Who’s the better overall team, the Astros or the Red Sox?
The numbers will tell you it’s Houston, which won 101 games and smashed every offensive category, compared with Boston’s 93 wins and so-so offense.
The Astros’ lineup doesn’t quit, top to bottom, and its power gives it the ability to score multiple runs with one swing.
The Astros have the likely American League MVP in Jose Altuve, and a group of core players in shortstop Carlos Correa. center fielder George Springer, third baseman Alex Bregman, and first baseman Yuli Gurriel that should make this a team to be reckoned with for years.
Their rotation got better when Justin Verlander (5-0, 1.06 ERA in five starts) joined them in late August.
But don’t dismiss the Red Sox.
Let’s face it, Chris Sale is the key. If he beats Houston in Game 1, he takes away the Astros’ home-field advantage and puts the series on even footing. If he loses, it’s going to be a tough climb for the Red Sox.
Here’s a closer look at the matchup:
Justin Verlander has made the Astros a legitimate threat to the Red Sox in starting pitching. He and lefthander Dallas Keuchel, both former AL Cy Young winners, are a pretty tough 1-2 punch to go against Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz, who pitched two super games against the Astros this season. Beyond that, the Red Sox may have an edge. The Astros will have to go with Brad Peacock, and if they go four deep, it’s likely Lance McCullers Jr. The Red Sox can counter with either righties Rick Porcello and Doug Fister or lefty Eduardo Rodriguez. Boston’s lefty-dominated rotation could be a plus against the Astros, who were 21-23 against lefty starters. However, the Red Sox allowed a franchise-high 195 homers and are facing a team that hit 238 homers, second only to the Yankees. The Astros’ starters had a lower ERA than Boston’s, but the lefthanded factor is big.
The Red Sox’ bullpen has been aces all season, and adding David Price in a multipurpose role really gives it a leg up in this category. The Sox can use Price in high-leverage situations from the fifth inning on, Addison Reed in setup, and Craig Kimbrel to close. They have the fireballing Joe Kelly for strikeout situations late in the game, and he also can be used for middle relief if the starter goes five. The Astros have a decent bullpen with Ken Giles, Chris Devenski, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, Francisco Liriano, and Joe Musgrove, but it doesn’t quite measure up to Boston’s. “They can shorten the game with their bullpen,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “Especially with Price now in the pen throwing the way he’s thrown the last couple times against us. Kimbrel, an elite closer, at the end. You’ve got to get them early, and the games that we’ve had success against them, we’ve done that.”
The Astros have a young, star-studded infield led by second baseman Jose Altuve and shortstop Carlos Correa. There are impact young players at the corners in third baseman Alex Bregman and first baseman Yuli Gurriel. This outshines Boston’s group. The Astros infield hit a combined .320 with 85 homers, 320 RBIs, and a .915 OPS, compared with Boston’s .255 with 29 homers, 272 RBIs, and .728 OPS. The Red Sox’ numbers were brought down by Pablo Sandoval and the small sample size from rookie Rafael Devers, who has been a tad shaky at third base.
The Red Sox might have the best defensive outfield in baseball with Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Mookie Betts, essentially three center fielders catching everything in sight, which will be important against this high-powered offense. Right fielder Josh Reddick has had an excellent first season in Houston and can hit lefties. Marwin Gonzalez (.303, 23, 90) also has exceeded expectations as the primary left fielder (he also has played all four infield positions this season). Center fielder George Springer had 34 homers as the leadoff hitter, with a .367 OBP. The Red Sox come out ahead because their defense saves more runs.
The Red Sox don’t have a catcher with Brian McCann’s offensive production (18 homers), but McCann can be run on. The Red Sox have two catchers who do an excellent job throwing out runners. The Red Sox were second in the majors in stolen base percentage (.610 percent), allowing only 61 steals. The Astros allowed 102 steals, 30th in the majors, with an .879 stolen base percentage. Christian Vazquez transformed himself offensively, hitting .290. Sandy Leon went backward with his offense, but his importance lies in handling Chris Sale.
Hard to imagine that even without David Ortiz, the Red Sox would have an advantage in this spot over anyone, but Boston’s DHs ranked sixth in the AL with a .246 average, to go with 24 homers, 67 RBIs, and a .744 OPS. The Astros were 14th out of 15 AL teams with a .226 average, 19 homers, 71 RBIs, and a .671 OPS. That’s not to say Carlos Beltran and Evan Gattis aren’t tough hitters. They were just slightly outshined by Hanley Ramirez and various other DH fill-ins.
Neither team has to rely much on its bench, especially Houston with its powerful lineup. The Red Sox must have a bench that works, with Dustin Pedroia and Eduardo Nunez both dealing with knee injuries. If Nunez makes it, he’ll come off the bench as either a DH or possibly at third base against a tough lefty like Dallas Keuchel. If the Red Sox keep Rajai Davis for speed to take advantage of Brian McCann’s subpar throwing, and if they keep Deven Marrero for late-inning defense at third, they seem to have more options.
John Farrell has the hardware and the accolades: three divisional titles and a World Series championship. A.J. Hinch has only one division title, but he has managed a near-perfect season to this point, complete with 101 wins. He will be strongly considered for AL Manager of the Year.
Boston: David Price
Houston: Justin Verlander.
Last year, we chose Cleveland lefthander Andrew Miller as the key player before the Red Sox-Indians Division Series. This time we’re going with Price, who could serve in a similar role. The Astros became a popular choice to go all the way when they acquired Verlander from the Tigers. We’ll see if he fulfills that promise. He may be what separates a good Astros team from a great Astros team.
SERIES PREDICTION: Red Sox in five.