After defeating the White Sox 3-1 in the Division Series, the Astros are set to host the Red Sox on Friday to begin the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park. The winning teams of three of the last eight World Series collide in a best-of-seven scenario. While Houston had no trouble beating Chicago, Boston built some momentum with three exciting games to leave the Rays behind.
These are two pretty balanced teams that have experience and incredibly dangerous lineups. Join us trying to see who might have an edge in this series…
Martín Maldonado vs Christian Vázquez
Imagine a good defensive catcher like Maldonado but with better offense and you’ll probably get Vázquez. While his bat is not what’s keeping Martín in the big leagues, Vázquez can offer more production and a better plate discipline. I mean, he’s the toughest out of the two Puerto Ricans.
In the regular season, Vázquez was better in a good chunk of the offensive categories. In the postseason, it’s been the same story. “Machete” is 1-for-15 (.067) with six strikeouts and one run batted in, but Vázquez is 6-for-16 (.375) with a walk-off home run and four ribbies.
Advantage Red Sox
With Christian Vázquez, the Red Sox have a great defender and a productive catcher who can get on base and drive in some runs. The Astros only have a great defender in Maldonado.
Yuli Gurriel vs Kyle Schwarber
The 2021 AL batting champion, Gurriel, hasn’t had a good postseason. In four games against Chicago, Yuli went 3-for-17 with no extra-base hits and two RBIs. That’s completely the opposite to Schwarber’s numbers when the Red Sox faced the Rays (.313/.389/.500) even though he only had one RBI.
Sometimes, it’s not about the perfect player but the ideal player for your team, someone who fits your team. That’s the case for both Gurriel and Schwarber in their respective squads.
In a perfect world without slumps, Yuli brings consistency and hits while Schwarber brings big-time lefty power, which can be ideal in a short right field in Fenway Park.
José Altuve vs Christian Arroyo
As good as Arroyo was in the regular season, Altuve remains elite. Based on what they did in the regular season, the Astros’ second baseman is more powerful, draws more walks, and strikes out at a lower rate than Arroyo.
Besides, Altuve is already an all-time great in the postseason and he made a strong statement in the ALDS. In his last 15 postseason games, the beloved Venezuelan is slashing .404/.528/.789 with four doubles, six homers, and 13 RBIs. How about that?
In October, the experience counts. And José Altuve seems to develop into an improved version of himself when he plays in the postseason. No discussion here.
Alex Bregman vs Rafael Devers
Geez… You’re not gonna like me for this, but Devers has just been outstanding in the last two full seasons (excluding 2020) while Bregman had a rough 2021 battling with injuries. The 24-year-old Devers has polished his game until becoming one of the most dangerous hitters of his age and overall.
Devers is not slowing things down in October. Against Tampa Bay, he smacked two out of the park and drove in six runs (1.067 OPS). Bregman was also good vs White Sox, but five of his six hits were singles.
Advantage Red Sox
Devers has more than one way to hurt you offensively. I dare to say he’s the biggest weapon in the Red Sox lineup. Bregs still needs to regain his best shape to even things up with his younger counterpart.
Carlos Correa vs Xander Bogaerts
As with Altuve, Correa has been a lethal hitter in his most recent postseason games. In his last 20 contests, he’s gone 26-for-72 with four doubles, seven home runs, 24 ribbies, 12 walks, and a .361/.452/.708. To that, you can add his leadership and his brilliant defensive skills at shortstop.
But Bogaerts is another horse for the Red Sox. He’s as valuable for them as Correa is for the Astros. Undervalued massive talent at short, great at hitting extra-bases, doesn’t strike out that much, draws enough walks to have a good OBP, and can produce runs.
Here, we’re talking about two of the brightest shortstops in the American League if not in the game. These two are the kind of ballplayers the kids want to be like.
Michael Brantley vs Alex Verdugo
Michael Brantley has become a masterful hitter that not only shines in the regular season. He’s also a force at the plate in October. Brantley is a pure, experienced hitter that just fell short of winning the American League batting title (.311) and has been invited to four of the last five All-Star games.
On the other side, Verdugo is a fine, young kid. He registered 157 hits in the regular season with 47 extra-bases and a .289/.351/.426 slash line. The best thing is that he began the postseason in fashion with one double, one homer, and three RBIs against the Rays. But he still has a lot of ground to cover to be as good as Brantley.
Brantley is just one of those professional hitters you pay to watch. Despite he’s seen his power decline, he gives the Astros quality at-bats and tons of valuable hits. A game-changer at the plate no matter who’s on the mound.
Jake Meyers vs Enrique Hernández (Kiké)
Meyers has done a pretty good job for the Astros in his first season in the Majors. But right on the front, the Red Sox has Hernández, a veteran with 63 postseason games under his belt. In his first season with Boston, Kiké set career-highs in hits (127), doubles (35), homers (20), runs scored (84), and walks (61) while putting up a respectable 4.9 bWAR.
Hernández is one of the reasons the Red Sox beat the Rays and advanced to the ALCS, as he had nine hits in 16 at-bats with three doubles and two dingers, plus six ribbies, in the last three games of the series. Against Tampa Bay, he slashed .450/.429/.900.
Advantage Red Sox
Hernández, who made his big league debut with the Astros back in 2014, is in the middle of the best year of his career. He’s already played four Championship Series and even was a key man last season against the Braves. The Red Sox have the edge this time.
Kyle Tucker vs Hunter Renfroe
Even though Hunter Renfroe has become a fearsome hitter, Tucker tops him in almost every offensive category. For example, hits, doubles, extra-bases, steals, walks, and OPS by a mile. Tucker is a five-tool player that hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.
Another difference is that Renfroe didn’t look like the hitter he is in the series against the Rays, but Tucker did. In fact, Tucker has registered three four-baggers and nine driven in across his six most recent games in the postseason.
Tucker is a young stud who is beginning to shine. He’s a player with clear 30-30 potential. Plus, Renfroe has yet to have a good postseason series.
Yordan Álvarez vs JD Martínez
Man… Power vs Power here. Two lethal weapons from both sides of the plate. Martínez, righty; Yordan, lefty. Both crush the opposition, both are extra-bases machines, both are big-time run producers, and both are world-class sluggers.
Even though you can think Yordan is much better than JD, I think it’s a closer battle here. They’re equally strong, strike out and get walks almost at an identical rate, and (according to bWAR) they’re equally valuable.
Yordan Álvarez and JD Martínez are a big puzzle piece for their teams. Those two are men in charge of production, and they’re great at that. Both are having a good postseason so far as well.
I know Chris Sale struggled heavily against the Rays and has yet to have a big postseason. But if he can give the Red Sox a good outing on Friday night, I think Boston could be in a better position than a Houston team that might not have Lance McCullers Jr. until an eventual World Series appearance.
Right now, the Red Sox have more depth in terms of starters — besides Sale, there’s Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodríguez, Tanner Houck, and Nick Pivetta. Things could go well for Houston if Zack Greinke can be the old Zack Greinke or if Dusty Baker gives more innings to Cristian Javier and he comes through. But McCullers’ potential absence leaves a huge void in the Astros’ rotation.
Advantage Red Sox
In the postseason, pitching depth can make the difference. So at least when it comes to quantity and names, the Red Sox have the edge in this one.
Considering that both teams have struggling bullpens, I stick with the Astros in this one. Phil Maton, Ryan Pressly, Ryne Stanek, and Javier did a great job against the Rays, and Houston still has Yimi García and Kendall Graveman as other important options.
What I’m trying to say is that even though the Astros would lack starting depth without McCullers, they have pretty good depth in their bullpen. For them, it’s gonna be important if García and Graveman can dominate again, though.
Every out in a postseason series is an important one. Every out gets you a little bit closer to the ultimate goal. And have the better bullpen should give you plenty of big outs, at least in theory. Regarding bullpen, the Astros are above the Red Sox.