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The ALCS Completely Flipped, but Boston's Not Done Yet

The Astros have all the momentum, but that doesn't mean it's over for the Red Sox.

Two games ago, the Red Sox thumped the Astros, 12–3, in Game 3 at Fenway Park, and it looked like this series was heading for a swift conclusion.

Houston's pitching staff was in shambles, with an injury to No. 1 starter Lance McCullers Jr. and a beleaguered bullpen that would have to carry it through Game 4.

Things were so rough for the Astros that our coverage of the Monday night Boston Massacre the next day featured two particularly bleak stories for Houston. The first, Can Anybody Stop the Red Sox? by Tom Verducci, went into depth on Boston’s batting barrage. The second was Tuesday’s edition of this newsletter, with the email subject line: Beatdown in Beantown.

Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) runs the bases after hitting a solo home run against the Boston Red Sox during the eighth inning of game four of the 2021 ALCS at Fenway Park.

Jose Altuve

So, of course, Jose Altuve launched a game-tying home run off Red Sox rookie relief ace Garrett Whitlock to lead off the eighth inning, and then Nathan Eovaldi, Alex Cora’s Original Rover, came out of the bullpen for the ninth and allowed Jason Castro’s go-ahead RBI single. From there, the game turned into a rout; Cora brought in Martín Pérez to keep things close, and the mediocre lefty did the exact opposite. Final score: 9–2.

Game 5’s lopsided score, 9–1, was an actual blowout. Framber Valdez turned back time and silenced the Red Sox’ offense, which had gone cold after its hot start to the postseason.

Now, the series is back in Houston, where the Astros need to win one of the next two games to return to the World Series for the third time in the past five seasons. No matter what you think about them for their cheating in 2017, their sustained run of success is remarkable. That’s especially true considering this year is the first they’ve fully had to deal with the consequences. Their sign-stealing scheme didn’t come to light until after they lost the 2019 World Series, and last year, there were no fans to give them the deluge of boos they deserved. We’ve already covered the mental gymnastics that come with trying to sort out our feelings regarding the 2021 Astros, so let’s not dwell on that here.

We knew ahead of time that this series was going to come down to hitting. Both lineups were two of the best in baseball this year, and neither pitching staff was in great shape after the Division Series. What’s interesting is just how much each team’s offensive production has flipped since the start of Game 4.

Games 1–3

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Games 4–5

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This series is by no means over just because the Boston bats have gone cold, and Houston hitters are back to doing their best Bruce Lee. The main takeaway here is this: In the chaos of the postseason, everything can change in an instant. That could be a first-inning grand slam, as was the case in Game 2, or it could be a big home run from the smallest of players, like in Game 4. It could even be a borderline ball call that sucks all the momentum from the dominant team and transfers it to the demoralized one.

What will happen tonight is anyone’s guess. Nothing has been settled just yet.

Have any questions for our team? Send a note to mlb@si.com.

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1. THE OPENER

“The first one was a miracle. The second was a relief. The third was inevitable.”

That’s Stephanie Apstein, summing up Chris Taylor’s three home runs in her column from last night’s game at Dodger Stadium. Taylor’s heroics helped the Dodgers to a blowout win in Game 5. Now, L.A.’s challenge will be to string together, for the first time this postseason, a second consecutive good offensive game.

Read Stephanie’s entire column here.

Oct 21, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Chris Taylor (3) hits a two run home run in the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves during game five of the 2021 NLCS at Dodger Stadium.

Chris Taylor

2. ICYMI

How bad did things look for L.A. before Game 5? Here’s a recap of their NLCS woes.

Dodgers' Bats Leave Little Hope for Another Awakening by Stephanie Apstein
Los Angeles was in a 3–1 hole to the Braves in the NLCS for the second straight year. Its offense didn't look up to the task for a comeback.

Need to get caught up on the ALCS action before tonight’s Game 6? We’ve got you covered.

Framber Valdez's Sinkers Push Boston to the Brink by Tom Verducci
In pitching so long and so well, Houston’s lefthander evoked the greatness of Bob Gibson in the 1967 World Series. This major turning back of time put the Astros up 3–2 in the ALCS.

Red Sox’ Rookie Garrett Whitlock Emerges As Lockdown Reliever by Emma Baccellieri
Boston selected him in the Rule 5 draft from the Yankees before the season. Now, he's helped stabilize the bullpen.

The Strike Zone Isn’t the Problem by Matt Martell
The thrilling finish to the Astros–Red Sox Game 4 was overshadowed by a borderline ball call.

3. WORTH NOTING from Stephanie Apstein

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Atlanta wins Games 1 and 2 of the NLCS, the Dodgers take Game 3, Atlanta grabs Game 4 to go up 3–1, the Dodgers snatch Game 5 to force Game 6. Atlanta’s players are tired of hearing that this year will be just like last year, in which they let the series slip away. But they understand that only they can make people stop talking about it.

“It's going to be the narrative, it seems, because every day it's brought up the last couple days,” said Freddie Freeman. “So I don't think we have a choice until we kill that narrative. We're up 3–2 and we're going home. That's a great position to be in.”

4. WHAT TO WATCH FOR from Emma Baccellieri

The one game today is the Astros’ attempt to advance to the World Series and send home the Red Sox. With Houston up 3–2 in the series, Game 6 starts at 8:08 p.m. ET on FS1.

Luis Garcia will be on the mound for the Astros. If the Red Sox want to stay alive, their bats will have to be far, far more active than they have been in the past two games, when they have gone just 8-for-61. But another big question for Boston is what we'll see from starter Nathan Eovaldi. His last two outings have deviated somewhat from his reputation as a lockdown force in October: In Game 2, while he got the win and held Houston to three runs in 5 ⅓ innings, he lacked his typical swing-and-miss. The Astros were consistently able to put his fastball in play. It meant that Eovaldi ended the night with just three strikeouts; in each of his prior two starts this postseason, in the wild-card game and the ALDS, he had eight. And in a relief appearance in Game 4—brought in for the ninth inning of a tie game—he gave up the lead and was pulled with two men on and two out. (Both went on to score.) It has been three days (though only two rest days) since that last appearance, in which Eovaldi threw 24 pitches, which is theoretically just enough rest for the team to feel secure about his starting tonight. It also helps that his deep arsenal allows him to make adjustments that can leave one of his starts looking markedly different from the next. But if Houston has truly gotten a better handle on how to hit him—which it seems as if it might—Boston could be in trouble.

5. THE CLOSER from Emma Baccellieri

The loss of Joe Kelly (clearly!) did not affect the Dodgers’ ability to win last night. But it might do so going forward. He’s been a key part of this bullpen, and for a team that has already been hammered by pitching injuries, every further loss hurts. (Kelly was lifted in the first inning of last night’s bullpen game with a bicep strain.) Manager Dave Roberts said last night that the most likely roster replacement is David Price: The veteran worked as a swingman this season before being permanently moved to the bullpen in late August, but he has not yet made a playoff appearance this year, despite being on the roster for the NLDS. There are still plenty of reliable options in this relief corps. But for a team facing elimination, with no margin for error, this still stings.

That’s all from us today. We’ll be back in your inbox tomorrow. In the meantime, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to sign up at SI.com/newsletters. If you have any questions or comments, shoot us an email at mlb@si.com.