BOSTON — The Red Sox have scored 51 runs in their past six games. They hit more grand slams in an 11-inning sequence (three) than any team did in an entire postseason series. They are wearing out their home run celebratory laundry cart so much that sources close to the cart said clubbies were rotating the cart’s tires after American League Championship Series Game 3 Monday, which was yet another Boston blowout, 12–3.
Now imagine you are the person charged with coming up with a game plan to stop them and the high-mileage cart. That person is Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. Watching Boston take balls and hammer strikes up and down the lineup is enough to make you think the Red Sox somehow know what’s coming.
“They’re hot right now,” Strom says. “They’re swinging it really well and we’re making a lot of mistakes. Basically, we’re falling behind [in counts]. We’re falling behind countless times and this is a very good hitting team and they’re very adept at picking up little things. Much more so than most teams.
“So, we need to be very cognizant of the little things—tipping-like things, things like that. They’re very astute. We’ve just gotten behind hitters.”
Tipping as it relates to sequencing or something being done by the pitchers on the mound?
“I don’t think the sequencing is a problem,” Strom says. “I think we have to reevaluate to see if they are seeing things that are tipping the scales a little bit in their favor. I mean, these are veteran guys. … [J.D.] Martinez, all these guys, and of course they have the ultimate guy in their manager who … he is just very good at it. We just have to do a better job of watching what our pitchers do and getting ahead of the count.”
The Astros know Boston manager Alex Cora all too well. He was their bench coach in 2017. And while the commissioner’s office found that Cora played an active role in Houston’s practice of misusing technology to steal signs that year, Cora also is known to have an expert eye if pitchers give away their pitches with mannerisms or predictable patterns.
Strom never said he thought his pitchers were tipping, but the savvy reputation of the Boston hitters prompted him to wonder whether it was possible.
“Falling behind is the biggest thing. We’re 2 and 0, 1 and 0,” Strom says. “We talked about getting ahead in the count. We just haven’t executed it. We can’t give one of the better offenses in baseball, which is us, a hole to dig out of.”
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Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, when asked whether he thought Houston pitchers were tipping their pitches, says, “No, I wouldn’t say that. These guys are just hot. If you’re sitting in the stands, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. Every guy in their lineup is swinging only at strikes. It’s great baseball.”
The Red Sox had seven run-scoring hits in Game 3. The last four came on the first or second pitch of the at bats. The big blow was a grand slam by Kyle Schwarber on a 3-and-0 fastball from José Urquidy. The rally began when Alex Verdugo somehow extended an 0-and-2 count into an 11-pitch at bat that culminated with a walk.
Three Houston starters have lasted a total of fewer than six innings in this series. Next up for the Astros: Zack Greinke, a finesse pitcher who has thrown only 49 pitches in the past 29 days and has a career postseason ERA of 4.18. Behind him will be Cristian Javier, Kendall Graveman and Ryan Pressly, all of whom will be available for multiple innings.
“I think we’re in great shape,” Strom says. “If anybody can handle this crowd it’s [Greinke]. We win tomorrow, we’re back where we’re supposed to be.”
The Game 3 start was supposed to belong to Lance McCullers Jr. But the Houston ace injured his forearm in the ALDS and is not on the ALCS roster. Since then, the dominoes keep falling on the Astros. Three abbreviated starts followed by an unexpected start for a rusty Greinke, and now three consecutive games at Fenway Park against a scalding-hot offense threatens to sap the Houston bullpen.
Strom’s feelings aside, the Astros are not in great shape. The Red Sox are playing offensive postseason baseball on a historic scale. They are taking the drama out of these games by blowing them open early. The only drama is in trying to answer this question: Can anybody stop the Red Sox?
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