The Boston Red Sox have won five of their last six and are coming off a sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays. Before that, they took two of three against a surprisingly tough Atlanta Braves squad. Carried by solid pitching and an explosive offense, the Red Sox are playing their best baseball of the season. However, the skill of this roster will be put to the test in the upcoming series against the Houston Astros. With the reigning champs next on the schedule, let’s break down the Boston Red Sox vs Houston Astros series.
The Houston Astros offense is powered by a deep group of highly talented young players. Currently, the Astros rank third in runs, fourth in hits, third in doubles, and sixth in OPS. While they’re not quite the unstoppable force they were last year, they’re still one of the best offenses in baseball. There aren’t too many easy outs in the lineup, and several players are capable of changing the game with a single swing.
Leading the Astros is reigning AL MVP Jose Altuve. Altuve has been one of the top-five position players in baseball ever since entering the league, and this year is no exception. While he’s not quite as good as he was in 2017, he’s still posting a strong .335/.381/.468 slash line to go along with a 137 wRC+. His 2.2 fWAR is tied for 10th in the league, and he should be the Red Sox biggest offensive worry entering the series.
That’s not to say Altuve is the only threat in the Houston lineup. Far from it, actually. Center fielder George Springer leads the team with 11 home runs, strikes out just 17.8% of the time, and has a wRC+ of 132. All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa is having the worst season of his career, but that says a lot more about how good his seasons normally are. Correa currently has a .267/.351/.462 slash line with a 123 wRC+, with the potential to be a lot better than that.
While the Houston offense isn’t quite as powerful as the Boston Red Sox, they’re still a force to be reckoned with. However, their offense isn’t even the strength of this roster. Houston’s starting pitching is far and away the best in the league and is on pace to be one of the best units in history.
The Houston Astros have the best rotation in baseball by just about every measure. Currently, the unit ranks first with 10.44 strikeouts per nine innings, third in HR/9, fourth in BB/9, first in ERA, and first in FIP. Not surprisingly, this dominance earned the unit the highest combined WAR in baseball with 9.4. By comparison, the Washington Nationals are the next closest team with a 7.1 WAR.
The Red Sox are lucky in a sense, as Houston will send out Lance McCullers Jr. for the series opener. While he’s not a bad pitcher by any means, he’s not on the same level as Houston’s other starters. McCullers owns a pedestrian 3.98 ERA to go along with a 3.52 FIP. He strikes out just over 26% of the batters he faces while walking just under 10%. Again, these aren’t bad numbers, but they’re not great, either. In a series where runs should be hard to come by, the Sox need to take advantage of McCullers.
Gerrit Cole gets the ball Friday to take on Chris Sale. While Cole’s had good years in the past with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the first-year Astro is off to the best start of his career. Through 74.2 innings, Cole owns a 2.05 ERA, 2.29 FIP, and is striking out an absurd 39.4% of the batters he faces. The Sox have one of the top offenses in baseball, but they’ll need to be at their best to face Cole.
The biggest ace in the rotation aces is Saturday’s starter, Justin Verlander. Thus far in 2018, Verlander owns an otherworldy 1.11 ERA and 2.20 FIP through 81.1 innings. He’s striking out 32.3% of the batters he faces and walks just 5% of hitters. The former Cy Young winner is having the best year of his career, which is absolutely frightening.
While their bullpen isn’t quite as strong as their rotation, it’s still a dominant unit. Entering the series, the Astros bullpen owns the sixth-highest fWAR at 2.4. However, that stat is a little misleading. Because their starters go so deep into games, the Astros bullpen isn’t utilized as much as other units league-wide. Houston’s bullpen has pitched just 152 innings this season, second fewest in baseball. Quite frankly, the fact they rank sixth in fWAR despite a relatively small sample just goes to show how dominant the unit is.
The Astros bullpen boasts a K/9 of 10.13 (fourth-best in baseball), a 3.02 ERA (fourth-best), and a league-best 2.85 FIP. On paper, this bullpen should challenge the Red Sox. However, recent history shows that this may be the weakest link on the roster.
Despite the strong overall numbers, the Astros bullpen is currently in the midst of some serious struggles. Houston’s bullpen has blown two leads this past week, both in spectacular fashion. In each of the games in question, the Astros owned a two-run lead heading into the ninth but still managed to snag defeat from the jaws of victory.
The Red Sox need to make sure that these struggles continue. The Sox probably won’t be able to generate much offense against Houston’s starters, so their best chance comes from shelling the bullpen. Boston’s offense has shown great resiliency late in games, and they have the pitching staff to keep games close.
The Red Sox and Astros are arguably the two best teams in baseball, and this series should be a magnificent battle to watch. In many ways, these teams are the perfect foil for each other. The Red Sox have the best offense in baseball and boast a top-five starting rotation. The Astros, meanwhile, have the best starting rotation in baseball and boast a top-five offense.
Great pitching generally beats great hitting, so expect a low-scoring series. The Red Sox are facing the Astros two best pitchers, and Drew Pomeranz is starting against Lance McCullers, the Astros weak link. Quite frankly, this will not be an easy series to win.
However, the Red Sox are still more than capable of beating up on a struggling Houston Astros bullpen, while Chris Sale and David Price are both capable of matching Cole and Verlander in a pitchers duel. This series could go either way, so it’s hard to predict an outcome. However, expect the Red Sox to win two out of three games, but by the narrowest of margins.