BOSTON -- If the Red Sox are going to have a better showing against the Astros than they did in the first two games of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan, they're probably going to have to find a way to contain Jose Altuve. That may be a huge task, given the All-Star second baseman was 5-for-7 with three homers, four RBIs and five runs scored in Houston's two wins at Minute Maid Park.
And more bad news could be coming Boston's way. Altuve, who just wrapped up his third AL batting title and is a leading AL Most Valuable Player Award candidate, actually hits better on the road than he does at home.
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And he's really, really good at Fenway Park.
"There is not a ballpark he can't walk into and get a hit," manager A.J. Hinch said.
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That includes, obviously, Altuve's home turf at Minute Maid Park, but it's notable that he hits better -- significantly better -- when he's out of town. For the past two seasons, Altuve's road numbers have been dramatically higher than at home.
That's saying a lot for a career .314 hitter at Minute Maid.
In 2016, Altuve hit .299 with 15 homers and slugged .511 at home. He hit .376 and slugged .552 on the road.
During the regular season this year, Altuve slashed .311/.371/.463 with an .834 OPS at home, and .381/.449/.633 with a Major League-best OPS of 1.081 on the road. The difference of .247 OPS points is the sixth-widest margin in the Majors.
Altuve, who emphasized that hitting isn't easy no matter where he's playing, chalked this up to little more than pure coincidence.
"Tough question," Altuve said. "I feel good at home or on the road. I don't think I have any reasons why I hit better on the road."
Road vs. home OPS
Hinch pointed out that Altuve's performance this past July may have padded the second baseman's overall road numbers, given the Astros played only eight games at home that month, compared to 16 on the road, and Altuve's production was off the charts -- a .485 average, .727 slugging percentage and a 1.251 OPS.
"It happened to be a time that he hit .500 for 30 straight days," Hinch said. "That might have had something to do with it."
Ultimately, the most plausible explanation may also be one of the oldest ones when it comes to anyone who has played for the Astros since their downtown ballpark opened in 2000. The short 315-foot porch, while not as much of a distraction as it was in the early days, is still enticing enough to at least minimally affect a player's mindset.
That, Hinch noted, comes with the territory when playing in cozy ballparks. Pull-happy is probably too strong a term. Call it pull-conscious.
"It can make you subtly adjust and make you try to do more than you should to a particular area of the ballpark," Hinch said. "That's common. That's not just a Jose Altuve thing. It's a constant battle that guys have to deal with."
The snug dimensions at Fenway Park, however, have worked for Altuve. Over his career, he's slashing .342/.372/.418 there with a .790 OPS.
The only year, in fact, that Altuve did not hit well at Fenway was 2013, when he recorded three hits in 16 at-bats over four games. He's been consistently great in Boston ever since.
Altuve will go only as far as to admit he does like the dimensions at Fenway, noting how much wider the outfield looks there than in Houston.
But other than that, the second baseman insists hitting is a constant uphill battle.
"Hitting is fun," Altuve said. "But it's not easy."