Pitching Makes The Difference In The ALCS
The road to the World Series in 2017 was not an easy one for the Houston Astros. Grinding out long games against an equally as good Los Angeles Dodgers made for great baseball, with the analytics and prophecy driven Astros pulling off a Game 7 win in Los Angeles. In 2018, they find themselves in the familiar position. The Astros are preparing to face a scary Boston Red Sox, a team they rolled over in the ALDS one year ago. This time, it's for top dog in the American League. Is it possible for the Astros to reappear in the World Series again?
In my (non-biased baseball fan) opinion, this is the Astros' series to lose. A rotation consisting of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Dallas Keuchel gives the Astros an immediate upper hand. Verlander and Cole have pitched out of this world, posting ERAs of 2.52 and 2.88 (respectively) in 200.0+ innings pitched. Their K/9 is almost identical at 12.2 and 12.4, and while it isn't a tell all statistic, their W/L is a combined 31-14. To skip the sabermetric information, these two guys are really good. The Red Sox will try to negate them by throwing Chris Sale, but Sale was lit up by Houston last year for 9 runs in 9.2 innings pitched. Its a risk the Red Sox are willing to take.
Keuchel and Charlie Morton however have shined without power arms. An ERA of 3.74 (Keuchel) and 3.13 (Morton) are not as flashy as the former two starters, but they provide quality backend arms that the Red Sox do not have. Both pitchers are innings eaters that can go deep into games as well, allowing a healthy bullpen to be ready every night. In 7 games against the Astros the Red Sox are batting .265 this season, and are even lower at Minute Maid Park with a .239 BA. Mookie Betts is 7/15 against Houston and Xander Bogaerts are 12/27, and JD Martinez is JD Martinez - all of whom are instrumental in kickstarting an offense that looked very good against the Yankees in the ALDS. Its keeping them at bay is the main focus.
Bullpen wise, the Astros are far and ahead of the Red Sox. Roberto Osuna has had his problems off the field but on the baseball field he is lights out. In his 22.2IP with Houston he's let up only 5 runs and is a perfect 12/12 in saves. Former starter Collin McHugh has been incredible as well, posting a 1.99 ERA in 72.1 innings pitched. His K/9 is 11.7, showing how he could be important in the middle lockdown innings. Ryan Pressly has been a lockdown arm down the stretch too with only 2ER in 23.1 innings pitched after coming over from Minnesota.
The Red Sox showed in the ALDS that their bullpen is less than perfect and that their success with it comes and goes. Ryan Brasier was an inspiring success story this season but showed his inexperience in postseason play. The pitcher that many had believed was the most reliable arm in the bullpen almost blew a lead in Game 5 against New York, walking 2 and allowing 2ER. There simply isn't enough in the bullpen to help the Red Sox late in the game without dipping into their starting pitching pool of Chris Sale, David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez. A bullpen that scared a team in the regular season does not bode well in the playoffs.
I haven't even mentioned half of the valuable assets in the bullpen for Houston, and while they should get a mention, I don't have the room to mention them. The list is so long. It's not even close.
With two of the most explosive offenses in baseball pitted against each other, the bullpen will play a more important role now more than ever. The Astros have the trust of the bullpen, and the ability to forego it with starters that can go deep into games and limit their use. The Red Sox have been scrambling to find their go to guy that they can rely on in the bullpen for weeks.
It's not Ryan Brasier. It's not Craig Kimbrel. It's not Chris Sale. There is no stopper.
The Red Sox will be able to put up their fair share of runs, but when the game is close in those late innings it is hard to hold your breath as a Sox fan when you have MVP candidate Alex Bregman, George Springer (7HR in last 7 post season games), and the always dangerous Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa on the other end all in a row.
It's an uphill battle for the bullpen to hold them at bay. I don't think they'll be able to hold them back. The Astros will groove past the Red Sox in 5 games.
note: Image credit is given to The Ringer. External links are courtesy of Baseball Reference.