Red Sox face rocky playoff road with Cleveland Indians or Houston Astros

BOSTON, MA - JULY 19: A general view of Fenway Park during the fourth inning of the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays on July 19, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 19: A general view of Fenway Park during the fourth inning of the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays on July 19, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox path to the World Series has two significant roadblocks – one is in Cleveland and the other is in Houston. Neither looks beatable for Boston.

The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are engaged in a mutually precarious jaunt to the playoffs.  Both teams remind me of a pair of inebriated bar patrons attempting to find where they live.  In this instance, they both – or at least one – will eventually find home – the playoffs as division winners. The other presumption is the loser is a Wild Card.

From what I have witnessed from both that venture into the playoff waters will be a quick and ignominious exit.  Neither gives me the impression that they cherish first place award of a division title. When opportunity knocks they fold quicker than a cardboard suitcase purchased at the dollar store.

Since this site is all about the Red Sox it may be time to actually examine the potential roadblocks that await. There are two that come immediately into view unless Mr. and Ms. Baseball Fan has been in the stasis of a medically induced coma. The first is the Cleveland Indians and the second is the Houston Astros. Who offers a better chance at playoff survival?

The Indians last lost a game in August – or was it July? They happen to be on a streak that has Elias Sports Bureau engaged in diligent team baseball research. The name of the game is all about pitching and the Indians have the best in the American League. They top the league in ERA, FIP, xFIP and fWAR and several other notable categories. This is not skewered by just one standout.

The Indians bring you three quality starters in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer, but the real interesting piece in the playoffs will be Mike Clevinger. Even junk ball tossing Josh Tomlin is a capable nightmare producing arm on any given day. This is a solid rotation.

The Indians bullpen is now tied with that of the Yankees as the most efficient in the league.  Andrew Miller – perhaps one of the biggest free agent signing failures in recent Boston history – will undoubtedly be ready for the second season. Cody Allen closes and Bryan Shaw and a multitude of others are capable of setting up or bridging to Allen.  The Indians have more bridges than Venice, Italy.

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Offensively, the Indians are consistently disgusting as a team. Attempting to discover a flaw in their collective offense is like trying to herd cats. Just the various metrics (choose one) – wOBA, wRC, wRC+, ISO, Slugging, K%, fWAR, etc., etc. give one a depressing view if you happen to be a hurler ready to face this squad.  There are no rest stops on that pitching highway facing the Indians.

Even defensively the Indians have it all together – maybe not the best, but more than capable of being well on the plus side of UZR. Good with offense, defense, pitching, and speed.

The Indians also have Terry Francona calling the managerial shots and his performance during the long season march and the winner takes all playoffs provided solid decision-making. This is a team that will simply chew up the Red Sox as in 2016.

When did the Astros become such a powerhouse? Many saw this coming as the team from Houston is loaded with young talent.  Seems the Astros youngins’ picked it up a notch or two.  First is the offense since that catches the attention and this offense is pit bull relentless.

Jose Altuve will be Most Valuable Player no matter what Mike Trout does in September. The metrics mentioned with the Indians – being among the leaders?  The Astros are the leaders in team offense and it is not even close. They are even an enviable “last” in team K%. This is the best offense in the American League. But back to the accompaniment for Altuve.

The Astros have a wonderful balance of youth and veteran talent. Carlos Correa is simply the top shortstop in the league and next to him is Alex Bregman at third. Bergman is classic “underrated” player with others who have a bit more gloss in the offensive department. George Springer, I would gladly have in my lineup. The lineup up and down is just solid.

Teams do not win exclusively with the offense and the Astros have the pitching, but that pitching is exactly what makes me feel the Astros represent a better option for Boston than Cleveland. Maybe the end of the season face off with Houston will be meaningful games?

Dallas Keuchel is the most formidable and young and hard throwing. Houston can pair him with Justin Verlander, who they acquired in a waiver deal last month. While the former MVP may be on the down slope of his career, he’s been as brilliant as ever lately, posting a 2.33 ERA since the break.

After that, the Astros pitching staff becomes a bit questionable. Lance McCullers can have his moments, but Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock are – at least from my view – beatable. The bullpen for Houston is good, but for the Indians it is great.

Looking for a problem the Astros defense is considered collectively just a shade below Boston and Cleveland.

So for me, it comes down to pitching.  Pitching does historically have a tendency to control the board in the postseason and the Houston staff appears more vulnerable than the Indians staff – both starters and relievers.  The problem is Boston’s staff.

The Red Sox have been consistently one or two in pitching all season long.  Of course, Chris Sale is a big factor in that and Sale is also a playoff novice. The Red Sox do have a plentiful load of lefties, but the Astros hit the portsiders almost with as much punishment as righties, so that avenue does not give much of a  glimmer of promise.

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The pitching matchups are key.  Rick Porcello is building a solid resume for why he should be pulled from any postseason rotation. That leaves the next right-hand option as former Astro Doug Fister. Fister may be a mirage, but more will be known the next three weeks. If Fister’s current performance remains stable, he could be the Sox number three in the rotation.

I like Drew Pomeranz starting the second game of any series against the Astros. Pomeranz has done “OK” at Minute Maid Park (a beautiful park, folks), but I have a tendency to be somewhat dismissive of certain park performance statistics unless there is a significant discrepancy.

The rest of the matchups are just the proverbial baseball crap shoot. Too often, however, it does come down to our number three or number four giving a slight edge. In the bullpens, the real advantage for Boston is Craig Kimbrel, but both teams have their “issues.”

The Red Sox offense is not scary as they have been in the past. There is no real long ball threat that has been so often part of this lineup. The Red Sox have a nice collection of 20+ home run hitters, but only Dustin Pedroia flirting with a .300 average. Boston does have some excellent speed, a solid defense and can get hot as a group. That offense would have a bit easier time with the Astros staff.

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The Astros present a more fortuitous opportunity from my view.  By that, it means probably a less embarrassing playoff than the pitiful three and done of 2016. Either Indians or Astros I see no way realistically for Boston to move on to the World Series.