A look at this weekend’s ALCS rematch at Fenway
SB Nation Blog
The Opponent in one sentence
The Astros are the best team in baseball right now based on both record and the way they’re currently playing as every facet of their roster is currently on fire.
Red Sox 0, Astros 0
Up. Way up. The Astros have not played the strongest of schedules of late, but they are not just squeaking by against bad teams. They are absolutely obliterating them. Since losing three of four in Minnesota in late-April/early-May, Houston has eleven of twelve including their last eight. Over this eight game win streak that spans games against the Royals, Rangers and Tigers, Houston has outscored their opponents 66-17. Yeesh.
Rick Porcello has looked so much better of late after getting off to an atrocious start to his season. His last outing against the Mariners doesn’t look great in the box score as he allowed four runs, but it was better than it seems. He gave up those four runs in the first inning before coming back out for 5 2⁄3 outstanding innings to follow that up. He’s going to give up at least a home run or two in this outing because he’s good for a home run or two mostly every time out and also because the Astros lineup is absurd. The key is to make sure there is no traffic on the bases when they do occur. He had major control issues early in the year, but he’s rectified them over his last five starts. Porcello has only six walks in that time after issuing 12 free passes in his first three starts of the year.
Cole had a monster year in 2018 after the Astros acquired him prior to that season. The former number one overall pick was a finished in the top five of the Cy Young voting in 2018 and was looking for a repeat performance in 2019 as he approaches free agency. He hasn’t been quite as good this year, but it’s been pretty damn close. Cole has made nine starts so far this year, pitching to a 3.88 ERA, which doesn’t look that great. However, his peripherals look much better than that with a 2.90 FIP and a 2.85 DRA. He’s allowing home runs at a higher rate this year, but he’s also striking out batters at a clip of just about 14 per nine innings. Over his last four starts Cole has pitched to a 2.39 ERA while allowing a .551 OPS with 42 strikeouts and six walks over 26 1⁄3 innings. This year the righty has featured a mid-to-high-90s fastball along with a slider and a curveball.
5/18: TBD vs. Corbin Martin, 7:15 PM ET
On the team website the starting pitcher is yet to be announced for Saturday’s game, but it is all but certainly going to be Hector Velázquez getting the start for this one. There was a chance that David Price was going to be ready for this outing, but they are going to push him back a bit to hopefully come back against the Blue Jays next week. Velázquez started to extend himself a bit in his last time out, going five innings against the Mariners last weekend. The righty was as efficient as we’ve seen in that outing, but he also threw more pitches than any other point this year. Against a lineup as good as Houston’s I wouldn’t expect him to go five again, but if he can go three or four strong everyone will take it.
Corbin Martin was a bit overshadowed by top prospect Forrest Whitley down in Double-A, but Martin was one of the organization’s top ten prospects heading into the year too. The latter, a 23-year-old righty, had a great start to his year in Triple-A with a 1.48 ERA and over ten strikeouts per nine innings. That sub-2.00 ERA is even more impressive when you remember he was in the hitter-friendly PCL with Triple-A now using the juiced major-league baseballs. With that success, Martin was called up for his major-league debut last week and he was impressive. He allowed two runs over 5 1⁄3 innings against the Rangers with nine strikeouts and just one walk. The rookie featured a fastball that sat in the 96 mph range along with a curveball and a changeup. Look for the Red Sox to try and work some walks and get off to a hot start to knock Martin off his game early.
5/19: TBD vs. Brad Peacock. 1:05 PM ET
Again, the Red Sox website doesn’t list a probable starter but all signs are pointing to Chris Sale getting the nod for this outing. The Red Sox ace would be on normal rest after pitching on Tuesday, and he’s obviously coming off one of the most impressive outings we’ve seen from the southpaw. This will be a bit more of a test, of course, but Sale is on a roll. Assuming he does get the start, given how well he’s pitching and how great the Astros lineup looks right now this matchup feels like the unstoppable force versus the immovable object. I, for one, am looking forward to it.
Earlier in this decade, Peacock was a replacement level pitcher for bad Astros teams kind of just chugging along in this league. Then, in 2017, he pitched in a swingman role and started striking a bunch of guys out. In 2018, he pitched almost entirely out of the bullpen and was a big part of what Houston did. Now this year, he’s made a couple of relief appearances but has been in the rotation more often, and again he’s pitching well. Over his first 42 2⁄3 innings the righty has pitched to a 4.01 ERA with a 3.43 FIP and a 4.29 DRA. Peacock is striking out fewer batters this year but also allowing fewer home runs. The bad news for Boston is that Peacock is coming off two strong starts in which he has allowed just one run over 12 innings with 15 strikeouts and five walks. If Peacock is missing bats, the Red Sox are in trouble. If not, they could take advantage.
Josh Reddick was, of course, a homegrown outfielder from the Red Sox system early in this decade before being traded to Oakland for Andrew Bailey prior to the 2012 season. Since then, Reddick has put together a solid career in Oakland and Houston, with a half-season with the Dodgers mixed in.
Wade Miley was part of the now-infamous “He’s the Ace” season in 2015 before being traded to Seattle in the Carson Smith trade. He faltered for a couple seasons after that before a surprising comeback over the last two seasons.
Ryan Pressly is a former Red Sox draft pick who they lost in the Rule 5 Draft back in 2012. He has since emerged as one of the game’s better right-handed relievers who was a potential trade target last summer.
Notable Position Players
Alex Bregman was viewed as a potential MVP candidate heading into the year, and he’s done nothing to take away from that potential so far this year. He’s walking a ton, striking out very little and hitting for massive power. The third baseman has been one of the better hitters in baseball despite a .243 BABIP.
George Springer has been even better than Bregman and has been the Astros’ best player so far this year. Hitting at the top of the lineup, Springer continues to cut down his strikeout rate while drawing walks and he is the most powerful leadoff man in all of baseball.
Carlos Correa had a disappointing year in 2018 that was marred by injury and underperformance, but the former number one overall pick is thriving in 2019. The shortstop’s plate discipline could be better, but when he puts the ball in play it’s almost always with authority.
Michael Brantley is a new face to the Astros this year but the longtime Indians left fielder has been a huge addition. Brantley is hitting for huge power while also making contact at the same absurdly high rates as he always has.
Yuli Gurriel puts the ball in play all the time which leaves him open to variance, but he’s not hitting for the power we’ve seen from him at other points.
Robinson Chirinos has been outstanding for the Astros as their new starting catcher. He strikes out a bit more than you’d like, but he makes up for that with huge power and good patience.
Tyler White has struggled this year with one of the highest strikeout rates in the game and very little power to back it up.
Aledmys Díaz has filled in as a starter admirably, putting the ball in play with authority on a regular basis.
Roberto Osuna was a gross addition by the Astros last year, who took advantage of a low price due to an arrest for assault on the mother of his children in 2018. He’s back on the mound after a 75-game suspension and is pitching well.
José Altuve has been out for about a week with a hamstring strain, and there’s still no timetable for the former MVP’s return.
Lance McCullers Jr. had to undergo Tommy John surgery last offseason that will keep him out for this entire 2019 season.
Joe Smith ruptured his Achilles Tendon last winter. He’s working his way back but he’s still got at least a month until he’ll return if everything goes well.
Francis Martes is a former top prospect who was suspended for 80 games for failing a PED test before the season. He was recovering from Tommy John surgery anyway.
There’s going to be rain in the area off-and-on throughout the day on Friday, but it should clear up in time for first pitch for the series opener. Things look much better on Saturday and Sunday, too, with baseball weather finally starting to come in. Sunday’s game could even be played with temperatures in the 70s!