After sweeping Seattle and then splitting the series with the Rockies, the Red Sox are looking at .500 in the rear view mirror. However, now the Red Sox embark on a huge part of their schedule. In their next five series they face the Astros home and away, square off with Cleveland at Fenway, then head to New York. This series against the Astros could lay a marker for how the coming weeks might shape up.
5/18 Rick Porcello vs. Gerrit Cole (R) 7:10 pm NESN
5/19 Hector Velazquez vs. Corbin Martin (R) 7:15 pm NESN
5/20 Chris Sale vs. Brad Peacock (R) 1:05 pm NESN
It is nice to be talking positively about Chris Sale again! In his last five starts, Sale has allowed just seven earned runs in 33 innings pitched. There is also the small matter of the incredibly number of strikeouts. In those last five starts he has 59 strikeouts. That is as incredible as it gets, and is nearly two strikeouts per innings! In fact the guys at Fangraphs took a deep dive into Sale’s 2019 season so far, which I highly recommend you read.
Corbin Martin was very impressive in his season debut for the Astros. In 5 1/3 innings he struck out nine and allowed just two earned runs. However, the Rangers and Red Sox are very different teams. The Rangers brand of baseball right now is essentially all or nothing. They are either going to batter you, or strikeout trying. The Red Sox have a little more nuance to their offense. It will be interesting to see how Martin fairs, but more than anything it will be good for the Red Sox to get a chance to face him. There is a good chance they could be seeing him again come playoff time.
Gerrit Cole is the ace in this series for the Astros. However, he has had some struggles in 2019, especially on the road. Away from Houston this season Cole has a 4.30 ERA, but has struck out 49 hitters in 29 1/3 innings. This should be a fascinating duel between a pitcher providing mixed results, and a lineup which is starting to hit its rhythm.
The Red Sox face three right-handed pitchers in this series in the form of Cole, Martin and Peacock. This season the Red Sox hitters rank 15th in home runs, fifth in batting average, and eighth in runs scored against righties. However, they will need to be at their peak at the plate in this series against a potent Astros team.
The Astros offense is lighting up the stat sheet this season. Heading into this series they rank first in the majors in batting average, OBP, runs, home runs and slugging percentage. Their offense is a juggernaut. Either this team is going to have to pitch well, or the hitters are going to have to go toe-to-toe with them.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Rotation: The news that Sale is back close to his old self is a massive relief, but their are still question marks. Porcello is just meh, and the Red Sox are going to need him to be better come the end of the season and during the playoffs. Velazquez has been promising, but he has only gone five innings once this season, mostly serving in a relief role. Now would be a great time for Sale to show us he is right back at the height of his powers, and for Porcello to step up and demonstrate he can be a contributor in the playoffs this year.
Hitting: Now that J.D. Martinez is finally starting to find his power legs things feel a little more comfortable. Martinez already has five home runs this month, and his power being a factor means that this lineup can go head-to-head with anyone. On top of that Andrew Benintendi has three home runs this month, and suddenly this team is not being carried by the power of Mitch Moreland and Michael Chavis, which is a huge relief. Now it would be great if this lineup can take apart a good rotation and settle any remaining concerns.
The three game cushion over the .500 mark provides some consolation that if things go wrong here, the Red Sox are still above water. However, this series is about so much more than just this series. The way the Astros are playing there is a good chance that the Red Sox will meet them again in the Postseason. That series is also more likely to be on the road right now, so losing to them at home would be less than ideal.
This series is the first part of an Astros double, with a trip to the Blue Jays filling the sandwich. The Red Sox have a legitimate opportunity to stamp their authority back on the AL over the next week. If they can win series both at home and on the road against the Astros, everyone will be back to taking them seriously. However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Right now getting out of Boston with a win in this series would be a major accomplishment.