ALCS: Astros, Red Sox to bat­tle

A closer look at the play­off se­ries matchup

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - ASTROS’ CAR­LOS COR­REA BY GARY A. VASQUEZ/USA TO­DAY

Af­ter the Red Sox se­cured an Amer­i­can League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries berth with a nail-bit­ing win over the Yan­kees in Game 4 of the Divi­sion Se­ries, they re­turned to Bos­ton to pre­pare for a best-of-seven set with an Astros club that swept the In­di­ans.

The Red Sox fin­ished the reg­u­lar sea­son with an MLB-best 108-54 record but face a tough draw against a Hous­ton club that went 103-59, the league’s sec­ondbest mark, af­ter win­ning the World Se­ries in 2017.

Hous­ton de­feated Bos­ton in four games in the ALDS last sea­son. Here’s a look at this year’s se­ries.

27 outs

The matchup looks to be a fairer fight than 2017 af­ter the Sox blitzed through the reg­u­lar sea­son and beat up on the 100-win Yan­kees in the di­vi­sional se­ries.

For Bos­ton, the se­ries rep­re­sents its first time reach­ing the LCS since a cham­pi­onship run in 2013. Amaz­ingly, the only holdovers from the 2013 post­sea- son ros­ter likely to ap­pear in the ALCS are short­stop Xan­der Bo­gaerts and re­liever Bran­don Work­man.

The Sox were able to fin­ish off the Yan­kees in four games in their ALDS, spar­ing ace Chris Sale the need for a Game 5 start that would’ve held him out of the first game in this se­ries. He’ll square off with Justin Ver­lan­der on Satur­day in a matchup of two of the league’s most bank­able aces, and two pitch­ers who looked like the likely top fin­ish­ers for the AL Cy Young Award at mid­sea­son — be­fore Sale spent most of Au­gust on the dis­abled list and Rays lefty Blake Snell pitched his way into the con­ver­sa­tion.

The Astros are look­ing to de­fend their 2017 ti­tle with a sim­i­lar cast of char­ac­ters, plus the no­table ad­di­tion of Game 2 starter Ger­rit Cole. This year’s Astros showed no signs what­so­ever of any World Se­ries hang­over, win­ning 20 of their first 30 games and go­ing 21-6 in Septem­ber to out­last the Ath­let­ics and Mariners in a sur­pris­ingly com­pet­i­tive divi­sion.

Keep an eye on ...

Astros short­stop Car­los Cor­rea. The young star shined as brightly as ever in the 2017 post­sea­son but strug­gled with back is­sues dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and spent all of Au­gust on the dis­abled list in a dis­ap­point­ing cam­paign that saw him fin­ish with ca­reer worsts in prac­ti­cally all of­fen­sive cat­e­gories. He hit .180 with a .517 OPS in 37 reg­u­lar-sea­son games af­ter re­turn­ing from the DL and notched only one hit — his Game 3 home run — in 10 at-bats in the ALDS. Cor­rea said this week that he still feels in­tense pain in the area, es­pe­cially when he swings and misses.

In the end

It’s hard to bet against a team that won 108 games in one of the league’s most com­pet­i­tive di­vi­sions in the reg­u­lar sea­son, but the Red Sox en­ter the ALCS with too much un­cer­tainty in their pitch­ing staff for com­fort. The Red Sox have base­ball’s best of­fense, but the Astros’ strong start­ing ro­ta­tion should mit­i­gate the dam­age done by the likes of Mookie Betts and J.D. Mar­tinez. Hous­ton has no ap­par­ent weak­nesses what­so­ever and enough depth on its ros­ter to mit­i­gate any that might arise. Pre­dic­tion: Astros in 6.

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