USA Today Sports

Meet the Astros' secret weapon

Rob Bradford
October 13, 2018 - 9:12 am

Few who followed the Red Sox batted an eye on July 26 when the transaction came across.

The Angels had traded catcher Martin Maldonado to the Astros in exchange for a Single-A pitcher named Patrick Sandoval and some international bonus slot money. This was, after all, a guy who was hitting just .223 with a .616 OPS. And Houston already had a catcher in Brian McCann who was carrying a contract that paid him $17 million a year.

There was somebody that day who did take notice. That was Alex Cora.

"They did that for us and Cleveland," the Red Sox manager said while sitting in the dugout in late July.

He was right.

Not only wasn't McCann hurt at the time of the deal but before his disabled list stint he was hitting just .197 with a .594 OPS. And, most importantly, even if his offense bounced back there was an issue when it came to his defense. That's where Maldonado came in.

This was a guy who wasn't going to give you much offensively yet he represented a very real value when it came to one of Houston's primary weaknesses, controlling the running game. The Red Sox coaches, for one, believed that Maldonado might represent the best catch-and-throw guy in the big leagues, a notion that was supported by his major league-leading caught stealing percentage (48.6 percent) this season.

Houston was going up against a Cleveland team that led the majors in stolen bases. Well, the Indians didn't even attempt a stolen base in their three games against the Astros. Now, it's the Red Sox turn to try and figure it out.

Boston finished with the third-most steals in the majors, going 5-for-5 against the Yankees in its American League Division Series. But there is a big difference between Gary Sanchez and Maldonado, as Cora's club is about to be reminded of.

In the four games the Red Sox played against Houston before the Maldonado acquisition they ran wild on the Astros, totaling seven steals in eight attempts. In the three meetings in September with Maldonado behind the plate? The Sox attempted one Andrew Benintendi steal. He was thrown out.

"The biggest difference, I do believe they made an adjustment because of who they were thinking they were going to play in October, is Martin Maldonado," Cora reiterated Friday. "I didn't see that coming knowing that Brian was going to be healthy and (Max) Stassi was playing great. But that's what they do. They think ahead and you've got the Indians leading the league in stolen bases. You've got us playing the way we're playing. So they decided to go to one of the best defensive catchers in the league, and he's been outstanding. And that's the difference."