BOSTON - As the Red Sox get set for a redemption series against Houston in the 2018 ALCS, manager Alex Cora has full confidence in his franchise record-setting team.
“To win 108 games at the big-league level is not easy,” Cora said Thursday. “You don’t run into 108 wins. You have to be good. You have to be solid. You have to be consistent. And we did it.”
After tacking on three more wins to that total in their ALDS victory over the Yankees that saw the series-clinching win and a champagne celebration soundtracked by Frank Sinatra take place on the road, the Red Sox return to Fenway Saturday to face the defending world champion Astros. When Alex Cora looks across the field, he’ll see many familiar faces.
The series is a battle between Major League Baseball’s best pitching and best hitting squad. The Astros pitchers set an MLB record with 1,687 strikeouts this season and led the league in virtually every pitching category – ERA (3.11), opponent batting average (.217), WHIP (1.10), starters’ ERA (3.16) and bullpen ERA (3.03). Boston is home to AL batting champion Mookie Betts (.346) and runner-up J.D. Martinez (.330).
Houston is going with seven-time All Star and 2017 World Series champion Justin Verlander in Game One and opting for two-time All Star selection Gerrit Cole, who they secured in the offseason from Pittsburgh, in Game Two.
Both pitchers struggled against the Red Sox offense in regular-season play. Verlander gave up two runs on three hits in Boston’s 5-4 victory on June 2, while Cole gave up three home runs across two appearances ¬– back to back shots from Mitch Moreland and Martinez on June 1 and one to Xander Bogaerts on Sept. 7.
“They have a terrific pitching staff,” Cora said of the Astros. “They do an outstanding job at attacking hitters. We’ll sit down and we’ll talk about it and we’ll go from there.”
The Astros had the best road record in baseball in 2018, going 57-24 away from Minute Maid Park. The Sox hope sending Chris Sale and David Price to the mound in the first two games will offset Houston’s road success.
The latter assignment leaves some fans shuddering after what they saw in Game Two of the ALDS. Price lasted just 1.2 innings, giving up three earned runs and a 445-foot blast to New York’s Gary Sanchez. Cora is confident in the five-time All Star, citing his versatility on the mound and his past performance against Houston.
In last year’s ALDS matchup between the teams, Price pitched 6.2 scoreless innings of relief in two games as the Sox fell in four games. This season, he took the hill against Verlander in June, allowing three early runs before holding the Astros scoreless through the middle innings to lay the foundation for a Sox comeback victory.
“I know how good he is,” Cora said. “I know he’s pitched well against them and I trust the guy. He’s going to make some adjustments, and he’ll be fine.”
The ALCS race between Boston and Houston begins Saturday at Fenway Park, with first pitch set for 8:09 p.m.
“Like Verlander said in spring training, to get to the World Series, you have to go through Houston,” Cora said. “Here we are.”
Jenna Ciccotelli is an intern in the Boston 25 Sports Department. Follow Jenna on Twitter - @JennaCiccotelli
© 2019 Cox Media Group.