The Astros won the World Series in 2017 and the Red Sox followed suit in 2018. Then, of course, both the Astros and Red Sox were caught and punished (to certain extents) for sign-stealing scandals.
And here they are in 2021, fighting for a spot in the World Series again.
That’ll be a topic of conversation during the first few games of the ALCS, but it will have very little impact — OK, zero impact — on the actual games.
Red Sox vs. Astros odds for the ALCS
(Odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook)
Spread: Astros -1.5
Moneyline: Astros -152, Red Sox +128
The Astros went 5-2 against the Red Sox this season. Both series ended in June. Houston went 3-1 at home and 2-1 at Fenway Park in Boston. The Astros, as the NL West champs, have home-field advantage for this series over the wild-card Red Sox.
Red Sox vs. Astros all-time series
Boston holds an all-time 34-29 edge on Houston in regular-season play. Houston played in the NL until the 2013 season. The Boson franchise has been in the AL since 1901.
The Red Sox and Astros have met twice in the postseason, though never in the World Series prior to Houston’s shift to the AL. In 2017, the 101-win Astros knocked off the 93-win Red Sox in the ALDS, 3-1. In 2018, the 108-win Red Sox bested the 103-win Astros in the ALCS, 4-1.
Three things to watch
How do the Astros compensate for Lance McCullers’ absence?
As of Friday morning, there is no official word on his status, but even if he is on the roster, he would be limited. No doubt, McCullers is important. He was the best starter in the regular season and allowed just a single run in 10 2/3 innings against the White Sox in the ALDS. So, yeah, if he’s out or limited, that seems like a problem. But the Astros have pitching options. Zack Greinke — the future Hall of Famer — could get a start or veteran Jake Odorizzi could step in. Neither is McCullers, but either could give Houston five or six solid innings with enough run prevention for the Astros’ offense to take care of the rest. It’s worth noting, probably, that McCullers didn’t start any of the seven games vs. Boston.
How will the Red Sox use Tanner Houck?
Houck, a rookie right-hander, saved Boston’s season in the ALDS. It might have been overshadowed with the avalanche of runs his teammates scored in the final three games vs. the Rays. Tampa Bay won the first game and scored five runs in the first inning of Game 2. The series looked destined to be a disaster for the Red Sox. Enter Houck, who shut down the Rays on only two hits and one run over five innings, allowing his team to catch its collective breath and mount a comeback. Will Houck get a start? Will he stay in that piggyback role if a starter falters?
How do the Red Sox approach Houston’s hitters?
The Astros led the majors in runs scored this year, then averaged nearly eight runs per game in the ALDS against a White Sox staff that allowed the fewest runs of any American League team. Boston pitchers, on the other hand, allowed more runs than any other playoff team, and it wasn’t even close (77 more than the Cardinals and 113 more than the White Sox). How deep is the lineup? Carlos Correa, the All-Star shortstop who is going to land a massive free-agent deal this offseason, batted No. 6 in the Houston lineup the first two games of the ALDS.
Stats that matter
6.00 and .300. That’s the Boston team ERA in seven games against the Astros this season and Houston’s team batting average against Red Sox pitchers this year. In those seven games, Houston batters hit nine home runs and scored 42 times, posting a .386 on-base percentage and .884 OPS. That’s basically Freddie Freeman’s 2021 season (he was .393 and .896).
Red Sox vs. Astros prediction
No doubt about it, these Red Sox gave off strong “team of destiny” vibes in the ALDS, coming back from down a game and trailing 5-2 after the first inning of Game 2 to beat the 100-win Rays. But can they keep that magic going against an Astros squad that has a relentless lineup, full of boppers and “professional” hitters? It’s hard to see the Red Sox pitching holding up over the long best-of-seven grind.
Prediction: Astros in 6.