Two American League powerhouses will meet up for a three-game series at Fenway Park this weekend. The Houston Astros will take on the Boston Red Sox in a rematch of the 2018 ALCS (and 2017 ALDS). The Red Sox won last year’s ALCS in five games en route to their World Series title.
Both the Astros and Red Sox started slowly this season. Houston dropped five of their first seven games while the BoSox started 2-8. They have been among the very best teams in baseball since the admittedly cherry-picked date of April 9, however:
The Astros have baseball’s largest division lead by far (eight games) and, given the rest of the AL West, Houston has the easiest path to the postseason of any team in baseball. In fact, SportsLine puts their postseason odds at 99.8 percent already. The Red Sox are still looking up at the Rays and Yankees in the AL East, though they have drawn closer in recent weeks.
Here are the details for this weekend’s series in Boston (select games can be streamed regionally via fuboTV — try for free):
Fri., May 17
7 p.m. ET
AT&T SportsNet Southwest, NESN, MLBN
Sat., May 18
7 p.m. ET
RHP Corbin Martin (1-0, 3.38) vs. TBA
Sun., May 19
1 p.m. ET
RHP Brad Peacock (4-2, 4.01) vs. TBA
AT&T SportsNet Southwest, NESN, MLBN
That first TBA is expected to be Hector Velazquez (1-2, 3.95) and the second TBA is expected to be Chris Sale (1-5, 4.24), though the Red Sox have not officially announced any rotation plans beyond Friday. They are still playing things by ear a bit with David Price and Nathan Eovaldi both on the injured list with elbow issues.
Here are four things to know going into this weekend’s Astros vs. Red Sox series at Fenway Park, plus a prediction for the three-game set.
Houston’s offense is ridiculous right now
As our Matt Snyder explains, the Astros’ offense has been out-of-this-world good, and that’s with Jose Altuve on the injured list with a hamstring issue. Houston has scored 50 runs in their last five games and 102 runs in 14 games this month. Here are their offensive ranks for May:
Batting average: .307 (1st in 15 points)On-base percentage: .368 (2nd behind Red Sox — .385)Slugging percentage: .598 (1st by 69 points)Runs scored: 102 (1st by eight runs)Home runs: 35 (1st by five homers)
The Red Sox have performed very well this month themselves — they’re hitting .287/.385/.500 as a team in May — but the Astros are on another level, especially in the power department. Alex Bregman (nine) and George Springer (seven) have combined for more home runs this month than eight teams.
Fenway Park is a great place to hit — it’s a doubles park more than a home run park, though it’s a good hitter’s park all the same — and, with the way the Astros are swinging the bat right now, the Red Sox’s pitching staff is going to have their hands full this weekend. Houston’s lineup is unforgiving.
“We know what type of lineup we have,” Carlos Correa told reporters, including MLB.com’s Casey Harrison, earlier this week. “We’re confident in each other, we’re not selfish. We want to take the walk if we have to take the walk so the next guy behind us can do the job. And I think that’s what makes us special. We put great at-bats together as a team.”
Martinez is starting to get locked in
As recently as May 11, former Astros outfielder J.D. Martinez was hitting .308/.387/.466 on the season. That is obviously very good. It also represents a decline of 178 OPS points from last season. Martinez wasn’t struggling, necessarily, but he wasn’t hitting the snot out of the ball like last year either.
That is not longer the case. In three games since May 11, Martinez has gone 6 for 13 (.462) with four home runs. Wednesday night he hit this 101.5 mph missile the other way into the home bullpen:
This recent hot streak has raised Martinez’s season batting line to .321/.399/.541. He’s still 91 OPS points short of last year’s mark, but make no mistake, Martinez remains one of the best and most devastating hitters in baseball, and things are just now starting to click for him this year.
“I try to go out there every day and be an example to everyone in here and just try to be an example on the field,” Martinez told reporters, including MLB.com’s Ian Browne, following Wednesday’s game. “Take really, really tough at-bats, not give away at-bats, not give away outs, make the pitchers work for every out, every pitch. That’s something I take pride in.”
The Red Sox have a new bullpen weapon
Coming into the season the bullpen stood out as a potential weakness for the Red Sox, though that weakness has yet to manifest itself on the field. Boston’s bullpen goes into this weekend’s series with a 3.88 ERA, eighth best in baseball, and 1.8 WAR, seventh best in baseball. They also have a top-10 score in win probability added. The bullpen’s been fine.
One reason the Red Sox haven’t collapsed under the weight of a leaky bullpen: Marcus Walden. The 30-year-old right-hander allowed seven runs in 14 2/3 innings in his brief MLB debut last season. This year he’s been much, much better.
As Alex Speier of the Boston Globe recently explained, Walden’s breakout can be traced back to his slider. He stopped throwing the pitch after having Tommy John surgery in 2010, but with his career stalling out in Triple-A, Walden decided he had nothing to lose, so he started throwing the slider again. From Speier:
“I was 28 and on my way out of the game,” he said. “So, whatever it took.”
To create some diversity — something with a different velocity and shape than his mid-90s two-seamer and low-90s cutter — he started incorporating the slider. Still, he remained skeptical of the value of the pitch until spring training in 2018, when he got feedback from catchers Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon, and Blake Swihart while throwing batting practice to teammates.
“I looked at it, and I’m like, ‘That’s not that good,’ ” said Walden. “They were like, ‘Dude, we can’t see it. It looks just like the cutter.’ ”
Red Sox manager Alex Cora has used Walden as a multi-inning guy — he’s thrown 24 2/3 innings in 15 appearances, and has thrown as many as three innings in an outing this year — often on days Velazquez starts. Once Price and Eovaldi return and Boston gets their rotation settled, Cora will be able to use Walden as a high-leverage option alongside Matt Barnes.
The newest Astro gets the nationally televised game
The world will be introduced to righty Corbin Martin, the newest Astro, during Saturday night’s nationally televised Fox game. Martin was called up earlier this week to replace the struggling Collin McHugh in the rotation, and, in his first big league start, he struck out nine Rangers and allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings.
The Astros drafted Martin, 23, in the second round of the 2017 draft. It was one of the picks they received from the Cardinals as compensation for the hacking scandal. Martin zoomed through the minors (2.31 ERA and 193 strikeouts in 179 innings) and became the fourth player from his draft class to reach MLB (Braves righty Kyle Wright, Angels righty Griffin Canning, and Padres lefty Nick Margevicius beat him.)
MLB.com currently ranks Martin as the 58th best prospect in baseball. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report:
Martin’s arsenal begins with a 92-95 mph fastball that hits 97 with running action, and he has reached the upper 90s while working in relief. He can miss bats with each of his breaking balls, with his slider showing more flashes of becoming a true plus offering than his curveball. His changeup continues to improve as he uses it more often and helped make him slightly more effective against lefties than righties in 2018.
Martin looks like the quintessential Astros pitcher in that video above. Mid-to-high-90s elevated fastballs, hard breaking balls down in the zone, and a good changeup. His fastball and curveball showed comfortably above-average spin rates in his MLB debut the other day, and high spin is an Astros trademark. Houston will show off their latest draft and player development success story on national television this weekend.
“His stuff is real,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch told The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan earlier this week, “and his demeanor is very advanced for someone who’s only been in pro ball for a short period of time.”
I expect lots of offense this weekend. Lots. Both clubs are swinging the bats well lately and Fenway Park is conducive to crooked numbers. The prediction here is the Astros will win two of three. Cole will out-pitch Porcello on Friday, then Martin and the bullpen will smother the BoSox on Saturday. Sale & Co. will rebound to salvage the series on Sunday. No reason to watch, folks. I just told you what will happen.
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