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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A With OverTheMonster

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As everyone knows, the Astros series against the Red Sox, a rematch of last year’s ALDS starts today. We spoke to Matt Collins over at OverTheMonster about doing a Q&A between our sites, each asking a few questions and letting the other answer.

Karen Warren / Houston Chronicle

1.) How do you think Cora being a protégé of Hinch’s changes their approaches to this series? To what extent have you seen Cora “Astro-ize” the Sox?

That first part is perhaps the most interesting storyline for this series. Ultimately, it’s likely more of a theoretical than something that will have a major effect on the series. That said, Cora has spoken a lot about how the Astros had game plans to beat some of Boston’s hitters last year, specifically Mookie Betts. That’s shaped their season-long approach. I’m sure Houston has adjusted their plans for this new series, and Cora’s insights a full year later may not work specifically, but his familiarity with a large portion of this roster certainly can’t hurt.

I don’t know how much of it is “Astro-izing” and how much is just Cora’s personal philosophies (I’d guess a mix of both), but he has certainly changed the approach of this Red Sox team. For a long time, Boston has built their lineup around patience and getting pitchers out of games early. Obviously, the game is shifting more and more towards relief, and Cora has preached a sense of aggression that’s catapulted this offense to a new level. He has talked a lot about his experiences in Houston and how that’s shaped him. I think the biggest way that’s translated this year has been his relationship with the players and the trust he’s built. Something like benching Brock Holt after he hit for the cycle wouldn’t work for every manager, for example, but I get the sense that Hinch has the same trust from his players.

Boston Herald

2.) How do you feel about Cora overall in his first year as your manager?

Cora has been a revelation, largely for the reasons mentioned above. I was not among those who felt that John Farrell had to be fired after the team’s second consecutive ALDS elimination, but it’s clear now that it was the right call. Farrell always had the reputation of being a player’s manager, but Cora epitomizes that style. There’s really not too much to add to what was said above, but he’s been the perfect fit for this roster.

3.) With Price’s recent struggles, how much rope do you give him? How many runs would he have to let up before you’d want him pulled? Where would you say your level of trust is with him overall?

There will not be much rope at all with Price. We saw it in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Yankees when he didn’t even make it through the second inning. Cora is not going to let any of these games get away from them in the first couple of innings, so if Price is getting hit hard early he’s not going to make it more than an inning or two. In terms of runs, I don’t think that’s going to be the barometer. We’ve seen starts from him this year and throughout his tenure where it was clear early that opponents were seeing him well, but thanks to luck and great outfield defense he’s been able to escape. To me, it’s all about hard contact. If line drives are being hit regularly, he’s going to get pulled whether it results in five runs or one. As far as trust goes, it’s hard to articulate. He’s obviously a really talented pitcher, and he was one of the best pitchers in the American League for a long stretch this year. Price was a massive reason why the Red Sox won so many games even with Chris Sale being largely absent for most of the second half. That said, the playoff issues can’t be discounted at this point, and the Astros kill left-handed pitching. On a scale of 1-10 in terms of confidence, I’m probably a 4 at this point.

4.) With the series (potentially) being longer for the Red Sox, what approach do you think they will take to cover the holes in their bullpen?

This is probably the biggest challenge for Cora heading into this series, and really it’s been his biggest challenge for most of the season. I don’t think Boston’s bullpen is quite as big of a disaster as others do, but it’s clearly not close to the Astros and is the biggest weakness on the team. We saw some aggression in using starting pitchers in relief roles in the last series, with Rick Porcello pitching in Game One and Chris Sale coming in for an inning in Game Four. That’s easier to do in a shorter series, though. I expect him to lean on the more traditional relievers in the first couple of games in this series and hope to find a hot hand or three to ride them. If that doesn’t work, he’ll have to get more creative.

Frank Gunn / AP

5.) Which Astro are you most afraid of facing?

I know this Astros team is built on pitching insofar as it’s built on any one area, and I’m legitimately terrified of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. That said, it’s Alex Bregman that really scares me. The Astros’ success against lefties is a huge concern since both of Boston’s top starters are southpaws, and of all the right-handed talent in Houston’s lineup it’s Bregman that scares me the most. It’s not just that he’s incredibly talented, which he obviously is, but also that he seems to step up even more on the big stage. There’s no way the Red Sox are going to shut him down completely, but keeping him from being otherworldly would seem like victory enough.

AP

6.) Who would you define as the X-Factors in this series?

I think there are three for the Red Sox. The most obviously one is Price. On talent alone, the top two Red Sox pitchers have the talent to at least keep close to Verlander and Cole. I have faith in Sale being that guy, but Price is a wildcard at best, and at this point you can’t count on him in the postseason until he shows it. If he does pitch up to his potential, though, it’s a massive swing in the Red Sox favor. The second would be Rafael Devers. With three of Houston’s four starters being right-handed, I’d expect Devers to get most of the starts in this series. He’s been up-and-down all year, but if he plays up to this potential it really lengthens the lineup. Finally, Matt Barnes is going to be huge. I’m one of Barnes’ biggest defenders, but he’s dealt with injuries and inconsistency in the second half. Before that, though, he was one of the AL’s better relievers and he has the potential to be a shutdown, late-inning arm. The bullpen is much less of a concern if Barnes can get back to being that guy, particularly against the Astros’ righty-heavy lineup.

Thanks to Matt Collins from OverTheMonster for the fun Q&A. For the answers that Bilbos, Exile in St Louis and myself gave to their questions - head over to their site at:

https://www.overthemonster.com/2018/10/13/17973212/red-sox-astros-alcs-questions-from-the-other-side