Breaking down some of the key matchups in Game 3 of the ALCS between the Boston Red Sox and the reigning champion Houston Astros.
The margin for error is razor thin in the postseason. Pitchers are kept on a short leash and managers will open their benches to find pinch-hitters, runners or defensive replacements in the right spots. It’s all about playing the matchups. With the Boston Red Sox heading to Houston for Game 3 of the ALCS, taking advantage of those matchups will be key to earning a victory on the road.
It starts with the opposing pitcher. The Astros will send southpaw Dallas Keuchel to the mound. The former Cy Young winner is coming off an uneven season in which he went 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. He owned a losing record of 4-6 at home with a 3.90 ERA so the comforts of Minute Maid Park won’t necessarily be an advantage for him.
Keuchel is a reverse-splits pitcher with better numbers against right-handed bats. Lefties hit .281 with a .707 OPS against him this season compared to .259 with a .703 OPS against right-handers. The Red Sox shouldn’t be afraid to use their left-handed hitters in this matchup. Andrew Benintendi (1-for-3), Jackie Bradley Jr. (2-for-6), and Brock Holt (2-for-5) all have solid track records in limited sample sizes against Keuchel. Mitch Moreland (1-for-13) hasn’t fared well against this pitcher but neither has Steve Pearce (2-for-22). Boston may favor the defensive upgrade of Moreland as long as his hamstring has sufficiently healed enough for him to play the field.
If Pearce doesn’t start the game he could be used against the Astros bullpen if they call on Lance McCullers or Tony Sipp. Pearce is a guy you typically want starting against lefties but Keuchel may be an exception. He could still be counted on for some late lighting to counter the lefties in Houston’s bullpen.
Mookie Betts (2-for-6, 1 home run), Xander Bogaerts (3-for-9, 1 home run), and Ian Kinsler (11-for-36, 1 home run) have fared well against Keuchel. Christian Vazquez is 2-for-5 against him so he may warrant another start behind the plate.
Keuchel is fairly stingy with the walks with a 2.55 BB/9 that ranked 11th among AL starters this season. However, he led the league with 211 hits allowed. Expect the Red Sox to be aggressive at the plate against a pitcher who will throw strikes and can be prone to allowing a few hits to be strung together.
Keuchel led the league with a 53.7 groundball percentage and had one of the lowest strikeout rates at 6.73 K/9. Manager Alex Cora may utilize some hit-and-run strategy to stay out of double plays against an extreme groundball pitcher who doesn’t rack up many strikeouts. Stolen bases will be hard to come by if Martin Maldonado is behind the plate considering he led the majors with a 49 caught stealing percentage but it will be a different story if the Astros use Brian McCann (32 CS%) against Boston’s right-handed starter, Nathan Eovaldi.
The right-handed heavy Astros lineup is short on options to take advantage of Eovaldi’s splits. Lefties are hitting .254 with a .737 OPS against him this season while he’s held right-handers to a .239 average and .633 OPS.
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In addition to possibly seeing McCann behind the plate, the Astros will certainly use Josh Reddick in the outfield. He’s 5-for-14 in his career against Eovaldi.
While Eovaldi has been tough on right-handed bats, Houston has stars who have been immune to his splits. Alex Bregman can hit any pitcher in baseball these days. He owns a scorching .417/.708/1.000 slash line this postseason. He homered twice and drove in four runs in the three-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians. The Red Sox have limited Bregman’s damage thus far but only by pitching around him, walking him a staggering six times in two games. Boston is essentially treating Bregman as if he’s prime Barry Bonds.
Jose Altuve is having a mild postseason while dealing with a knee injury but he has owned Eovaldi in the past, going 5-for-15 with two home runs against him. Carlos Correa has been dreadful since returning from a lengthy DL stint due to back soreness. He’s 4-for-13 against Eovaldi though so the Red Sox starter can’t take his recent struggles for granted. Tyler White is also a slugger to beware of. He’s 2-for-2 with a homer against Eovaldi.
The ALCS is tied entering the day after the teams split two games at Fenway Park. Boston will need to win at least one of the next three games on the road in order to bring this series back to Boston. They’ll have a chance to take back control of the series as long as they take advantage of the matchups.