Not only do these teams know each other well on the field, but Alex Cora, the Red Sox manager, was a coach with the Astros until he left to join the Red Sox. Unfortunately, he was implicated in the sign stealing scandal (placed directly in the center of it, in fact) and did not sign on with the team until a season later.
The connection between the two should tamp down any rhetoric like we saw from Chicago's reliever Ryan Tepera, who suggested the Astros might still be stealing signs at Minute Maid Park. Neither Boston, who was suspected of similar tactics dating back even farther than the Astros, nor Houston will want to go down that rabbit hole.
The topic of cheating aside, these are two fairly well matched teams, both with loads of offensive firepower and relatively young pitching. We could be in for an explosive series. Here are some things to watch.
Starting pitching must eat some innings.
In the two games Lance McCullers didn't pitch against the White Sox, the Astros got a grand total of seven innings from their other two starters. That's not going to cut it, especially if McCullers is unable to go in the ALCS after feeling tightness in his forearm following his game four start. The Astros will have a small advantage against the Red Sox in the bullpen, where the Sox have not been good (pending availability and effectiveness of Chris Sale), but Houston's pen is not filled with world beaters either outside of Ryan Pressly. That means the starters will need solid outings. Any starter who can get a quality start is going to help his team a great deal, especially with the array of batters the Sox can throw at them.
The defense will be the Astros biggest advantage.
Outside of the bullpen, the Astros are the best defense in baseball. We saw that on full display against the White Sox. They will need a lot more of that against a team loaded with hitting. It tends to be underrated, but the Astros infield has saved a ton of runs this year. If pitchers can keep the ball on the ground, this is a group that can make plays from the routine to the spectacular. And virtually no squad is better at turning double plays.
Keep the Red Sox off balance.
There is no doubt the Astros bats will have to come to play. This is the number one ranked offense in baseball against the fourth best in the Red Sox. But one of the things the Astros did against Chicago was hit relentlessly, even if it was just a bunch of singles. They often played station-to-station baseball, hit the other way and stole bases at a clip we didn't see in the regular season. Their situational hitting, particularly with runners in scoring position, was outstanding. They need a lot more of that against Boston.
Win at home.
They call it home field advantage for a reason. Minute Maid has been raucous all year, particularly given the hostile reception the Astros have faced all season around the league. With Tampa Bay knocked off in the divisional round, Houston earned home field and they need to take full advantage. If you think things were nasty in Chicago, wait until they get to Fenway. Take care of business at home.