Red Sox

Red Sox-Astros ALCS: Top 10 pitchers in the series

Red Sox

The pitchers set to take the mound in the 2021 American League Champion Series will have their work cut out for them. The Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros boast two of the most terrifying lineups in baseball.

With both offenses licking their chops, the series will come down to which pitching staff does a better job of keeping its team in the game. Houston enters with the edge after finishing the 2021 campaign with a 3.76 team ERA, ranking seventh in MLB. The Red Sox ranked 15th with a 4.26 ERA.

Tomase: Here's the path for Red Sox upsetting Astros in ALCS

We covered the top 10 hitters in this year's ALCS, so here are the top 10 pitchers in the series who will be counted on to limit the damage. Note: You won't find Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. on this list as he reportedly will miss the series due to forearm tightness.

10. Jose Urquidy, RHP, Astros

2021 stats: 8-3, 3.62 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 19 BB, 90 SO

Urquidy spent time on the injured list this season with right shoulder discomfort, but he was effective when healthy as evidenced by his sub-1.00 WHIP. The third-year righty struggled with the long ball, however, allowing 17 homers in his 20 starts. He hasn't pitched yet in the 2021 postseason.

9. Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP, Red Sox

2021 stats: 13-8, 4.74 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 47 BB, 185 SO

E-Rod struggled to find consistency this season following a 2019 campaign in which he finished sixth in AL Cy Young award voting. The southpaw, who missed the entire 2020 season due to myocarditis, posted the highest ERA of his MLB career. However, it's worth noting his FIP was a career-best 3.32.

 

Rodriguez followed up a rough ALDS Game 1 start with a much better performance in Game 4 as he allowed two runs on three hits in five innings of work. Boston will hope to get that version of E-Rod when he faces a Houston team he scuffled against in two starts this year.

8. Tanner Houck, RHP, Red Sox

2021 stats: 1-5, 3.52 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 21 BB, 87 SO

Houck is far from the most experienced pitcher on the list, but you wouldn't know it by his poise so far in the postseason. The right-hander has drawn plenty of comparisons to Sox ace Chris Sale with his delivery and strikeout stuff. He was an imposing presence on the mound during his Wild Card game appearance and two ALDS appearances.

If not for Houck, the Red Sox might not be in this position. After Sale allowed five runs in the first inning of Game 2, Houck pitched five stellar innings in relief to lead Boston to victory. He could be a big weapon against this Astros lineup.

7. Kendall Graveman, RHP, Astros

2021 stats: 5-1, 1.77 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 20 BB, 61 SO

Graveman was lights out for the Seattle Mariners in 2021, so it was a bit of a surprise when they shipped him to their division rival at the trade deadline. Since joining the Astros, however, the veteran right-hander has seen a dip in production. He posted a 3.13 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 23 appearances for Houston, and a 0.82 ERA and 0.70 WHIP in 30 games with Seattle.

In three ALDS appearances, Graveman allowed one run on three hits in three innings out of the bullpen.

6. Framber Valdez, RHP, Astros

2021 stats: 11-6, 3.14 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 58 BB, 125 SO

Valdez will be Houston's Game 1 starter. He beat the Red Sox twice this season, allowing only two runs and striking out 18 in 14 1/3 innings between those starts. The 27-year-old built off his breakout 2020 -- which included four outstanding playoff performances -- with a rock-solid 2021 campaign. 

5. Zack Greinke, RHP, Astros

2021 stats: 11-6, 4.16 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 36 BB, 120 SO

Greinke isn't the dominant ace he once was, but his track record earns him a spot higher up on this list. The 37-year-old righty has a Cy Young award and six All-Star nods under his belt. With McCullers out, Greinke will be counted on to step up whether it's as a starter or out of the 'pen. He allowed two hits and no runs in one inning during his lone ALDS appearance.

4. Chris Sale, LHP, Red Sox

2021 stats: 5-1, 3.16 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 12 BB, 52 SO

Like Greinke, Sale earns this spot on the list based on track record alone. The Red Sox southpaw is coming off a nightmare ALDS Game 2 start in which he allowed five runs -- four of them from a grand slam -- in the first inning. He hasn't looked like his dominant self since he returned to the rotation after recovering from Tommy John surgery. It remains to be seen what role Sale will play in this series, but he'd be a major difference-maker if he can regain form as a legitimate ace.

 

3. Garrett Whitlock, RHP, Red Sox

2021 stats: 8-4, 1.96 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 17 BB, 81 SO

Whitlock has been able to carry the success from his rookie season into the playoffs. The 25-year-old, who was taken from the New York Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft, did not allow a hit in his two ALDS appearances (3 1/3 innings). His brilliance out of the bullpen has been one of the biggest reasons for Boston overachieving this year.

2. Ryan Pressly, RHP, Astros

2021 stats: 5-3, 26 saves, 2.25 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 13 BB, 81 SO

Pressly has been one of the game's most reliable relievers over the last several years. The two-time All-Star has posted a WHIP below 1.00 and an ERA below 2.50 in two of the last three seasons. He did not allow a run in his three ALDS appearances and struck out four in three innings.

1. Nathan Eovaldi, RHP, Red Sox

2021 stats: 11-9, 3.75 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 35 BB, 195 SO

Eovaldi has earned the top spot on this list after an outstanding 2021 campaign in which he posted the fifth-best WAR among American League pitchers (4.6) and proceeded to pitch lights out in the postseason. The veteran right-hander propelled the Red Sox past the Yankees in the Wild Card game with an admirable performance, and he followed it up with another solid outing vs. the Rays in the ALDS. Another signature game vs. an Astros team he isn't all that fond of would only add to Eovaldi's playoff heroics.