BOSTON — Friday night’s 3-2 Red Sox loss to the Astros won’t be the first time baserunning comes to the forefront between these two teams.
The Red Sox are indeed on shakier ground heading into the final weekend of the regular season without the American League East wrapped up. But their odds of winning the division are still very high. Same for the Indians winning home field advantage, which means the American League Division Series everyone has expected, between the Sox and Astros, is still the most likely outcome.
Keep your eye on the bases from the very beginning.
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Both of these teams push the envelope, usually to positive effect. The Red Sox entered Thursday with a major league high 80 outs on the bases. The Astros were tied for second with the Yankees at 68. (These do not include steal attempts.)
Brock Holt was thrown out trying to advance to second on a Will Harris curveball in the dirt in the eighth inning Friday night. Mookie Betts was the batter, and put his hand up telling Holt to stay — but Holt had probably already made his choice.
Holt’s read, even if you want to say it wasn’t bad, did not appear good. The ball didn’t trickle away at all. Maybe more important was that his lead was on the shorter side.
“I thought a very good read on a dirt ball,” manager John Farrell said. “But on a night where we’re struggling to get even men in scoring position, I thought … that’s what he’s trained to do, and there’s no hesitation on his part. I thought he got a great jump and a great read, and it’s a bang-bang play that we challenge. And, you know what, it’s an inch away from being an advancement of 90 feet. So, that is something that is drilled from the first day of spring training, so I have no issue with him off on the read that he got.”
The Sox never call anything a mistake on the bases, so take that into consideration when weighing Farrell’s praise.
Holt’s decision to go isn’t the reason the Sox lost, by any stretch. Their general ineffectiveness at the plate is more concerning. But inside playoff games, every out will be magnified. And the Red Sox might generally have one advantage on the Astros.
The Astros are baseball’s worst team at preventing stolen bases, at 87.6 percent. That’s the highest for any team in five years, since the 2012 Pirates allowed opponents to swipe bags 89 percent of the time.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, this year are the second best at 61.9 percent. (The Indians are tops, at 57.5 percent.)
The Red Sox are also efficient when they steal: their 76.9 percent mark was sixth best in the majors. The Astros’ 70.8 percent was 22nd.
The Astros will likely carry three catchers in the Division Series, including possibly the one who threw out Holt on Friday, Juan Centeno, or Max Stassi. A defensive replacement to limit the Sox run game in late innings may be expected. Often, it's the pitcher's delivery that makes the biggest difference, but Evan Gattis and Brian McCann, the other catchers, are with the Astros for their hitting.
Either way, you have two teams that love to take an extra base, one team that’s not very good at preventing steals and another that’s great at it.