Boston Red Sox

Oct 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez (7) is mobbed by teammates after hitting a walk-off two run home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the thirteenth inning in game three of the 2021 ALDS at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox and Astros are meeting for the third time in the last five postseasons – and we all know the storylines. Alex Cora. The cheating. Houston won in 2017 and the Red Sox won in 2018. On each occasion, the victor subsequently won the World Series.

What that means in 2021 is impossible to know, but here are a few keys and/or things to watch for, particularly from the perspective of the Red Sox:

  • Keep it close

    Oct 12, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) congratulates second baseman Jose Altuve (27) after he hit a home run against the Chicago White Sox during the ninth inning in game four of the 2021 ALDS at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    The Astros are an explosive team that ranked second in the AL and fourth in the majors in run differential with a total of +205, something they continued in the Division Series with wins of 6-1, 9-4 and 10-1 over the White Sox. They can and will beat teams up.

    Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

    But in games decided by one or two runs, Houston was just 30-34, a .469 winning percentage that ranked 20th in baseball. The Red Sox, by contrast, were 42-31, a .575 winning percentage that ranked sixth. In one-run games, the totals similarly reflected better on Boston (26-18, .591, fourth) than on Houston (21-19, .525, 11th).

  • Exploit the bullpens

    Oct 10, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Nick Pivetta (37) reacts after striking out Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Jordan Luplow (not pictured) to end the top half of the eleventh inning in game three of the 2021 ALDS at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Pretty obvious, right? This postseason, Red Sox relievers are 3-0 while the Astros are 2-1. In an age of advanced metrics, those simple numbers are important. While ERA in the bullpen can be deceiving, the won-lost record ultimately reflects successes and failures in winnable games.

    Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

    During the regular season, the Red Sox led the AL in relief winning percentage (.646) while the Astros (.508) ranked 12th. The Red Sox had the fewest bullpen losses in the AL with 23. The Astros (31) had the third most. The managers obviously factor in here with how they deploy their rotation between stars, but you get the idea.

  • Catch the (expletive) ball

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 11: Hunter Renfroe #10 of the Boston Red Sox throws to third in the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays during Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park on October 11, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Here’s something the Red Sox didn’t do the Division Series in the ALDS: kill themselves with horrible defense. During the regular season, the Red Sox allowed a whopping 78 unearned runs, most in the AL.

    Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    According to FanGraphs, the Red Sox ranked 10th in the AL in overall defense, well behind the Astros, who finished third in the league and sixth in all of baseball. The Astros aren’t going to give you many extra outs – and you can’t give them any. And you can’t recklessly give away bases like Hunter Renfroe did in the final innings of the ALDS, either.

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