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.







 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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