The Boston Red Sox have managed a season full of highlights and offensive firepower, but they remain no match for the defending World Series champion Houston Astros.
After losing a three-game set to the Cleveland Indians two weeks ago, the Boston Red Sox returned to Fenway Park on Tuesday, Sept. 25, defeating the lowly Baltimore Orioles, who most recently fired long-time manager Buck Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette, to notch their 106th victory on the season, the most in franchise history. By season’s end, they entered the postseason with 108 wins in total, eight games better than New York, five games better than Houston, their two greatest threats standing in the way of the franchise’s ninth World Series championship, their fourth this century.
On the strength of a blistering MVP campaign from Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez’s flirtation with the Triple Crown, the organization’s first since Carl Yastrzemski mastered the feat in 1967, the Red Sox have fashioned themselves a banner year amidst fireworks from its world-beating offense that ranks first in the majors in runs scored (876), hits (1509), doubles (355), total bases (2550), RBI (829), and OPS (.792) despite barely breaking the top-ten in homers (they rank ninth with 208, according to ESPN.com, a far cry from the 168 they mustered, good for 27th in the game, in 2017). Betts, in particular, has outdistanced Mike Trout in overall WAR at 10.9 (they are the only position players to eclipse 10.0 this year in the majors). With his three-run blast at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago, Betts emphatically punctuated his brilliant season as the Sox went on to defeat the Yankees 11-6, capping the night off with a champagne shower to ensure Boston’s AL East-winning campaign.
Halfway across the country, the Houston Astros clinched their second consecutive AL West title despite an injury-plagued season from Carlos Correa and relatively downtrodden returns from George Springer, Josh Reddick, and Jake Marisnick, all heroes in some form during their torrid World Series run in 2017.
Jose Altuve and Alec Bregman, who would likely win the American League MVP in any other season Trout and Betts were not vying for the honor night in and night out, have been linchpins in maintaining Houston’s 103-win pace. Bregman and Altuve are doing it behind magnificent campaigns from Justin Verlander (16-9 with a 2.52 ERA, 6.8 WAR, 290 Ks, and a 0.90 WHIP, the latter two of which lead the AL), a Cy Young candidate, Gerrit Cole (15-5 with a 2.88 ERA, 5.1 WAR, 276 Ks, a 1.03 WHIP, and a K/9 IP rate, 12.9, that leads the AL), Charlie Morton (15-3 with a 3.13 ERA, 201 Ks, and a 129 ERA+, all career highs), and Dallas Keuchel (12-11 with a 3.74 ERA, a relatively subpar season three years removed from winning the Cy Young, all in a contract year, although he has mustered tremendous postseason success against the Yankees and Red Sox, two likely contenders the Astros could face in the ALCS).
Houston will need their aces to battle Cleveland’s staff, their ALDS opponent, which boasts four starters (Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, and Carlos Carrasco) who have each eclipsed 200 strikeouts, an ERA+ no less than 129, and a WAR of nearly 4.0 or better (only Carrasco falls short at 3.9). However, the bullpen is arguably Houston’s greatest asset. It is better collectively than New York, Oakland (defeated by the Yankees 7-2 in the AL Wild Card game on Wednesday night), Boston, or Cleveland’s, with Houston’s pen leading the majors in ERA (3.03) and FIP (3.14), falling into the top five in a slew of other categories, according to FanGraphs.
From top to bottom, the Houston Astros, who will compete in arguably the most intriguing division series across baseball that nobody will watch (no single game is scheduled for primetime at the moment), have the most complete team in the major leagues, a club with the best chance at repeating as champions for the first time since New York did so in 1999 and 2000.
Despite what Boston offers with their juggernaut lineup, Houston has a complete staff with playoff experience profound enough to neutralize whatever lineup Red Sox manager Alex Cora concocts, especially if Chris Sale (0-1 with a 12.60 postseason ERA), who has not pitched seven innings in a game since July 11, David Price (0-8 with a 5.74 ERA in nine postseason starts), and Rick Porcello (0-2 with a 5.85 ERA in four postseason starts, including a shellacking at the hands of the Yankees in 2011) cannot yield positive returns in October.
Ultimately, despite whatever Barstool Sports’ Jared Carrabis, a diehard Red Sox fan, has to tell his 169,000 followers on Twitter, Boston is less likelier to win the World Series in 2018 than the Astros. Never mind that they have to get through the New York Yankees, whom they will face for the first time in the playoffs since the 2004 ALCS, first.
The New York @Yankees will be facing the Boston @RedSox in the playoffs for the first time since the storied 2004 ALCS, the series that started their comeback trail, exorcising an 86-year "curse." They have since won three titles. The Bombers have to be thinking revenge here.
— Bryan Pol (@Bryan_Polettino) October 5, 2018