Tomase: Astros better than Red Sox across board, which means ALCS is really the World Series

John Tomase
October 10, 2018 - 12:27 pm
Carlos Correa

Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports


Let's just get this out of the way: the Astros are better than the Red Sox.

Now that everyone's healthy, their lineup is better. Their starting rotation has been better since Day 1. Not only is their bullpen better, so are the relievers they left at home.

They're the defending champions and they've got a chip on their shoulder, thanks to MLB benching them during prime time. They're clicking like the machine they were to end last season, coming off a sweep of an excellent Indians team after spending the season seemingly content to draft off the Red Sox.

They lie in wait no longer, however, because they're now front and center as Boston's final impediment to a World Series. Nothing against the Dodgers or Brewers, but the World Series effectively starts Saturday. Whoever advances is winning the whole thing.

This is the matchup the Red Sox have wanted all season, particularly since Houston knocked them out of last year's playoffs.

"It's about time," shortstop Xander Bogaerts told reporters in New York. "It's about time. It was tough in this first round for a while, but I think this is a group we have that is pretty special. We know they're a good team, but we have the best record this year and we start at home. We start at home, so our confidence is pretty high."

Vegas has labeled the ALCS a toss-up while giving the Astros a slightly better chance of winning the World Series. The challenge facing the Red Sox over the next seven games is unlike anything they've tackled all season.

"I can't think of anything more fun," owner John Henry told reporters in New York. "That's going to be a great seven-game series. Those are arguably the two strongest teams in baseball. We were all year. It's going to be an exciting series."

If you believe in run differential as the clearest indicator of greatness, the Astros at plus-263 handily beat the Red Sox at plus-229. Houston's differential projects to 109 wins (it won 103), whereas Boston's generally equates to 103 (it won 108). Based on the underlying numbers, then, the Astros were baseball's best team.

But forget about numbers for a minute and just consider the battle-tested talent in the Astros dugout. Second baseman Jose Altuve missed 25 games with knee issues and still hit .316 with an .837 OPS. He's a Gold Glover, three-time batting champ, and the defending MVP.

Brash third baseman Alex Bregman should finish in the top five of the MVP voting after leading the team with 31 homers and 103 RBIs, and he just hit over .500 against the Indians. Leadoff man George Springer overcame injuries of his own to get healthy just in time for October, where the reigning World Series MVP continued his assault on the postseason record books with three more home runs, giving him 10 in just 27 playoff games. Five-tool shortstop Carlos Correa is finally healthy. And on and on it goes.

The 1-2 punch of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole is terrifying, and 3-4 starters Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton aren't too bad, either. Verlander may win his second Cy Young Award after leading the American League in strikeouts, shutouts, and starts. Cole dominated the Indians in Game 2, striking out 12.

And the arrival of Ryan Pressly and closer Roberto Osuna helped further stabilize one of the game's best bullpens. The Astros are so deep, they left most of last year's bullpen at home during the division series, including righty Joe Smith, former closer Hector Rondon, and 2017 stalwarts Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock. A case could be made that any of the four would be Alex Cora's first choice in the eighth inning.

Add it all up, and conventional wisdom says the Astros should be the favorites, which doesn't surprise the Red Sox.

"We had 108 wins and it seems like everybody is against us," outfielder Andrew Benintendi said. "But it is what it is. We knew there was a target on our back. Obviously the regular season was really good for us. At this point, it doesn't really matter. It's about how many wins you have in October. So far, so good."

Added closer Craig Kimbrel after holding off the Yankees: "First off, it felt good to win the division, lead the league in wins and come in and do this. We've got two steps down and two more to go. We're going to enjoy this and come next series hopefully as hot as we are right now. It's going to be a great series. They're a great team, we're a great team and that's all you can ask for."

For the Red Sox and Astros, it's fair to say the World Series starts now. The Red Sox have the talent to win, but let's go into this eyes wide open: the Astros are better.