HOUSTON -- Astros starter Dallas Keuchel made an interesting, accurate point while addressing media following his team’s 8-2 loss in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday.
Asked about a first inning that saw the Boston Red Sox notch three straight hits to start the game and open up an early two-run lead, Keuchel credited his opponents but stopped well short of copping to any early mistakes.
“I made the pitches I wanted to, and just was unfortunate with the placement,” the left-hander said. “There wasn’t a single hard-hit ball in the first inning above 91 mph. That’s just tough luck.”
Keuchel is a ground-ball pitcher, and all three of the Red Sox hits in question came on ground balls that found holes in the infield defense behind him. His comments, complete with data, reflect the analytical bent that is increasingly prevalent across Major League Baseball in 2018, and nowhere more obvious than in the Houston clubhouse.
These Astros, at both an organizational level and a granular one, understand the randomness that dominates baseball in individual games and short postseason series.
And so these Astros must recognize the most important point to be made about the 2018 ALCS, with the Red Sox now leading two games to one: It’s just not in any way over.
The outcomes of the next two, three or four games will dictate the narratives we script in retrospect, and if the Red Sox take the next pair to finish off Houston, we will celebrate the way they came charging back after losing the first game of the series. If the Astros win three and a row starting with Wednesday’s Game 4, we will trumpet their resilience and determination even if the Red Sox, for being a team full of Major League Baseball players, are undoubtedly resilient and determined, too.
“It’s a coin flip from here on out,” Keuchel said. “From Game 1, it was a coin-flip. It’s two 100-win teams. You expect some fireworks every so often. You can’t really hold down a potent offense for too long, so I expect us to be back in the thick of things tomorrow.”
Coin-flip analogies suit the MLB postseason well. Even if two 100-plus win teams are not evenly matched, a seven-game series in baseball is simply never enough to determine that conclusively, merely an indication of which team happened to outplay its opponents in those seven games.
But because the Astros now trail in this series, it’s not exactly a coin-flip moving forward. It’s a series of up to four coin flips, and the Red Sox need to hit heads twice before tails comes up three times.
In Major League Baseball history, there have been 136 seven-game postseason series in which one club was up 2-1 after Game 3. The team with the 2-1 start has gone on to take the series 71% of the time. Teams with 2-1 leads and home-field advantage in the set -- as the Red Sox have -- win it 75% of the time.
So, bringing it back to the coin-flip, history suggests the Astros have about as good a chance of getting to the World Series as a coin has of landing on tails twice in a row. It’s not the most likely outcome, but it’s hardly an unfathomable one. The 2016 Chicago Cubs came back from a 2-1 deficit in the NLCS and a 3-1 deficit in the World Series. The 2014 San Francisco Giants came back from down 2-1 to win the World Series. The 2013 Red Sox came back from down 2-1 to win that World Series.
Whether or not they get that -- and it seems like they get that -- the Astros’ task, obviously, is not to flip coins but to win baseball games. The probabilities for batted balls show Keuchel that, more often than not, grounders find gloves, but probabilities for a series do nothing to help the Astros figure out Red Sox pitching.
This is why you hear guys like Keuchel focus on execution rather than results: What just happened no longer matters. All you can control is what you do on the next play.
“This team does a good job worrying about the next pitch,” said third baseman Alex Bregman. “That’s really what baseball’s all about: Worry about the next pitch -- that’s the most important pitch. The first pitch of the game tomorrow, that’s the most important pitch of our season. When that one’s over, we move on to the second. Baseball’s a game that’s based on failure, so you have to have a short memory. The guys in this clubhouse do a good job of understanding that.”
“We feel like if we give ourselves opportunities, then we’re going to find that hit,” said manager A.J. Hinch. “It takes four wins to win this series. They know that, we know that. We’re down 2-1. But it’s about (Wednesday) night’s game.”
Game 4 begins at 7:39 p.m. at Minute Maid Park.