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How good are the Astros?  4 things to watch out for as the Red Sox prepare for the ALCS

Red Sox

A closer look at the pitching, punches, and storytelling around the Astros.

Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros celebrates a win over the Chicago White Sox with his teammates. Photo by Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

The Red Sox have lost five of the seven games they’ve played against the Astros this season, and while the two teams look different on the eve of the ALCS, the Astros are a formidable opponent.

So what should fans expect? Here’s a closer look at what the Astros are bringing to the table.

The Astros’ pitch rotation is a bit thin

Losing Lance McCullers Jr. – apparently for the series, maybe for the season – is a big blow to the Astros. McCullers was the ace of the team against the White Sox and won both of his outings.

But the Red Sox have never faced McCullers this season. The pitcher they face in Game 1 is Framber Valdez, who played the Red Sox in two fixtures in June. Red Sox hitters mounted few challenges against his deadly combination of a sinking fastball and one of MLB’s best curved balls. Valdez doesn’t generate a lot of strikeouts, but he does have a 92nd percentile spin on his curve that averages 61 inches of vertical drop and 13.5 inches of horizontal movement, as Over the Monster noted. The Red Sox will have to figure out Valdez at some point, as they will likely see him twice.

In Game 2, the Red Sox will have a second look at Luis Garcia, who allowed five hits and one run in a win over the Red Sox earlier this season. Garcia relies on a nasty cutter for 22.6% of his throws.

Assuming he starts, José Urquidy will be an intriguing test of the Red Sox’s patience – he gives up very few steps, while the Red Sox have one of the best walk rates in baseball.

But the loss of McCullers undoubtedly hurts the Astros.

“Our options are – you know – who we have,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We have Framber, Garcia. We have Urquidy, and [Jake] Odorizzi. We have options, but right now we’re not going to call on those options even if Framber starts tomorrow, and we’ll go from there.

The Astros have a nasty collection of hitters.

Any lack of depth in pitching rotation is more than made up for by the Astros’ roster, which included Kyle Tucker (.294, 30 homers) in the seventh slot against the White Sox. The Astros didn’t have an All-Star starters, but they did have three hitters among the reservists – Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley.

Statistically, the Astros were the first in Team WAR with the No.1 Mile Offense, according to FanGraphs. The Astros have also led the majors in wRC + (weighted races created, adjusted for external factors such as stadiums).

Chris Sale, who will face the Astros in Game 1, has been asked about their roster.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Sale said. “I think they were one of the best offensives in the league. We know what we are up against. We know who is in the other canoe. It’s just a matter of executing us. We have an alignment that is just as dangerous if not more so it will be up to us to keep them at bay so that our alignment can go and do its thing and feel comfortable in those places.

The Astros are incredibly clutch.

A team doesn’t make the ALCS five straight years without a bit of drama, and the Astros are good at drama. Closest to the White Sox, Liam Hendriks, perhaps offered the best summary of how good the Astros are when the lights are on at their brightest.

“That’s what they’re known for,” Hendriks said. “That’s what they’re really good at, is figuring out how to win the playoffs. “

At the start of the season, the Red Sox have built a reputation as a team that is never out of a game. That reputation weakened a bit thereafter, but the Red Sox were once again excellent in the playoffs.

The Astros, who are excellent every year in the playoffs, present their biggest test yet.

Will the “bad guy” tale trigger the Astros?

The Red Sox have spent much of the season playing the “No one believes in us” storyline, which has worked well for them.

The Astros are a different case. The opposing fans certainly believe in it. They’re just widely hated after a sign-stealing scandal rocked their franchise in 2017 and 2018.

During the ALDS, White Sox reliever Ryan Tepera hinted that the Astros were cheating again. The Astros players were furious.

“I saw it on Twitter, I sent it to the team’s discussion group and said, ‘We’re coming for their heads,'” Correa said in Spanish in an interview with DePlaymaker on Wednesday, as as transcribed by the Houston Chronicle. “That’s all I said in our group chat.”

In a post-game interview on the pitch, Correa called again about Tepera.

“I have encouraged other players to say that when you go to speak [expletive] on other teams just state the facts, ”Correa said. “If you don’t state the facts, you lose your credibility in this game. It’s unfortunate he had to say those words because we came out here hungry.” We introduced ourselves.

Narrative psychology is a field that studies the power of history and how it makes sense of a person’s life and experiences. The same could be said of teams: generating a story can be a powerful way to bring everyone together. “Nobody believes in us to” assume “H-Town against everyone”Could be an interesting showdown.