The 2021 ALCS left Houston, on it’s way to Fenway Park, with both teams tied at one game apiece. The Astros took Game 1 on the wings of a Carlos Correa solo shot into the Crawford Boxes of Minute Maid Park. The Red Sox fired back with a walloping of their own in Game 2, sending the series to Fenway on the backs of two grand slams, the momentum in their favor.
The Boston barrage continued in Game 3, and the Red Sox smacked yet another Grand Slam, to the delight of the Fenway Faithful. However, that would be the end of the homecoming festivities for Boston, who would disastrously drop the next two games.
As the ALCS returns to the Lone Star State, here are some critical factors for each team as their hunt for a World Series berth continues.
Houston: Maintain Momentum
The Astros are coming back home hotter than Hades, thanks to a sensational back half of their trip to Boston. After Laz Diaz missed a strike call to extend the Astros 9th in Game 4, Houston woke up in a big, big way. Since Jason Castro stepped into the box against Nathan Eovaldi in that game, the Astros have outscored the Red Sox to the tune of 16-2. That’s the kind of run differential you dream about, frankly.
But that momentum is fragile, as Dusty Baker‘s boys found out the hard way in Game 2. Now that they have the crowd behind them and with the series tipped in their favor, it’s time to go in for the kill.
Boston: Remember How Games 2 and 3 Went
The Red Sox can also learn a thing or two from Game 2 back in Houston and Game 3 in Boston. The Astros sent Luis Garcia to the mound for Game 2, but he wouldn’t make it too far before exiting with an injury. At that point, the damage had already been done for Houston. The Sox tagged Garcia for five earned runs on two hits and three walks in just one inning of work. That’s not great, but the good news for Boston is that he’s getting a second start in Game 6 as of right now.
Jose Urquidy got the start in Game 3 as the series shifted to Boston. The 9-5 finish of Game 2 still fresh in everyone’s heads didn’t help Urquidy’s case. Houston’s starter would surrender six runs, with only five earned, in 1.2 innings of work before finally being mercifully given the hook. Urquidy is currently slated to start Game 7, if necessary.
Let’s say that both of these men both have short outings in their respective starts. What happens then? More than likely, Houston will give the ball to Jake Odorizzi or Zack Greinke, both of whom pitched to harsh results early in the series. Odorizzi was asked to eat innings after Garcia’s early exit and faired about as well as you’d expect. Going four innings, Odorizzi got touched up for four earned runs, all of them off the bat of Rafael Devers, who smashed the Red Sox’s second Grand Slam of the game.
Greinke had a much less eventful outing in Game 4. In a short 1.1 inning start, Greinke walked three Red Sox hitters but only gave up two runs on one hit, a Xander Bogaert’s home run that left Fenway Park in a hurry. From there, Dusty Baker opted to roll the dice with his bullpen the rest of the way. If there’s an Astros starter who has more in the tank than the others, it’s Greinke.
If the Red Sox can replicate even a fraction of those results against those pitchers, that might be enough to punch their ticket to the World Series.
Houston: Stay with Boston and Wait
Before the massacre that was Game 5 at Fenway Park, the Astros rarely held the lead, despite having an even 2-2 series. In both Games 1 and 4, the Astros trailed Boston until late, only holding leads for the final two innings. In Game 5, getting the win that puts them on top, the Astros took a 1-0 lead in the 2nd off the bat of Yordan Alvarez, and they never looked back.
With that said, looking at the box scores, it’s amazing the Astros have a 3-2 series advantage. Dusty Baker’s been able to keep his team close to the Red Sox whenever possible, just waiting for Boston to make a mistake and strike.
In Game 5, it was when Alex Cora kept Chris Sale in to face Yordan Alvarez in the 6th. Yordan took Sale to left field for a two-run double, and Houston broke the game wide open. In Game 4, José Altuve took Garrett Whitlock deep on his first pitch of the eighth inning, after Cora kept him in for a second inning of work. Altuve’s moonshot tied the game at 2-2, with just two innings to play.
Even if the Sox jump out in front, as long as Houston can keep it close, their gameplan is working. As we’ve seen in this series, if the Sox breakaway, it’s over. But if the Astros hang around, it’s only a matter of time before they even things up.
This series has been a roller coaster ride for both sides. Just when it seems that one team has the series locked down, the momentum swings. The Astros felt good after Game 1, and Boston hit three grand slams in two games to take a 2-1 series lead. With the Sox up in Game 4, Cora went for the kill shot by bringing in Nathan Eovaldi to pitch the ninth inning. Laz Diaz misses a call, and then the Astros piled it on, and they have yet to slow down.
Can Boston neutralize Houston’s momentum? Or are the Astros ready to take off and punch their ticket to the World Series? We’ll find out in Game 6.
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