Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images via CBS Boston

(Note: This post is kind of a fusion of Firebrand’s dormant, but fantastic Advanced Scout series and personal narrative)

Red Sox Nation is strewn vast and wide.  We can be found in nearly every neighborhood of every city in every state.  Each of us has his or her own personal connection to the Red Sox.  Each of us has his or her own origin story.  I won’t bore you with mine, because I find origin stories largely uninteresting (that being said, I’ll probably end up writing one at some point, because of course I find my own Red Sox stories interesting).  In addition to those personal connections with certain Red Sox players, certain teams, certain eras, many of us also have a personal connection to Fenway Park.  Much has been written about the hallowed grounds on Yawkey Way, and there’s nothing else really original to say about it, and that’s okay.  There are few places, in this young country especially, suffused with so much history and so many memories that you can feel it.  It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to suggest that Fenway Park is one of those few places.  Even non-baseball fans have admitted feeling something while walking the concourses at Fenway.  Fenway Park has been around for over 100 years now, and the sheer amount of history that has been made inside, and outside, the confines of the park is remarkable.

Living in San Diego, I rarely have the opportunity to visit Boston.   I have family and friends all over New England, but primarily in Maine, and as I get older and busier, it becomes increasingly difficult to find time (and money) to travel across the country.  Fortunately, this summer, I have the pleasure of attending a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

I’ve been so excited for this trip that I finally broke down and went full #baseballgeek and bought something I’ve had my eye on for a loooong time.

The Major League Baseball BallPark Pass-Port.  Admittedly, it’s extremely geeky, but it’s also really cool!  From the website:

The MLB BallPark Pass-Port is full of exciting and fun things to assist on your travels. Included in the Pass-Port is a ticket stub holder, a pen loop, a national map featuring all 30 teams locations,“I Sat Here” stickers, detailed ballpark information on each club including seating chart, validation box, gameday facts, highlight journal and new “Stadiums Visited” stickers to place on the National Fold Out Map. A National Baseball Hall of Fame validation box and journal to document your travels to Cooperstown, MLB™ Special Events validation boxes and highlight journal. A player autograph section completes your road trip experience.

I imagine that most serious baseball fans dream of making the trip to see all 30 major league ballparks, as I have, and this “Pass-Port” is just added incentive to make it happen.  It’s a tangible record of your trip and your memories.  I’m incredibly “new-school” when it comes to baseball.  I’m an ardent adherent to the school of sabermetrics, and I worship at the church of Bill James.  But as much as I love the numbers and the stats, and abhor the fabricated narratives that people come up with to explain baseball, I still get romantic and sentimental about the game sometimes.  Even though it’s been quite some time since baseball has been the nation’s most popular sport, it’s still and forever will be enmeshed with the fabric of American life.  It’s an American cultural institution.  And as silly as all that sounds, I find it to be true, and I love this Pass-Port for giving me a way to distill all that into a living, breathing archive of my personal history with the game.

Now, let’s put that saccharine mawkishness behind us and look at some numbers.  I’ll be sitting in right field tomorrow watching the Red Sox take on the Houston Astros.  The Astros, although their record might not currently indicate it, are pretty much the worst team in baseball and have been for a few years now.  Their entire offense has been worth, cumulatively, 4.5 fWAR for the season.  This puts them nearly 2 full wins behind the Padres, thus making them last in baseball in fWAR for batters.  Their pitching has been similarly bad, but not quite as atrocious as their offense.  Their pitching is ranked 23 out of 30, with 7.9 fWAR.  The Astros strike out in 23.3% of their plate appearances, which is good for best (worst?) in the American League (second best/worst in the Majors, behind the Miami Marlins).  Unfortunately for the Astros, their two top prospects have been largely ineffective, as of late.  George Springer was phenomenal upon being called up to the majors, but he’s been on the shelf since July 19th with a quad strain, and their other top prospect, Jon Singleton, has been hitting .187/.274/.384 and striking out 35.4% of the time.  Additionally, third baseman Matt Dominguez has been the third-worst regular position player in baseball.  He’s been worth -1.0 fWAR with an atrocious 74 wRC+.  It’s terrifying to think about where the Astros would be without Jose Altuve.  He leads the league in hits with 158, and he’s batting .335/.372/.436 with 45 stolen bases.

Astros pitching has been surprisingly serviceable and, in the case of Dallas Keuchel, genuinely good.  Scott Feldman and Brett Oberholtzer have been reliable innings-eaters, as was Jarred Cosart, prior to being traded to the Miami Marlins.  Somewhat encouraging is that Keuchel’s success doesn’t seem to be a total fluke.  His BABIP against is .308 and his HR/FB rate is 9.2%; both of those figures are right around league averages, as is his left-on-base rate (technically, it’s a little above at 76.3%).  He brought his K rate up to a career high of 18.6%, and he’s walking batters at a career low of 5.8%.  For the season he has a 2.89 ERA with a 3.19 FIP. Keuchel is starting to materialize into a true number two starter.

In the past few seasons, facing the Astros has kind of been like shooting fish in a barrel, to be blunt.  However, with the Red Sox playing at a dramatically inferior level and the Astros playing noticeably better than they have in quite some time, this series is no sure thing.  I’d love to see a win tomorrow, as the Sox lost the last two games I attended at Fenway, but I’m just happy for the opportunity to see some baseball at Fenway.  Plus, if I squint I should be able to see kernels of talent in these Astros, and even if these Red Sox aren’t championship-caliber, it’s still an interesting group of players to dream on…