Best bets for Red Sox-Astros ALCS

By VSiN Staff  (VSiN.com) 

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The American League Championship Series is rich with storylines, as former Astros bench coach Alex Cora leads the Red Sox into this series after a one-year hiatus due to his involvement in Houston's sign-stealing scandal. We also have two of the best offenses in baseball on display in the ALCS with a trip to the World Series on the line.

Derek Carty and Adam Burke have crunched the numbers and looked into the matchups to come up with their best bets for the series.

Boston Red Sox (+ 130) vs. Houston Astros (-160)

Carty:

The Astros and Red Sox square off in the American League Championship Series on Friday.  While the Astros are the best team in the AL and have been all year, don’t count the Red Sox out.  As I noted in my write-up of their ALDS matchup against the Rays, this is a team that has plenty of strengths and which, perhaps due to their struggles down the stretch after leading the AL East most of the season, the odds tend to underrate.

Offense

Outside of the Dodgers and the Blue Jays, no offense in baseball projects better than Houston’s.  Boston isn’t too far behind, though.  Both clubs bring top-notch offenses loaded with star-power to this series, and we’ll get at least a couple games in the elite hitting confines of Fenway Park.

The Astros led Major League Baseball with a 116 wRC +  (a measure of observed offensive quality adjusted for ballpark), while the Red Sox finished with the sixth-best number.  The advantage goes to the Astros, as not only do they have stars like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, but 11 Astros players posted a wRC + that was above average this season!  That is a ridiculous number and one Boston simply can’t contend with.

Where the Astros may lose some edge is in the platoon advantages.  Two of Boston’s three best pitchers, Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez, are left-handed, and three of Houston’s best hitters are left-handed as well: Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and Michael Brantley.  So is their best-hitting catcher, Jason Castro.

Starting Pitching

If Boston is to win this series, it will likely be on the backs of their starting rotation—the only place they hold an advantage over Houston.  Despite a rocky outing in the ALDS, Chris Sale is one of the absolute best pitchers in baseball.  Complementing him are two top-25 pitchers in baseball, according to THE BAT projection system, in Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez.  And in a deep series, if an additional starter is needed, Tanner Houck sneaks inside the top 50.

The Astros, meanwhile, don’t have a single pitcher that tops Boston’s third-best.  Lance McCullers (No. 26) and Framber Valdez (No. 28) come close and are certainly of ace-quality, but Boston has three of them and a fourth that is easily better than either of Houston’s remaining options: Luis Garcia (No. 90) and Jose Urquidy (No. 121).

If Boston’s arms show up, they’d have a real shot at heading to the World Series.

Bullpen

Neither of these teams count their bullpen among their greatest strengths, but Houston does hold the advantage here.  Ryan Pressly is the closest thing they have to a high-quality late-inning reliever, but their real strength lies in their depth.  They have a bullpen full of serviceable relievers without any truly bad ones.  In a series that goes six or seven games, not having to roll out any shaky relievers due to the better arms being fatigued could be an advantage.  The same won’t necessarily be true of Boston, whose bullpen is squarely average.  They don’t have any truly bad relievers either, but they also don’t have any truly good ones.

Speed, Defense and Baserunning

Houston also claims the advantage with defense, boasting one of the best units in baseball.   They finished second in baseball in Statcast’s Outs Above Average this year and among the top 10 in UZR.  Like their bullpen, Boston’s defense is squarely average.  Neither team is particularly adept on the basepaths, both ranking slightly below-average.

Final Report Card

 

Astros

Red Sox

Offense

A

A-

Rotation

B

A-

Bullpen

B

C

Defense

A

C

Baserunning

C-

C-

 

How to Bet

The Astros are the better team, no doubt, but that’s baked into the odds.  Their -155 odds to win the series imply a 60 percent chance to win, and that’s simply too high.  Boston’s offense isn’t much worse, but their pitching (particularly starting pitching, which is the most important part) is considerably better.  This series is closer to a toss-up than the odds indicate, and as I suggested in their ALDS matchup with the Rays, take the odds on Boston.

Pick: Boston to Win Series + 130

 

Burke: The Red Sox knocked off the Rays in four games on Monday and the Astros knocked off the White Sox in four games on Tuesday. The rain out shouldn’t hurt Houston too badly, but the Red Sox did wind up with an extra day of rest, which is beneficial because it means that Eduardo Rodriguez will be on his regular turn for Game 2, as opposed to having to wait until Game 3 or to go on short rest.

That is huge for the Red Sox because they need all hands on deck to try and slow down this Houston offense. The Astros scored 31 runs in four games against a White Sox staff that featured two of the top three choices for the AL Cy Young for most of the season and one of the league’s top bullpens. It may have been that the White Sox had some propped-up numbers from the AL Central-heavy schedule, but Houston just looked tremendous offensively.

The Red Sox also did well, scoring 26 runs in their three wins after falling behind 1-0 in the series. Tampa Bay’s pitching staff struggled at the worst possible time and the Red Sox bats took full advantage. Pitchers from both sides will be on high-alert in this series, especially the Houston starters, given that the status of Lance McCullers Jr. remains in question for the series.

There is a lot of familiarity between both teams here. Some of the names and faces have changed, but Alex Cora, who was Houston’s bench coach throughout the CODEBREAKER sign-stealing scandal, knows these Astros hitters well. The Astros and Red Sox have had some recent playoff battles. These are also two smart and savvy organizations, so the game-plans should be very thorough and detailed.

From an offensive standpoint, the two teams are very similar. Houston had a .336 wOBA and Boston had a .333 wOBA. Houston hit 221 home runs and Boston hit 219. The Astros did score 34 more runs, which is relevant because Minute Maid Park is not nearly as friendly of a home venue as Fenway Park. The Astros led the league in wRC + at 116, while the Red Sox were at 107 with the park adjustment.

This is another series in which Houston’s opponent has a bullpen advantage, but it isn’t as pronounced. The Red Sox had a 3.99 ERA with a 4.06 FIP, while the Astros had a 4.06 ERA and a 4.21 FIP. The rate stats and percentages for each pen weren’t that different, though. Not like what we saw in favor of the White Sox.

The straight series price is a little bit high, in that the implied win probability for Houston is over 61 percent at -160. That price is a little bit inflated, but I am not excited to bet the Red Sox here. Houston’s offense is better and the difference in defense has more chances to show up in a long series than a short series. The two teams are fairly comparable and the value on the series price itself is likely on Boston, but I do believe the Astros advance.

As long as McCullers can go for the Astros, they are deeper on the pitching side in my opinion, which matters more in a longer series. Another slight offensive advantage here for Houston is that the Astros had the lowest strikeout percentage in baseball. One of the biggest weaknesses for the Red Sox is that they are not a good defensive team. More balls in play, particularly with the Houston offense at Fenway, will be a problem.

I do believe Houston wins in six or seven games. That is also what the sportsbooks believe, as Houston by 4-2 is the lowest price for Exact Series Result at + 390. By a 4-3 count is + 400. Even Houston 4-1 is + 550, lower than any series-winning outcome for the Red Sox.

Picks: Houston Astros 4-2 + 390; Houston Astros 4-3 + 400 (1/2 unit each)

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