BOSTON -- The Houston Astros have not won a postseason series since 2005. They have never swept a postseason series since their inception in 1962. Those facts could both change on Sunday at Fenway Park.
On the precipice of sweeping the Boston Red Sox in their American League Division Series, the Astros plan to stick with what got them to this point. Andy why not? It’s worked pretty well so far.
With a 101-61 record in the regular season, Houston won the AL West by 21 games over the second-place Los Angeles Angels. They scored a major league-high 896 runs, 38 more than the second-best New York Yankees. They did so with a well-balanced attack, with 10 players recording 50 or more RBI – just the fourth team in major league history to reach that mark -- and eight players with 15 or more home runs.
But, it wasn’t just the offense. Houston starting pitchers combined to post a 4.03 ERA, third-best in the AL, with a staff ERA of 4.12, fifth-best.
It’s a combination the Red Sox have had no luck in solving this postseason, being outscored by the Astros, 16-4, in the first two games. Which is how Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow planned it when he built his roster to rebound from 2013, when the Astros went 51-111, the worst record in baseball.
“You plan for things like that but you never know if it’s going to work out,” said Luhnow, watching from the warning track in front of the home team’s dugout as his team worked out Saturday afternoon at Fenway.
“But that was the plan coming into this year, to have a deeper lineup and to have contributions from everybody and it’s showing up now. I think when the opposing pitcher looks at our lineup and you see a (Brian) McCann and a (Yuli) Gurriel and (Alex) Bregman in the bottom three, that’s pretty tough.
“I think the most impressive thing for me is that 1-25 on our roster are making contributions when they need to…So that bodes well.”
But, it’s not always a guarantee that a team, regardless of how well it performed in the regular season, will continue to do so in the postseason. The playoffs are just different. So far, the Astros have handled that transition seamlessly.
“We haven't gotten too ahead of ourselves in any one game or any, or the fact that we're up 2-0,” said Astros manager A.J. Hinch. “I'm proud of that perspective. I think that's hard.
“You get to the postseason, there's a small tendency to want to do more, and we haven't. We have just been ourselves. We have been loose. We have been putting up good at-bats. Our pitchers have been very convicted in their pitches. We have been executing a lot of different things. And that balance that we have been able to keep has been the big difference for us.”
The Astros played their final four games of the regular season at Fenway, taking three, which may have helped with the transition into the postseason.
“I think the first couple were like playoff games for us. Not so much about being at Fenway and now that we're back at Fenway, but just playing intense baseball the last week,” Hinch said. “The intensity of the baseball was exactly how it was at Minute Made in Game 1 and Game 2…Those games were really important from an intensity level when you're trying to get a team ready to play.”
Now, the challenge is to continue that level of play.
“We got to win another game, we got to continue to play like we’ve been playing the first two games,” said catcher Brian McCann.
“Everything starts with pitching and we’ve been getting really good starting pitching. Our bullpen’s been phenomenal. We’ve been getting good at-bats one through nine. So just continue to do what we’ve been doing.”
Houston will turn to right-hander Brad Peacock to wrap up the series on Sunday. It’s been a sometimes difficult journey for Peacock, a 41st-round pick by the Washington Nationals in 2006, and an improbable journey for him to get this point this season.
Peacock struggled to make the team out of spring training, starting the season in the bullpen before moving to the rotation. He posted a record of 13-2 (his previous high was five wins in 2013) with a 3.00 ERA. Among pitchers with at least 130 innings, he was seventh in the majors with a 10.98 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio, holding opponents to a .206 average, .173 for right-handed hitters.
Even though he beat Boston on Sept. 28, it was still hard for him to fathom that he will face them in Game 3.
“I would have told them they were crazy,” Peacock replied when asked what he would have thought if he had been told that in spring training.
“But just being here is special for me. Been humbled along the way, been injured along the way, and just makes it that much more special for me, for sure. Biggest start of my career and hopefully I can keep saying that as it goes on.”
Boston plans to stick to its approach – hoping for different results.
“I’m not worried about what he’s going to do,” said Boston center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. “I’ll just focus on my game plan and I’ll stick to my strengths and I’m pretty sure that players do a lot better when they stick to their strengths.”
Astros right fielder George Springer, a New England native, grew up a Red Sox fan. Now, he would like nothing more than to break the hearts of his childhood friends.
“That’s the plan,” Springer said. “I obviously don’t want to make them happy. So we’ll see what happens and we’re just going to have fun.”
The Astros have never won a World Series in their 55-season history. Could that also change this year?