ALCS preview: Red Sox hold Box-Toppers advantages in series, but defending champ Astros may be better than last year

Box-Toppers playoff preview.png

The Boston Red Sox hold nearly all the advantages over the Houston Astros in the coming American League Championship Series.

But the Astros are the defending World Series champions and return in 2018 with a largely unchanged roster and even more wins than they had last season (103 vs. 101).

Team rankings

Here are final Box-Toppers 2018 season team rankings. The column BTP shows the number of Box-Toppers points players on the team accumulated this season. The column BTP/wk shows have many points teams accumulated from Sept 21 to Oct. 1. The column Wk ago shows the team's rank as of Sept. 20.

Teams BTP BTP/wk Wk ago
1 Red Sox 143.6 5.0 1
2 Yankees 135.2 8.7 2
3 Brewers 132.4 11.0 4
4 Astros 132.2 10.7 3
5 Indians 128.3 7.7 5
6 Dodgers 128.0 9.7 6
7 Cubs 122.5 7.0 7
8 Athletics 120.8 5.5 8
9 Braves 116.3 6.0 9
10 Cardinals 110.2 4.0 10
11 Diamondbacks 109.1 3.0 11
12 Mariners 108.0 5.7 13
13 Rockies 106.0 9.0 14
14 Phillies 105.6 2.0 12
15 Nationals 96.3 7.5 15
16 Angels 90.0 5.7 17
17 Pirates 89.8 5.0 16
18 Twins 88.4 8.7 18
19 Rays 86.0 6.5 19
20 Mets 85.9 8.7 21
21 Giants 80.2 1.0 20
22 Marlins 74.2 5.7 23
23 Reds 71.4 1.0 22
24 Rangers 66.9 3.0 24
25 Tigers 64.7 2.0 25
26 White Sox 64.0 2.0 26
27 Padres 60.9 5.7 28
28 Blue Jays 60.8 3.5 27
29 Royals 54.2 6.0 29
30 Orioles 44.9 3.5 30

As measured by Box-Toppers, the Red Sox have the edge over the Astros in the following areas as they begin their best-of-seven game series beginning Saturday in Boston:

Box-Toppers team rankings—The Red Sox rank first in Box-Toppers team rankings with its players accumulating 143.6 Box-Toppers points in 2018. The Astros rank fourth with 132.2 points. The Red Sox just eliminated the second-place team, the New York Yankees (135.2) in the AL Division Series. The third-ranked team is the Milwaukee Brewers (132.4), who are playing in the National League Championship Series. Last year, the Astros also ranked fourth in overall team rankings and third among AL teams with 131.7 points and parlayed that into a World Series win.

Probable players—Red Sox’ key probable players have more Box-Toppers points than Astros likely players. Among a group of 17 players on each team (shown in the chart below), Red Sox players have a combined 133.1 Box-Toppers points, while the comparable group of Astros players have 116.2.

Starting batting lineup—Red Sox likely starting nine batters have more combined Box-Toppers points than their Astros counterparts. The Red Sox have 47.9, while the Astros have 29.9.

Bench—The top three likely reserve batters for the Red Sox have 9.5 Box-Toppers points, just edging the 9.0 points earned by Astros likely bench reserves in 2018.

Relief pitching—Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel has 7.0 Box-Toppers points in 2018, while Astros closer Roberto Osuna has 3.0 (though Osuna served a 75-game suspension in 2018 related to domestic assault allegations). Red Sox’ top likely bullpen pitcher is Eduardo Rodriguez, who earned 13.4 Box-Toppers points in 2018, all as a starter. However, Rodriguez has been used as a reliever both late in the season and into the postseason. Similarly, Astros’ top likely bullpen pitcher is Lance McCullers Jr., whose 10.7 Box-Toppers points in 2018 were all earned as a starter. He, too, served as a reliever late in the season and in the postseason.

The Astros hold the advantage among starting pitchers:

Starting pitchers—The Astros top four starters have a combined 63.6 Box-Toppers points, compared to 55.6 for the Red Sox.

A look at each team’s regular season

Before the season started, Box-Toppers projected these two teams would meet in the postseason. It’s just that Box-Toppers predicted they would meet in the AL Division Series, with the Red Sox winning. Box-Toppers picked the Cleveland Indians to beat the Red Sox in the ALCS and then beat the Washington Nationals in the World Series.

While Box-Toppers correctly predicted both the Red Sox and Astros would win their division in 2018, the win number was underestimated for both teams. Box-Toppers had the Red Sox winning 94 (they won 108) and the Astros winning 92 (they won 103). (Last year’s World Series champion Astros won 101 games.)

The Red Sox jumped to an early lead in Box-Toppers team rankings in 2018, leading AL teams much of April. The Astros led all teams for much of May and again for about a month from the middle of June to the middle of July. 

The Red Sox took over the lead among all teams to stay around Aug. 1, when they made the trade deadline acquisition of second baseman Ian Kinsler from the Los Angeles Angels. At the time, Kinsler had 6.0 Box-Toppers points, earning no more points with the Red Sox after the trade.

Midseason acquisitions

The Astros, largely unchanged since their 2017 World Series win, made only a few acquisitions during the season, including acquiring:

  • Catcher Martin Maldonado from the Angels (5.5 points) on July 26.

  • Closer Roberto Osuna from the Blue Jays (3.0) on July 30.

The Red Sox made these key moves, acquiring:

  • Starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi from the Rays (8.7) on July 25.

  • Second baseman Ian Kinsler from the Angels (6.0) on July 30.

  • Utility player Steve Pearce from the Blue Jays (3.0) on June 28.

One of the Red Sox most notable transactions in 2018 was not an addition but a subtraction. On May 30, they released infielder Hanley Ramirez, who had 3.5 Box-Toppers points, which at the time, ranked eighth among AL batters. Those 3.5 points earned by Ramirez in just the season’s first two months are as many or more points than those earned during the entire 2018 season by 15 of the 24 probable batters for the ALCS listed below. The loss of Ramirez’ points sent the Red Sox from second to fifth place in Box-Toppers weekly team rankings report on June 1, despite winning five of their seven games during that week.

Ramirez, 34, did not play for any other team the rest of the season.

Starting pitchers

Astros pitcher Justin Verlander is Box-Toppers’ highest-ranked player on either team and the highest-ranking player remaining in the postseason. With 24.1 Box-Toppers points in 2018, Verlander ranks third among all players, second among AL pitchers (behind overall leader Blake Snell of the Rays with 27.2 points).

Red Sox’ top-ranked player is also their top starting pitcher, Chris Sale, with 20.1 Box-Toppers points in 2018, sixth among all players and fourth among AL pitchers. 

Sale led all players in Box-Toppers points in 2017 with 25.1. Verlander led all players in Box-Toppers points in 2012 with 24.8, when he was with the Tigers.

One other starting pitcher for the Astros, Gerrit Cole, ranks among the overall top 10 players. Cole has 18.0 Box-Toppers points in 2018, ranked eighth overall and sixth among AL pitchers.

Astros starting four pitchers for 2018 are decidedly stronger than the four starters the Astros had in the ALCS in 2017. In that series, the starting four had a combined 39.2 Box-Toppers points, while this year, they have 63.6.

Notable batters

J.D. Martinez of the Red Sox leads all batters in 2018 with 12.5 Box-Toppers points, which is 28th among all players. While it is the most for AL batters this year, it is tied for the second-lowest point total to lead AL batters since Box-Toppers tracking began in 1995.

Alex Bregman leads Astros batters with 6.2 Box-Toppers points, 133rd among all players and 16th among AL batters.

One other notable player for the Red Sox is Mookie Betts with 10.9 Box-Toppers points, who ranks 39th among all players and second among AL batters. Martinez and Betts are the only players in the series ranked among Box-Toppers’ top 10 AL batters for 2018.

There are two batters among both teams’ projected starters who had 0.0 Box-Toppers points in 2018:

  • Red Sox third baseman Eduardo Nunez, who did not earn Box-Toppers Player of the Game honors in any of the 127 games he played in 2018. He earned 3.0 Box-Toppers points in 2017 in 114 games played.

  • Astros designated hitter Tyler White, who did not earn Box-Toppers Player of the Game honors in any of the 66 games he played in 2018. He earned 1.7 Box-Toppers points in 2017 in 22 games played.

Postseason journey for both teams

The Astros swept the Cleveland Indians in three games in the best-of-five game AL Division Series. Here are the Astros’ Box-Toppers Player of the Game winners in each game:

Game 1: Starting pitcher Justin Verlander.

Game 2: Starting pitcher Gerrit Cole.

Game 3: Collin McHugh, a relief pitcher not listed below. McHugh had 3.0 Box-Toppers points in 2018.

The Red Sox defeated Box-Toppers’ second-ranked team, the New York Yankees in four games in the other best-of-five AL Division Series. Here are the Red Sox’ Box-Toppers Player of the Game winners in each game:

Game 1: Starting pitcher Chris Sale.

Game 3: Infielder Brock Holt.

Game 4: Catcher Christian Vazquez.

American League Championship Series Game 1, Astros at Red Sox

The pitching matchup Saturday:

Astros—Justin Verlander, 24.1 Box-Toppers points, third among all players, second among AL pitchers.

Verlander was Player of the Game in the ALDS Game 1 win over the Indians on Oct. 5.

Red Sox—Chris Sale, 20.1 Box-Toppers points, sixth among all players, fourth among AL pitchers.

Sale was Player of the Game in the ALDS Game 1 win over the Yankees on Oct. 5. He also pitched one inning in the deciding Game 4 ALDS win over the Yankees, but did not earn Player of the Game.

About Box-Toppers—Box-Toppers tracks who most helps their team win the most games. Using standard box score statistics, Box-Toppers uses a simple formula to determine a Player of the Game for each Major League Baseball game played. That player is the person who contributed most to his team’s win. In regular season games, players earn 1.0 Box-Toppers point for being named Player of the Game and can earn bonus points for being Player of the Day or top player or batter in their league for the day.

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AL Championship Series player comparisons

Likely starting players for the Astros and Red Sox listed by position with their Box-Toppers point total (BTP) for the 2018 regular season and their overall rank among all players. Includes likely starting nine batters, three likely bench batters, four starting pitchers, top closing pitcher and one extra pitcher:

Pos Astros BTP Rank Pos Red Sox BTP Rank
1B Yuli Gurriel 2.7 360 1B Steve Pearce 3.0 320
2B Jose Altuve 3.5 293 2B Ian Kinsler 6.0 149
SS Carlos Correa 3.0 312 SS Xander Bogaerts 5.5 164
3B Alex Bregman 6.2 133 3B Eduardo Nunez 0.0 811
CA Martin Maldonado 5.5 169 CA Christian Vazquez 2.0 413
CF George Springer 4.5 221 CF Jackie Bradley Jr. 3.5 295
LF Marwin Gonzalez 2.0 404 LF Andrew Benintendi 4.5 219
RF Josh Reddick 2.5 370 RF Mookie Betts 10.9 39
DH Tyler White 0.0 881 DH J.D. Martinez 12.5 28
PH Evan Gattis 4.5 232 PH Mitch Moreland 3.5 288
PH Tony Kemp 2.5 396 PH Brock Holt 3.5 297
PH Jake Marisnick 2.0 430 PH Rafael Devers 2.5 394
SP Justin Verlander 24.1 3 SP Chris Sale 21.1 6
SP Gerrit Cole 18.0 8 SP David Price 14.4 18
SP Charlie Morton 14.8 16 SP Rick Porcello 11.4 36
SP Dallas Keuchel 6.7 117 SP Nathan Eovaldi 8.7 66
CP Roberto Osuna 3.0 324 CP Craig Kimbrel 7.0 108
PI Lance McCullers 10.7 43 PI Eduardo Rodriguez 13.4 24
Totals 116.2 Totals 133.1