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ALDS Notebook: Red Sox vs. Astros

   10-05-2017
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Houston wins the series, 3-1. 

Just the beginning for Devers

If there was a positive development to be taken by the Red Sox as their season concluded with a disappointing exit from the AL Division Series, it was the continued progress of rookie sensation Rafael Devers. The 20-year-old led off the ninth inning of the 5-4 loss to the Astros with an inside-the-park home run when his drive to left-center bounced off the wall and bounded away from center fielder George Springer as he raced around the bases. “[Third base coach Brian Butterfield] was waving me around and then I figured that I'd be able to score, and then when I looked back and saw that no one was really near the ball, that I was going standing up, then I knew I was going to get there,” said Devers who batted .364 with a team-high two home runs and five RBIs. 


 

American League Division Series, Game 4
Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros
Oct. 9, 2017

Morton gets the call 

The Astros will try again to close out their Division series on the road in Boston Monday, and will turn to Charlie Morton on the mound. The 33-year-old, 10-year veteran put together his most complete season in 2017, setting career bests with 14 wins and 163 strikeouts during his first season with the Astros. With limited postseason experience – he started one game for the Pirates in the 2013 Division series – Morton said he will be ready to go against the Red Sox. “This is the biggest game I'll throw in all year,” Morton said Sunday. “So I'm really excited about it. I'm excited to be here in Boston and pitch at Fenway against the Red Sox and, yeah, I'm excited.” Morton should be familiar with the lineup, as he started for the Astros on Sept. 29 at Fenway Park. Going 5 2/3 innings, he gave up two runs, struck out four and picked up the win. The right-hander put together a strong September, with a 4-1 record and a 2.54 ERA in five starts. Look for Morton – nicknamed Ground Chuck – to try to induce groundballs at a high rate. For the season, he towed a 51.8 percent ground ball percentage.  

Price is right

“I'll feel fine tomorrow” was the way David Price put it when asked if throwing 57 pitches over four innings on Sunday would affect his ability to come back and pitch in Game 3 on Monday afternoon at Fenway Park. The Astros didn't score over those four innings and the Red Sox held on to a 4-3 lead through the middle innings thanks to the 32-year-old left-hander's efforts.  He became just the fourth reliever in Red Sox playoff history and first since Pedro Martinez in 1999 to pitch at least four innings and allow no earned runs. Hanley Ramirez was impressed, but not surprised. “I know David, he's a machine, he's a competitor, and when he's on the mound he's going to give everything he has. That's him, that's his attitude and that's why he's here.” The former Cy Young Award winner and four-time all-star got himself into a little trouble with four hits and a walk, but he struck out four and got the job done. Manager John Farrell told the media that Price told him before the game he was good for 80 pitches and that he was prepared to send him back out for the top of the eighth, if necessary. There wasn't much chance Price would answer the question any other way. “I want to help this team win right now,” Price said after Game 2. “If it's coming out of the pen, I'm going to do it. If it's playing center field, I'll do it. It doesn't matter to me. I want to win. That's why I came here. Whatever the team asks me to do, that's what I'm going to do.”

Devers does it

Rafael Devers is covering a lot of professional baseball ground this year. He batted .300 with 18 homers for Double-A Portland before his promotion on July 14 to Triple-A Pawtucket for whom he batted .400 with two homers in nine games before becoming the youngest active player in Major League Baseball (20 years, 274 days old) on the day he was called up. He batted .284 with 10 home runs in 58 games for the Red Sox in the regular season. The Dominican third baseman, who was widely considered the best left-handed hitter available internationally when he signed with the Red Sox at age 16, added postseason hero to his resume on Sunday when he crushed a 94.2-mph fastball over the center field wall to give the Red Sox their first lead in the postseason and help shift momentum going into Game 4 on Monday. Mickey Mantle, Andruw Jones, Miguel Cabrera, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper are the only players Devers age or younger to hit postseason home runs.  “Turned the game around,” manager John Farrell said. “He's an extremely talented kid, and I think we marvel at the fact that he's 20 years of age. He's come into this environment, come into this setting, this market and has performed fantastic. Probably better than we anticipated. But the timing of this one is a big swing.” While he's already accomplished so much, Devers now has his heart set on being in the American League Championship Series on his Oct. 24 birthday.

Another chance


Rick Porcello, who led the American League with 22 victories and won the 2016 Players Choice Award as the AL's Outstanding Pitcher, has had a difficult follow-up season, to say the least, leading the league in losses (17), as well as home runs (38) and hits (236) allowed while struggling all season to find his command. Now, the 26-year-old from Morristown, N.J., is relishing his chance on Monday to turn that around with a solid postseason performance. Absolutely,” he told the media on Sunday. “I'm definitely looking forward to this opportunity and giving us a chance to go out there and play a Game 5 in Houston. So I couldn't ask for a better opportunity and I'll go out there and do my thing.”  Porcello, who has studied the Astros, whom the Red Sox played late in the regular season, said executing his pitches would be imperative. “There's no ‘get me over' fastballs, no ‘get me over' breaking balls because they have the ability to hurt you with that kind of stuff. So we're aware of what they're capable o

f doing and we have seen it and we got to counteract it by making good pitches.”

Middle infield production 

José Altuve and Carlos Correa are reinforcing their reputation as the best middle-infield combination in the game with their performance in the early part of the postseason. The two have combined for five home runs and 10 RBIs through three games. The second baseman, Altuve, has reached base 11 of 14 plate appearances (.786 on-base percentage), while shortstop Correa is the postseason leader with six RBIs so far.


 

American League Division Series, Game 3
Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros
Oct. 8, 2017

A Connecticut Yankee Astro in Beantown

Houston outfielder George Springer, born in New Britain, CT and drafted by the Astros in the first round of the 2011 amateur draft out of UConn, returns home to New England with his red-hot Astros' teammates looking to put an early end to the Red Sox' season.  After going hitless in the series opener, Springer went 2-4 in Game 2, with a home run, two runs scored and a double, a walk and RBI.  During the regular season, Springer, in his fourth MLB season, achieved career highs in batting average (.283), home runs (34), and RBI (85).  Off the field, Springer turned to his hometown of New Britain for assistance following Hurricane Harvey, by organizing clothing and food drives to benefit his adopted home of Houston.

Boston Breather

A day off before Game 3 on Sunday at Fenway Park couldn't have been a bad thing for the battered Boston pitching staff after getting beaten by 8-2 scores in the first two games of their division series with the Astros. Jose Altuve had a three-homer outburst on Thursday and Carlos Correa and George Springer went deep on Friday. Houston's first four hitters -- Springer, Alex Bregman, Altuve and Correa are a combined 12 of 32 (.375) with six home runs and 10 RBIs. Tall right-hander Doug Fister, who was 5-9 with a 4.48 ERA after the Red Sox picked him up from the Angels system in a June 23 waiver claim, starts for the Red Sox. Brad Peacock, who started the season in the Astros' bullpen before emerging to go 13-2 with a 3.00 ERA in 132 innings, will start for the Astros in their quest for a three-game sweep.

American League Division Series, Game 2
Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros
Oct. 6, 2017

Altuve joins elite group

Five-foot-six José Altuve hadn't had much success in the 2015 postseason, going just 4-for-26. Couple that history with the fact that he was facing Boston staff ace Chris Sale, and it looked like a tough opening game in the ALDS on Thursday for the second baseman. He quickly changed that, with three solo blasts – two off Sale. Altuve, a nominee for the 2017 Players Choice Awards Player of the Year after winning the award last year, has led the league in hits for the past four seasons, but had not had a multi-home run game since July 24, 2016. Until last night. The five-time All-Star became just the ninth player in postseason history to hit three homers in a game and first since Pablo Sandoval in 2012. The impressive list also includes Albert Pujols, Adrian Beltre, Adam Kennedy, George Brett, Reggie Jackson, Bob Robertson and Babe Ruth, who did it twice. “I couldn't believe any of my homers,” Altuve said. “I hit one and I was like, wow. And the second one is like, wow, what's going on here. And it feels great. If I can do -- everything I can do to help my team in this kind of game I'm going to feel happy to do it because one thing I can tell you is we have a lot of talent out there and we, the energy we brought today is the energy we need to play the rest of the games and I'm rooting for my team, I love my team, and tomorrow's another game.”

Bregman starts it off

Playing in his first career postseason game, third baseman Alex Bregman said he didn't feel any added pressure. “No nerves,” he said. He played like it, too. In his first at-bat against Chris Sale, Bregman, the second overall draft pick in 2015, went deep, becoming the first Astros player to hit a home run in his first postseason game since Raúl Chávez in Oct. 2004. “One of the keys was when Alex homers,” Altuve said. “I think he set the tone. The way he got to the dugout and he was really happy and real excited and then it was hey, I want to hit one, too, you know? And we are in this together.” Bregman played college ball at LSU, and led the team to a College World Series appearance in 2015. The stage is bigger now, but Bregman as showed he's up to the task.

Keuchel's stuff

Dallas Keuchel, who won 20 games and the Cy Young Award in 2015 before struggling in 2016, returned to form this season, despite a pinched nerve in his neck that limited him in the middle of the summer. He was 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA and a 1.119 WHIP. The key for the 27-year-old left-hander is locating his sinker, which he does extraordinarily well. He's not a hard thrower with his sinker topping out in the high 80-mph range and his four-seamer up to about 93 mph. The winner of three straight Gold Glove Awards, Keuchel also fields the position as well as anyone. He was pumped with anticipation for a loud crowd in Minute Maid park for his ALDS Game 2 start: “Especially with the roof closed, it feels like there's about 90 thousand people instead of 40, 45 thousand,” he said, recalling 2015. “I wasn't able to talk to the guys next to me on the bench.” And he didn't think the extra rest would have much affect, saying he would be “a little bit more fresh than usual.' On the other hand, he added, “I'll be a little bit more exhausted come game time tomorrow just because of how much energy and the adrenaline going in my body.”

Pomeranz has plenty left

Some fans are wondering if the Red Sox's ALDS Game 2 starter Drew Pomeranz, who threw a career-high 173 2/3 innings this year and placed seventh in the AL in ERA (3.32) and tied for second with 17 wins, might be running out of gas because his fastball readings were down a couple miles an hour in recent outings. But he sure seemed ok when he allowed just a run on three hits over six innings against these very same Astros last Saturday at Fenway Park. “I guess velocity has been down a little bit, but it's more I think pitching usage. I've been using more two seams, which is a pitch I don't throw as hard,” the 6-foot-6 left-hander said on Wednesday. “So I'm not worried about that or I don't think about that. I think it's more of just I kind of go out there and see what I have that day and see what I need to have to beat certain teams and that's what was working, so just kind of rolled with it.” A fifth overall draft pick by the Indians in 2010, Pomeranz emerged this year to go 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA for the Red Sox. Increased confidence in his slider helped. He used that more often this season but his strength remains keeping hitters off balance with speed differential.

Experience matters

Veterans like Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez and Craig Kimbrel have felt plenty of the heart-thumping and adrenaline flowing that accompanies postseason play, but even a little bit of postseason play can help. The core group of Red Sox position players -- Brock Holt, Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez – played in the postseason for the first time last season when the Red Sox were swept by the Indians. Now, rookie Rafael Devers is the only Red Sox position player new to the kind of atmosphere they're encountering in the closed-roof confines of Minute Maid Park. "I think just being in that atmosphere and a lot of us it was our first time in the playoffs so we didn't really know what to expect," Holt said. "I think that only helped us know now what to expect going into it and I think we were all excited but we didn't know how to go about it."

Left-handed luxury

As left-handed relievers go, David Price comes with an impressive resume. He's got a Cy Young Award, pitched in five All-Star Games and has a 3.22 ERA over 269 games in 10 years. So while it might seem strange seeing him come in from the bullpen, know that he's already a very valuable addition to a corps that features Craig Kimbrel, Addison Reed and Matt Barnes. After returning from the disabled list in mid-September, Price went to the bullpen and has 8 2/3 scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts and two walks in five outings. Importantly, he showed he can pitch on multiple days and multiple innings to bridge to Barnes, Reed and Kimbrel. "It's going to be dependent on how many pitches he's thrown the day before,” manager John Farrell said when What we've seen is a rapid bounce-back. Two innings and 24 pitches and he comes right back the next day for a high-leverage inning. I don't think we could ask anything more with David Price from a physical standpoint the way he's handled and embraced this role. It's been outstanding."

American League Division Series, Game 1 
Boston Red Sox vs. Houston Astros
Oct. 5, 2017

A First

Boston and Houston have never met in the postseason, but the Red Sox lead the all-time series 27-16, with a 12-9 mark at Minute Maid Park. In the regular season, Houston took four of seven games from Boston. The two teams are relatively familiar with each other, as they ended the season with a four-game series at Fenway Park, where Houston took three of four.

Harvey's shadow

It isn't lost on the Red Sox and Astros players that just over a month ago Hurricane Harvey devastated the city of Houston and surrounding areas. Signs of the ongoing recovery are everywhere. While largely spared by the destruction from high winds and 50-plus inches of rain, much of the outfield grass at Minute Maid Park had to be replaced. There are oversized “H Strong” stickers on the dugout. "Part of our job is to provide something to be proud in - and I think we have. We're not done yet, and we want to make this the most special year of all time in this organization," Astros manager A.J. Hinch told the Houston Chronicle. "I think the emotions that have gone into this month for a lot of people in our community kind of push us to want to deliver."

Puerto Rico, too

The Astros have two of baseball's most prominent Puerto Rican stars in Carlos Beltran and Carlos Correa, who have seen both their adopted city and birthplaces crushed by hurricanes. "It was a tough month. Both of the hurricanes, for me, affecting both of my towns," said Correa, who was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. "I feel like Puerto Rico is my home. But Houston is my home as well, and now my adopted home. So it was tough. We had to figure out ways to help - just to be able to use your stage to help other people and impact other people's lives. Throughout all this tragedy, make them feel a little bit better, a little bit happier, it just means everything to us."

Sage advice

Dustin Pedroia knows the drill, having played in 47 postseason games – sixth most among second basemen – including winning World Series championships in 2007 and 2013. So all eyes will be on the gritty 34-year-old and unquestioned leader of the 2017 version of the Sawx. “The only thing, the playoffs, it's about anything you can do to help the team win. It doesn't matter what it is. If you lead off the game and/or whatever and you have a 15-pitch at-bat and you strike out, your 0-1 in the box score, but that at-bat is crucial to helping your team win. And that's what it's about, it's not about anything else. It's about doing anything you can, little things wise, backing up bases, doing one more thing than the other team that can help you win a baseball game. That's the playoffs. I like to think that our team plays like that every game throughout the season. It's just you got to come in the media room and talk before or you have practice days or things like that. But it's the same game. You just got to find a way to be one run better than the other team.”

Justin's stuff

The Red Sox haven't historically hit well against the Astros' new ace, Justin Verlander, and had a team OPS of just .540 against him when he was pitching for the Tigers, but who has? The six-time all-star and winner of both the Cy Young and MVP awards in 2011 has a 3.46 career ERA and struck out 8.5 batters per nine innings over his 13 years in the big leagues. This year the 34-year-old right-hander started a total of 33 games between the Tigers and Astros and finished the regular season 15-8, including 5-0 since joining Houston, with an ERA of 3.36 and a 1.175 WHIP and walked the fewest batters of his career -- just 1.3 batters per nine innings. And in an era of hard throwers, the 6-foot-5 veteran remains among the elite, topping out close to 100 mph and he still throws his four-seam fastball 57 pct. of the time.

Postseason Debut

Chris Sale pitches with as much energy, emotion and intensity as any starting pitcher in baseball, which had a lot to do with his astounding 308 strikeouts over 214 1/3 innings this season, but he also knows it's important to keep his adrenaline in check in his first-ever postseason performance. “For me, just it's going to be hard not to but try not to put too much emphasis on it. Just try to treat this just like another game,” the 6-foot-6, 28-year-old left-hander told reporters on Wednesday. “You get a little amped up sometimes and that can kind of go crazy. So I'm going to just try to go out there and pitch my game and act like this is just another one along the way.” Rather, his goal is to employ the same approach he used to go 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA and his sixth consecutive All-Star Game appearance during the regular season. “I'm not going to reach for another avenue that I haven't reached for in my entire career. So I don't think now would be the time to start doing that.”

Check out our #MLBPlayers411 series for more information on some of the players participating in the postseason: 

Boston Red Sox:

Christian Vazquez

Andrew Benintendi

Xander Bogaerts

Houston Astros:

Marwin Gonzalez

Lance McCullers and Collin McHugh

Dallas Keuchel

Nori Aoki

Carlos Beltran