HOUSTON VS. BOSTON

Jumping on the Astros bandwagon? Here is the ALCS guide for dummies

George Springer seems to show up every October. Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

This article is a continuation of one written for the American League Division Series, which can be found here.

Well. Round one went by quick. Hopefully you didn’t spend too much time practicing your talking points in the mirror from the last article, because you can go ahead and forget everything about the Cleveland Indians until next April. What that means for you, however, is that class is back in session.

The Matchup

The Astros will be playing the Boston Red Sox in a best of seven series. Between the two, Boston had the better regular season record overall and therefore owns home field advantage throughout the series. The first two games will be played in Boston, the next three will be in Houston, and - if needed - the final two will be played back in Boston.

How Houston Made It

The Astros stared at three great Cleveland pitchers in the first round - in three different games - and punched them all in the mouth. Cleveland tried to swing back, but Houston’s pitching staff leaned out of the way, ruffled their hair, and probably called them “Sport,” or “Tiger.” Seriously. In three games, the Indians were outscored 21-6. Better luck next time, sport.

How Boston Made It

The Boston Red Sox faced off against bitter rival New York in a series that was exclusively slotted for primetime, because Yankees. The Red Sox used an overpowering offense to send the Yankees home early, which included a game where Boston choke slammed the bombers 16-1.

Astros Players to Know

If you read the first article of this playoff series, you’ll see that I went to the trouble to introduce you to the biggest names you should know. Take a minute and go read that. I’ll wait.

Now that you’re caught up, let’s get acquainted with some of the other guys.

George Springer: Centerfielder. 2017 World Series MVP. Clubbed two home runs in the last game against Cleveland to close them out. His bat magically warms up in October, so look out for more. Also prone to insane circus catches in center field, so watch for those.

Lance McCullers: Relief Pitcher. Wants to strike everyone out. Sometimes he does just that, and sometimes he gives up four runs in the first inning. If you see him on Twitter he's usually either talking smack to everyone or advocating animal rescue. Seriously, I think he has like 18 dogs.

Sound smart: “So McCullers started throughout the season, but he came off injury a little late in the season so they're going to use him out of the bullpen.”

Marwin Gonzalez: Left fielder. And Second Baseman. And Shortstop. And First Baseman. Third Base? Yeah, he does that too. He played pretty much everywhere there was a tired player that needed a break this season. Just plug him in and watch the Astros’ human swiss army knife go to work. Let’s avoid numbers and just say that he hit the ball more than half of the time he went up to bat in the last round against Cleveland. I’ve never seen him smile.

Yuli Gurriel: First Baseman. In contention for greatest hair on the team, but he won it last year so I gave it to someone else this year. Nicknamed “La Pina,” which is really fun to yell when he gets a hit. Struggled a little at the plate last round, but throughout the regular season was one of the most clutch players in the league with runners on base. So when you see him up to bat with a man on second base, fire this one off:

“It’s La Pina, man. Easy Money.”

Josh Reddick: Right fielder. Country boy. Helped make the “Woo!” chant a thing, which was cool. Last year. Notoriously abysmal at the plate in the postseason last year. OK season this year at the plate, but known for his defense. Likes to mime shooting Spiderman webs after a good catch, so watch for that, point at the screen and go “Yeah, he does that all the time, man.”

Charlie Morton: Pitcher. Threw the final out if the World Series. Dealing with a shoulder issue, but when healthy he pitches hard  and has a filthy curve. Most likely player to mass text the team a reminder of practice times and also to have a wonderful day. His recent dominance has earned him a nickname he probably finds a bit crass: Charlie F(roli)cking Morton. Subtitute the parenthesis for an appropriate vowel.

Red Sox Players to Know

Mookie Betts: Rightfielder. Potential A.L. MVP. Great hitter and base stealer. Second best baseball name in the league (Scooter Gennet obviously being the first). Good bowler. One of the top two Red Sox most likely to frustrate you because he is very, very good.

J.D. Martinez: Designated Hitter. Perpetual five o'clock shadow. Potential A.L. MVP as well, but more than likely the runner up to Betts. This guy is Dangerous with a capital D at the plate. Very capable of crushing a few home runs this series. If he does well some baseball guy is going to inevitably lean over and go “You know he used to be an Astros, right?” Shut him down.

“Yeah, but he was bad. Now he's good. That's how player development works.”

Chris Sale: Pitcher. Top 5 pitcher when healthy. Currently recovering from injury. Game 1 starter. Filthy strikeout stuff. Very tall gangle-creature. Before the Red Sox acquired him, he was offered to Houston in exchange for Alex Bregman.

...nah.

David Price: Pitcher. Game 2 starter. Solid starter. Loves the video game Fortnite. Like a lot. Like, “the Red Sox asked him to stop playing so much and focus on baseball,” a lot.

Craig Kimbrel: Closer. If you see this guy in the game, you're probably already in a bad mood because the Red Sox won't send him out unless they're winning. Seeing his..unique..pitching stance probably won't help your mood. It looks like Dracula hunched over, spreading his cape. Look it up. Kimbrel is typically one of the most dominant closing pitchers but looked vulnerable closing out the Yankees last round.

What to Expect

One hell of a series. These teams own the best two regular season records and a ton of firepower in their bats. I look at this as the de facto World Series because by every metric they're essentially the two best teams. The Astros won the regular season series between the two, but both teams were dealing with separate injuries so take that for what it's worth.

Offensively, it looks like a push with Boston receiving a slight nudge ahead if I had to pick. The deciding factor in this series will once again come down to pitching, and that is where the Astros are simply in a different class. Boston has good starters, but after that the foundation cracks while trying to pass the baton to Kimbrel. Houston's pitching is nails for nine innings.

I call Houston in six. I also call a great series that I'm going to lose years of my life over.







 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome