Red Sox

5 things to watch as the Red Sox prepare to take on the Astros in the ALCS

The Red Sox were 2-5 against the Astros this season.

Red Sox Astros
Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez delivers to Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros. The ALCS between the Red Sox and Astros begins on Friday. AP Photo/Elise Amendola

One day after the Red Sox punched their ticket to the American League Championship Series in dramatic fashion, the Astros eliminated the White Sox with a 10-1 win to set up a showdown between Alex Cora’s new club and his old one.

The teams split their last two meetings in the postseason — the Astros claimed a victory in 2017, while the Red Sox beat them en route to a World Series in 2018.

Here are five things to watch before the series opens on Friday.

The Red Sox were 2-5 against the Astros this season

Don’t panic: All seven games took place over a brief stretch in early June, and the teams that take the field on Friday have some notable differences. The Red Sox struggled badly with the Rays down the stretch as well, and they dispatched their division opponents in four ALDS games.

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Still, the Astros are a formidable opponent who have had a lot of success against the Red Sox this season. While the Red Sox’ betting odds to win the World Series shot up significantly when they knocked off the Rays, they remain underdogs against the Astros.

Red Sox pitchers got knocked around by the Astros

Again, take this with some salt, but Astros hitters punished Red Sox pitchers. Eduardo Rodriguez gave up six hits and six runs in his lone appearance against Houston, while Nathan Eovaldi had one of his worst outings of the year — a season-high 11 hits to go with five runs and three walks in a 5.2-inning loss.

To make matters worse: The Astros didn’t just hit Red Sox pitchers, they hit hard. Two of the Astros’ hardest-hitting games this season came against the Red Sox, per Baseball Savant, including one performance in which 64.4 percent of hits met the qualifications.

Some good news? The two hardest-hit games were coughed up by Martín Perez and Garrett Richards, neither of whom remain in the rotation. The Red Sox also got a nice performance by Nick Pivetta (three hits, two runs nine strikeouts) in a 2-1 loss on June 2. If the Red Sox lose games when the Astros score two runs during this series, their pitching won’t be at fault.

The Astros’ rotation might be up in the air

Few pitchers are throwing better than Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. right now.

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Just ask Lance McCullers Jr.

“I don’t feel like there’s another pitcher in the world throwing better than me right now,” McCullers told reporters after the Astros knocked off the White Sox.

The only problem? McCullers’s availability is up in the air after he experienced forearm tightness that forced him to leave after four innings.

Astros pitching coach Brent Strom told reporters he is “praying for the best case scenario” with McCullers — an ominous phrase — but followed it by noting that he is “very optimistic” McCullers will be fine. McCullers himself said the reason he left was that it was a good time for the bullpen to take over and he believed he could have gone six or seven innings.

Red Sox fans should probably expect to see the right-hander at some point. The Red Sox likely will also see Luis Garcia and Framber Valdez. Interestingly, in three meetings with the Red Sox this season, Garcia and Valdez gave up five hits and one run in every outing.

The Red Sox offense has been extra potent since August (but the Astros are better).

Since Kyle Schwarber made his debut in the Red Sox lineup on Aug. 13, the team’s batting numbers are excellent. The Red Sox have the league’s sixth-best WAR and the third-best batting average over that span. Their offense — as calculated by FanGraphs — is fourth-best in the majors.

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The only problem? The Astros’ offense is better at nearly everything except for drawing walks. The Astros have the league’s top offense this year by a wide margin per FanGraphs (and third-best since Aug. 13), and the league’s best WAR for the season (again, third-best since Aug. 13), as well as the No. 2 batting average.

When you reach this stage of the postseason, you might face a team without many holes. The Astros have batters who can hit for power and average, and their offense is one of their many strong points.

On paper, the Astros might be the better team.

The good news for the Red Sox, of course, is that games still need to be played. The Rays looked like a better team as well.

Baseball is an odd game, which fits the Red Sox perfectly: They are an odd team.

The first pitch on Friday is slated for 8:07 p.m. on FOX.

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