What we’ve learned so far from three games between the AL’s best
The ALCS was always going to be a battle of powerhouse teams, as the two best records in the MLB belong to this year’s Red Sox (108 wins) and Astros (103).
If the Brewers and Dodgers are David vs. Goliath in terms of money and talent (they’re more evenly matched in terms of the latter than they might seem), then this is Goliath vs. Goliath, as two of the talent-richest (and just plain richest) teams are clashing in a series for the ages.
Three games in, this series hasn’t disappointed, as after dropping Game 1 7-2, the Red Sox have wrested control of the series from the Astros, winning Games 2 and 3 and putting themselves up 2-1.
Here’s all you need to know about how we got here – and what to watch for – in advance of tonight’s Game 4 in Houston at 7:39 p.m. CST.
Closer than it seems
This series might have already seen two blowout final scores (the 7-2 Astros victory in Game 1 and last night’s 8-2 Red Sox win), but all of these games have been hotly contested into the late innings.
Want proof? Neither team’s initial lead has lasted an entire game – the Astros struck first in Game 1 before Boston tied the game 2-2 in the 5th; the Red Sox grabbed the early lead in Game 2 before Houston came back and grabbed their own 4-2 lead in the 3rd; and Astros came back to knot the game at 2-2 in the 5th inning, while the Red Sox held just a one-run lead until they put the ‘Stros away with a five-run 8th.
The series has truly been a seesaw affair, as even the seemingly blowout games were close until the end – in fact, neither team has held more than a two-run lead before the 8th of any ALCS game.
The Astros need to prevent early runs
If the Astros are to come back in this series, they need their starting pitchers to do what they’ve done all year: Shut down the opposition early while their offense builds up a lead.
While Justin Verlander kept Boston off the board until the 5th inning in Game 1, both Gerrit Cole and Dallas Keuchel yielded 1st-inning runs in Games 2 and 3 – not coincidentally, the Astros won Game 1 before dropping the next two.
They’ll need their starting pitchers to be at their best both tonight and beyond if they want to stand any chance of knocking out the Red Sox.
The Red Sox need their big bat(s)
Meanwhile, Boston has grabbed a 2-1 series lead, but that’s come mostly without their biggest names delivering on offense, such as Andrew Benintendi, who’s OPSing .429 with just three singles on the series, and especially J.D. Martinez, who notched his first hit of the LCS in Game 3, a run-scoring double down the line in the 1st inning.
Through the entire postseason so far, Martinez has just one homer (which came in Game 1 against the Yankees) and is hitting just .240, though his five walks have given him a somewhat respectable .344 OBP.
While other names have stepped up for the Red Sox, in particular Jackie Bradley Jr. after his 8th-inning, nail-in-the-coffin grand slam last night, it seems unlikely that the Red Sox will be able to keep up their success without getting something closer to what they got all season from their biggest bats.
The Red Sox looks to push the Astros to the brink of elimination behind Rick Porcello, while Houston turns to Charlie Morton to try to even up the series.