Fenway Park will be rocking this weekend as the Astros tangle with the Boston Red Sox in a pivotal four-game series to close out the regular season.
Adding to the intrigue is the fact that both teams are ticketed for the postseason—and may in fact face one another in the first round of the playoffs, pending Houston’s ability to pass the Cleveland Indians in the standings and take the #1 overall seed. The Astros are currently one game behind Cleveland with four left to play. Unless they close that gap over the weekend and finish with a better overall record, they’ll take the #2 seed and face the Red Sox in round one. So tonight’s game may very well be the first of nine consecutive matchups between the two powerhouse teams.
That possibility could make for some unique managerial strategies over the next few days. As their chances to claim the #1 overall seed dwindle, Houston could resign itself to a likely matchup with Boston and opt to rest or even conceal some of their best players from the series. The less looks Boston pitchers have at Jose Altuve, for example, the less likely they’ll be to know how to get him out in the playoffs. Likewise, Houston may shift around their pitching staff so Red Sox hitters don’t see Dallas Keuchel, Justin Verlander, or other key arms ahead of a probable playoff matchup.
On the other hand, the temptation to go all-in for the top overall seed will be strong—Houston would love to claim home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, particularly if they wind up facing off against Cleveland. The Indians have had their way with the Astros this year, winning five of six contests between the two teams. Any edge—even the one given by a friendlier crowd—could be critical.
No matter the direction the Astros take, the push and pull will be fascinating. The action starts tonight at 6:10 Central, when likely Astros playoff starter Brad Peacock (12-2, 2.98 ERA) takes on the white hot Eduardo Rodriguez (2-1, 1.78 ERA in his last four starts).
Topping The Tribe
The Astros’ struggles against the Cleveland Indians this season have caused plenty of hand-wringing, especially as a the playoffs loom. But if fans were encouraged by the mid-season addition of Justin Verlander, the numbers suggest cause for concern. In 52 career starts against Cleveland, the ace is 20-24 with a decidedly pedestrian 4.71 ERA—his highest mark against any American League club. On the other hand, Verlander has been on a tear lately, pitching to a 5-0 record and 1.06 ERA with the Astros. He also owns a cumulative 3.39 ERA across nearly 100 postseason innings.