Astros-Red Sox series could be prime time magic

Jose Altuve was a big reason the Astros beat the Red Sox last season. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Astros-Red Sox matchup is Ali-Frazier for the 2018 baseball postseason. This after the Astros-Indians series turned out to be a heavyweight easily knocking out a cruiserweight.

The Astros are the defending champions, winners of a franchise record 103 games this season. The challengers this season became just the eighth team in the era of the 162 game schedule (started in 1961) to win 108 or more games. And they’re the underdogs! And rightfully so. But Boston winning the pennant would be a very minor upset.

The Red Sox definitely had the best offense in the AL this year. It wasn’t as great as the Astros’ 2017 offense, but it was a lot better than the 2018 Astros’ attack. Think of the 2018 breakdown this way: Mookie Betts was clearly better than Alex Bregman, J.D. Martinez was clearly better than Jose Altuve, Andrew Benintendi was clearly better than George Springer, and Xander Bogaerts was clearly better than Carlos Correa. The Sox lineup also has depth and versatility.

Like the Indians series, the Astros biggest on paper advantage comes in the bullpen. Boston’s four most used relievers all rack up strikeouts (what pitchers don’t these days), but all four have control issues. Whether working some walks or getting into favorable hitting counts the Astros should have chances to make hay against the Sox’ pen.

How early in games the Astros get into the Boston bully is a series subplot. Boston ace Chris Sale is phenomenal, but he’ll throw the first pitch of game one having pitched all of 18 1/3 innings in the last two months. He looked good against the Yankees, but last lasted 100 pitches in a game July 27. Boston Game 2 starter David Price merely has the worst starting pitcher resume in postseason history: 10 starts, 0-9 with a 6.03 earned run average. Past performance is no guarantee of future results but that is brutal. Price didn’t last the second inning of his Game 2 start against the Yankees and he was booed off the mound by the Fenway not always faithful. If the Astros put early pressure on Price the guy could fall apart. Price is very talented. He largely overpowered the Astros into the seventh inning at Fenway last month. The Astros then battered the bullpen.

The cool weather (Game 1 may finish with the temperature in the upper-40s, Game 2 a few degrees warmer) can’t be helpful for Carlos Correa’s back. Odd that his defense seems wholly unaffected while his hitting has mostly vaporized, but whatever. Good news/bad news that the Astros shouldn’t be and aren’t counting on Correa for offense. A.J. Hinch has smoothly handled Correa’s gradual batting order demotion from fourth to fifth to sixth and then seventh.

The Boston-Houston connections are significant. Red Sox manager Alex Cora was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach last year. Martinez flopped as an Astro prospect but has become one of the best hitters in the game; he’s been Hall of Fame caliber two seasons running now. Alvin High School grad Nathan Eovaldi will be the Sox’ starting pitcher in either game three or game four. Former Rice Owl Brock Holt should start multiple games over Ian Kinsler at second base. During the Yankees series Holt became the first big leaguer in postseason history to hit for the cycle.

My standard proviso is that without money on the line baseball postseason predictions are basically worthless. There are no real upsets possible, and any set of game outcomes is in play. I just don’t see a fundamental reason to pick against the Astros.

I hear there’s a National League Championship Series also. The team that won more games this season is the underdog there too. Let’s face it, Fox is rooting for a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series. Probably enough reason for Astros’ fans to root Brewers.

Don't get Buffalo'd

I hear the Texans play the Buffalo Bills Sunday. Provided Deshaun Watson is healthy this should be the easiest win left on the Texans’ schedule. Possible exception the Colts’ rematch in December. Famous last words right? Buffalo’s offense is garbage. The Bills have yet to muster 300 yards of total offense in a game. Despite an offensive line that remains wretched the Texans have topped 425 yards in all but one game. If the o-line and Bill O’Brien’s play calling don’t necessitate a professional body bag for Watson, watching Deshaun try to do work at Jacksonville next week should be fun.

Buzzer Beaters

1. Over/Under for Rockets’ regular season wins is 56 ½. I go over, but not the 65 they won last season.   2. Best season ticket in college football belongs to LSU fans. The Tigers this week get #2 Georgia in Baton Rouge then in three weeks it’s #1 Alabama heading to Death Valley.    3. Best Boston music acts: Bronze-The Cars Silver-Boston Gold-Aerosmith


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The Houston Texans have just a couple of practices before their preseason debut. Here are 11 observations from Tuesday’s workout.

1.The offense stunk on Tuesday. It was inconsistent and resembled more of last year’s disappointing performances than any other practices in this training camp.

2. Davis Mills and his receivers had a few miscommunications on Tuesday. Mills sailed a pass to nobody when he and Brandin Cooks weren’t on the same page. There were some other throws to nowhere in the day. It was something that hadn’t been present at all in training camp to this point.

3. There were a few “good coverage” notes on Tuesday. Not to say there was one specific player, but a handful of team-level efforts that led to the note.

4. It wasn’t all wrong from the offense. After a pass to nowhere Davis Mills and the offense bounced back. It was a second down during a team drill and Mills fired a pass to Chris Moore for six yards. Rex Burkhead would pick up a first down on a rush a play later. A non-positive play last year on first down doomed this team. That hopefully won’t be the case for this year’s team.

5. Chad Beebe is going into his fifth season in the NFL, his first with the Texans. The former Vikings pass catcher has flashed a few times in training camp. He has an uphill battle being new to the team but is trying to make himself a factor.

6. Phillip Dorsett had a big catch over the middle. Davis Mills stood back and delivered as the offensive line held up and Dorsett reeled it in for a huge gain. No defenders were around him. It is between Dorsett and Chris Moore for the chance to be the slot wideout opening day. With Dorsett’s return to practice, it is becoming a fun camp battle.

7.Speaking of returns to practice, Tytus Howard was back. Howard has his reps managed and after practice, offensive line coach George Warhop Howard was “getting his wind” back. When Howard was having his reps managed rookie tackle Austin Deculus played at right tackle. Deculus looks much more consistent than minicamp and OTAs.

8. Kenyon Green is still out with an injury. It is getting to a critical time where the time missed might prevent the first-rounder from starting week one. Max Scharping hasn’t looked bad in his chances with the first team. Offensive line coach George Warhop said they believe in Green and his ability and he has been in meetings to stay up to date.

9. Ka’imi Fairbairn was perfect in one of the special team periods. He drilled all five kicks, each further than the last, and was crushing the football.

10. Derek Stingley was very sticky in some early reps on Nico Collins. The third overall pick is so smooth when he is working. Later his coverage forced a throw from the offense that had no chance of being completed.

11. The play of the day was made by Derek Stingley. The offense was about five or six yards out of the end zone needing a touchdown to win. With six seconds left on the clock, any completed pass that wasn’t a touchdown was game over. Davis Mills dropped back a step and fired to Nico Collins who Stingley covered. The rookie kept the second-year player out of the end zone to earn the defense a win. This was one of the better Stingley days and he did a lot of work. At one point, it looked as though he and Rex Burkhead had some words and almost led to an offense and defense scuffle, but it stayed to just some shouting. The rookie shined today.

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