javier and Jake Odorizzi, who will have to be available to stretch out any shortened starts by the rotation.

Matt Barnes (6-5, 3.79 ERA, 24 saves) and Adam Ottavino (7-3, 4.21 ERA, 11 saves) get the most late-inning call-ups for Boston. But they have some solid options behind them with Garrett Whitlock (8-4, 1.96 ERA, 2 saves), Hirosaku Sawamura (5-1, 3.06 ERA), Josh Taylor (1-0, 3.40 ERA, 1 save) and Darwinzon Hernandez (1-1, 3.38 ERA). And remember that Manager Cora has said that all hands are on deck and was considering bringing in ace Chris Sale if a save situation showed itself in their Game 4 victory over the Rays.

Prediction. Astros in 6. Yes, the Red Sox are red hot, but in the playoffs, red hot can go cold real quick, and the Astros offense looks like it is primed to put the pedal to the metal in this series. Remember that the Astros were 17-11 in games started by Lance McCullers and 78-56 in all other games. They would rather face the Sox with him in the rotation, but they can win without him.

48 comments on “The “IT” ALCS: 2 teams with a shared history

  1. Here is oldpro’s relevant comment from a few minutes ago on the previous thread

    * The Astros took 3 games out of 4 from Boston from May 31-June 3. At the time, Boston was the first place team in the AL East. The Red Sox left Houston and went to NY, where they swept the Yankees in a 3-game series.
    The Red Sox flew home and played Miami in a makeup game and beat them.
    In the meantime, The Astros, after taking 3 of 4 from Boston at home, flew to Buffalo, where they took 2 of 3 against Toronto and then flew to Boston to meet the first place Red Sox again. The Astros took 2 of three games in Fenway.
    Oddly enough, LMJ did not pitch in any of the 7 games against Boston.
    As a matter of fact, the Astros 5-2 record against Boston occurred when Boston was in first place in the AL East and Lance McCuller Jr was on the shelf for 19 games for shoulder discomfort. Here is a link to remind everyone about that:
    https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/astros-place-lance-mccullers-jr-on-injured-list-days-before-framber-valdez-and-jake-odorizzi-return/

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    • They love themselves some Siri. I guess they figure he is the ideal cheerleader as he was always the first to spring from the dugout after each good act of the club. Otherwise, he is no good to the club other than running the bases, IF he does not hotdog it too much as he is apt to do.

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      • We need that PR stealing threat that Straw wasn’t that good at, and think of who is left as a roster’d option for OF, Sarge? Diaz is already on the roster, and the other candidate depth now that Meyers says he’s ok would have been; Costes and Dawson. Just like Hinojosa, none would be ready for this moment. 26th man shouldn’t even appear in these contests except in rare specialty scenarios, and that is why Stubbs was snubbed oin this longer series too. Odorizzi and Taylor are specialists needed. Pretty solid 26th guys if ya ask me..

        Siri is solid on base paths, definitely a showboat & poor contact hitter. I will say again though, Kyle Tucker is the smartest baserunner I’ve seen since Bagwell; and faster!! he can see a hiot is going to fall better than any player I can remember. Very smart kid, and anyone who ever said to trade him for Realmuto, you need to say 3 hail mary’s or something for absolution hahA! Tucker is my MVP this year, and he’s just getting started.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I know it is a couple weeks too soon, but I thought the MLBTraderumors listing of the potential arbitration salaries for next year interesting.

    Astros (6)

    Rafael Montero – $3.1MM
    Aledmys Diaz – $4.0MM
    Phil Maton – $1.4MM
    Ryne Stanek – $2.1MM
    Josh James – $700K
    Framber Valdez – $3.2MM

    These do not seem too difficult to overcome.

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    • Montero would be my only question mark, in the sense that I can name 8 pitchersMinimum Salary coming on next year. The great thing about the others listed is the team control ahead of , like Maton. We have juggled really well over the years. I like James, but he’s a guy I might be willing to trade. The cost cheap, might outweight the 40-man spot which will be extremely valueable if we are debating losing Yainer Diz, or Enmanuel Valdez in R5; or what we will do with Jairo Solis, or Freudis Nova? What about Joe Perez, Scott Manea or Austin Hansen, or Michael Papierski? The Astros better hope other teams have the same problems, like they did last yr when LAA let JA Rivera come back home. Angels btw, drafted every single pitcher off of FaBIO’s list grading system in order of availability, 20 pitchers. Watch for them to improve in 3 yrs. just in time when their albatrosses are retiring?

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  3. Big game tonight! I feel pretty good about our guys. My question going in is whether or not our left handed bats can get to Sale. He’s very difficult against them. I think our righties will. But they might not get two shots at him. First three innings are really important tonight. Would love to see Framber own them for 6. We know he’s fresh!

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  4. The media is definitely making the Astros chances to hang on Correa and McCullers. Just now on, MLB Network, they were talking about Framber while showing LMJ pitching, and all of their program clips are overwhelmingly focusing on Correa.
    My take is that it is everyone else in the Astros lineup being depended upon and that all of the Astros pitcher’s are going to carry this team to victory in a best of seven series. The entire team carried the Astros to victory against Chicago and it is going to have to be that way if the Astros are going to move on.
    One guy whose bat could make a surprising difference in this series is Martin Maldonado. As my wife says: this guy is due! I’m hoping his RBI single in game 4, to give the Astros a two run lead in the 4th inning will get him going.

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    • Yes – must be a team effort, because it is the depth of the Astros that must carry the day.
      I think that Yuli is ready to bust out – he hit like Maldonado in the series and Maldonado hit like a pitcher until that very big RBI single.
      Maybe I will regret saying this, but I’m glad this is a 7 game series because I feel that a five game series is so short that the better team does not always win. And I believe the Astros are the better team.
      Correa is important because as he pounded on his chest and pointed to his watch – this is his time. But Tucker, Alvarez, Altuve, Bregman, Brantley, Correa and Gurriel can all carry this team. Meyers and McCormick have shown that the moment is not too big for them. And as your wife says OP – Maldy is due and has hit in big moments in the past.

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  5. McCullers has a “flexor pronation muscle” strain, they haven’t ruled him out of the World Series if they get that far.
    My key to tonight’s start for Valdez if he can make it through the first 2 innings with no big problems, he usually straitened out his stuff. BUT those first 2-3 innings will be crucial for him. McCullers will be on the Taxi squad so he can travel to Boston with the team.
    I hope Altuve takes Sale into the Crawford boxes again! Enjoy the game!

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  6. So, how’s everyone doing? it’s the bottom of the 8th and I am a total wreck.
    We’re watching Magnum and Blue Bloods and the game because cop stuff keeps our baseball blood pressure down, Love you all!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Valdez did exactly what I thought he would do….but thank goodness the bull pen kept the game in check. In no circumstance should any of our pitchers pitch to Hernandez…..walk him I don’t care if you have to walk in a run, but do NOT pitch to him. He’s like a young Uncle Albert, this kid is awesome and he will be very good for a looong time, just not this series
    Gotta admit I was having a tough time through Graveman’S inning and the 9th with Presley! One down 4 to go!

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  8. After three innings last night I was already thinking about regrouping for game two without blowing the pen out in game one. But only Javier, who gave us a great game stabilizing performance might be unavailable today. What a job by the pen. What a job by the Dusty and Strom in figuring out what to do with the pen! We scored 4 runs late off their pen. Only Kike was able to penetrate our pen. Altuve blows an inning ending ground ball but hits a dramatic homer. Carlos does the same. And what’s centerfield hitting for the Astros in the post season?

    I still think there will be quality innings from Framber before this series is over. But we sure do need them today from Garcia. With Sunday off, we could absorb another bullpen game, but it’s not ideal. I don’t think their pen has much left in their tanks. We need a couple of extended innings off them.

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    • Let’s get that CF stuff for you. Astros CFers are hitting .471 in the postseason w/ a .971 OPS.
      Still not as good as that Boston CFer, but pretty darn good nonetheless.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’d like to see Kike come back to earth during this series. But he has played 63 post season games at this point and has shown the ability to turn into a different player than he’s been during the regular season. What he’s doing right now is rather annoying though!

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  9. We need to remember with Framber, he was injured in ST and pitched his first game May 28th. He still pitched 134 innings, the most in his career. Luis Garcia pitched 155 innings so far and that is about 40 innings more than he ever has. These two and Urquidy have kept us in the hunt and have done yeoman work because of injury to others.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. – It was a heck of a team effort last night, especially on the pitching side to get that boat home. If they need another long bullpen run today, it may mean those dreaded words Jake Odorizzi. Jake did decently down the stretch as far as giving up runs, but he drives you crazy with how many people get on base.
    – Will some one stick a high hard one in Correa’s ear? He may have gone over the edge with his home plate demonstration on the home run last night.
    – Jose Altuve is so dangerous on those low pitches over the middle. Just has the perfect swing to put those in the Crawford Boxes.
    – When I look at Kike and his stats, it makes me think of Aledmys coming off the IL and just hitting everything hard for a couple weeks. Kike for his career slashes a very average .242 BA/ .318 OBP/ .748 OPS and this year playing 134 games he was slightly higher – .250/.337/.786. Even with the 4 hit game last night he is only hitting around .266 BA for his post season career, but he has been bad and good in the post season before. For instance in 2017 he helped the Dodgers to the WS matchup with the Astros by hitting 3 homers in 9 ABs against the Cubs. He’s had an OPS over 1.000 five times (in often limited at bats) in playoff series, but he’s also had OPS below .600 five times again in limited action. Let’s hope the switch flips and he goes back to normal soon.
    – Framber was not good last night, but…. he induced two double plays that limited the damage and got a strikeout right before he was pulled that kept the Red Sox from stretching that lead. Yimi got that big out to end that inning, Maton continued a nice string of outings, Raley’s pitches were moving nicely and he contributed a couple outs to the festivities, Stanek got the one out and the win, Graveman drives me nuts, and Pressly for some reason can’t stand to have more than a one run lead, but settled down after letting Kike hit a Pujols shot.

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    • I am not depressed over that one game. I AM depressed that we have the non-pitching wounded of Verlander, Greinke, LMJ, L Garcia, and maybe even Urquidy. That is a lot to absorb. I just don’t see Odorizzi turning into Lew Burdette. .

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    • Starting pitching has been our Achilles heal so far. The inability to locate pitches and throw strikes. The Red Sox are taking advantage of this so we need to go to Boston and win two games at least. I’m still wondering why Solomon is not on the roster. We need Meyers back too.

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      • Zanuda, Meyers is the least of our problems. Chas is hitting .417 with a .467 OBP in the post season. We can live with that. He defense has been solid too.

        You might see Solomon added in place of Garcia, but that would mean Luis can’t be on the WS roster if we get that far. I’m sure the Astros know by now if he can pitch on that knee, but are in no hurry to tell the world.

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