Posted on October 18, 2018, by Bryan Zarpentine

Boston Red Sox

Image via usatoday.com

The Houston Astros officially have their backs up against the wall in this year’s ALCS. Despite the Astros earning a split of the first two games, the Boston Red Sox have found their offensive groove with the series moving back to Houston. The Red Sox have scored eight runs in each of the last two games to take a 3-1 series lead. The Astros are now in the unfortunate position of needing to win three straight games against Boston, starting with Thursday’s Game 5.

Unlikely Hero

One of the reasons for Boston’s 3-1 lead is that it’s not just the usual suspects who are doing the heavy lifting. Jackie Bradley Jr., who had an awful regular season, is arguably the MVP of the ALCS after four games. After a three-run double in Game 2, Bradley hit a grand slam in Game 3. In Game 4, Bradley continues to collect clutch hits, hitting the home run that put the Red Sox ahead for good. He now has nine RBIs through four games. Bradley only has three hits in the series, but they’ve all been game-changers. The Red Sox can only hope he continues to be a difference-maker in the series.

Pitching Matchup

With Chris Sale not at full strength after being hospitalized with a stomach ailment over the weekend, the Red Sox will turn to David Price in Game 5. Price allowed four runs on five hits in Game 2, but he was able to go 4.2 innings, doing just enough to help the Red Sox win. He’ll be coming back on short rest, but that’s something he’s done before in his career. Also, Price only threw 80 pitches in Game 2, so fatigue shouldn’t be a huge factor. The Red Sox shouldn’t expect any miracles, but they’d be pleased if Price can give them three or four solid innings.

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Meanwhile, the Astros will turn to ace Justin Verlander to keep them alive. Verlander limited the Red Sox to two runs on four hits over six innings in Game 1. There were times in that start when he dominated Boston’s lineup and others where he had to pitch himself out of trouble. Even in an elimination game, he should have a fairly long leash. The Astros have a lot of faith in Verlander, and after Charlie Morton only went 2.1 innings in Game 4, Houston doesn’t want to rely on a tired bullpen.

X-Factor

For Houston, the X-factor to watch is Yuli Gurriel. He delivered a home run late in Game 1 to seel the win but has been quiet since. He’s just 3 for 17 in the series. George Springer and Carlos Correa have stepped up in this series, but with the Red Sox being extra cautious with Alex Bregman, they need another right-handed hitter to step up and try to knock out Price early in Game 4. Before the series, Gurriel was 3 for 9 with a double in his career against Price, so he’s a good candidate to be the one who steps up.

Oddly enough, Mookie Betts is Boston’s X-factor in Game 5. Before getting a hit against Verlander in Game 1, he was 0 for 13 in his career against Houston’s ace. If the Red Sox are going to stay hot offensively, Betts has to keep being the catalyst at the top of the lineup. If he continues his struggles against Verlander, the red-hot Boston lineup could start to cool down, giving the Astros a chance to extend the series.

Prediction

The Red Sox are clicking offensively, but if there’s one guy who can slow them down, it’s Verlander. Moreover, Price starting for Boston is not ideal given his playoff track record. Verlander and the Astros will feel the pressure and find a way to get it done, sending the series back to Boston. Houston wins 7-3.

Note: This prediction is the opinion of the author and not necessarily the prediction of Jon Price or Sports Information Traders.

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