Boston Red Sox's Rafael Devers
Boston Red Sox's Rafael Devers hits a grand slam home run against the Houston Astros during the second inning in Game 2 of baseball's American League Championship Series Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)


Mike Shara


PITCHING MATCHUP: RHP Jose Urquidy (8-3, 3.62) vs. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (13-8, 4.74)

MONEYLINE: Boston (-125 on DraftKings)

OVER/UNDER: Under 9 (-115 on FanDuel)

SPREAD: Houston+1.5 (-190 on BetMGM)

The two championship series have been a study in contrasts. Both National League teams feature strong starting pitching and sturdy bullpens and runs have been at a premium. Due to injuries and inconsistency, both American League finalists lack reliable starting pitching and as a result their formidable offenses have been feasting on lesser pitchers pushed into the spotlight.

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The Red Sox offense certainly is rolling right now, recording a grand slam in each of the first two innings of Game Two, essentially ending the game 40 minutes in. The English language may need to come up with a better word than ‘hot’ to describe the way Enrique Hernandez has been hitting for the past ten days or so. The Astros still managed five runs in Game Two despite Boston using their best starter and some of their best relievers that day, so they’re not exactly struggling, either. The old saw is that momentum in baseball is exactly as powerful as the next day’s starting pitcher and in that department, Houston appears to have a bit of an edge tonight.

Jose Urquidy had periods of absolute dominance this season, posting a 1.14 ERA in the month of May, which included a six inning start vs. Boston in which he struck out nine and allowed just one walk and one earned run. He missed July and August with a shoulder injury but recovered in time to make six starts at the end of the season with only two of those lasting longer than five innings. He has not pitched since throwing six innings against Oakland on the final day of the regular season two weeks ago, so rust may be an issue, especially on a cold Massachusetts night in autumn.

After missing the entire 2020 season due to Covid-19 related myocarditis (no picnic), Eduardo Rodriguez has struggled to regain any consistency this season, frustrating Red Sox fans and bettors alike by following utterly dominant starts with two absolute duds immediately afterward. Two of this season’s stinkers were vs. Houston, when he allowed 12 earned runs in 9.1 innings over two starts. He allowed four earned runs over 6.2 innings in two starts vs. the Rays in the ALDS, failing to finish the second inning in Game One.

The Astros will need some length from Urquidy in this game – they had to cover eight innings in relief in Game Two after starter Luis Garcia left with an injury, but they will likely have all of their key late-inning bullpen pieces rested and ready tonight. The Red Sox bullpen is in good shape, too, though fireballer rookie Garrett Whitlock may be unavailable after throwing two innings on Saturday.

Houston shortstop Carlos Correa has absolutely owned Rodriguez, with six hits and five walks in just 15 career plate appearances against him and Alex Bregman has a career 1.462 OPS in 12 at-bats vs. E-Rod. As a team, Houston had an OPS+ of 114 vs. left-handed pitchers this season and Rodriguez has demonstrated no capacity to slow them down. To make the situation seem even more daunting, this season he has been notably worse at home – pitching to the tune of an ugly 5.95 ERA on the mound at Fenway. I think that’s where the clear advantage in this game lies. I’m taking the ASTROS to cover and even win this game outright. Their right-handed hitters seem well set up to have a strong outing, especially with the Green Monster’s short left-field home run distance. This game could start very much the way Game Two did, but with Houston doing the lion’s share of scoring early. Urquidy is hardly a lockdown starter himself, and with this game being played in one of the better hitters’ parks in all of MLB and both offenses cooking, I have to take the OVER here as well.

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