The defending World Series champions and the team with the season’s best record meet tonight in the ALCS. The 2018 ALCS returns two (recent) AL foes, and quite possibly, the two best teams in the league.
The series looks eerily familiar to last year’s ALDS, which featured the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox. Except this time, a better-matched, better-prepared Red Sox take on the ‘Stros.
This is the first time since 1942 that two teams with at least 103 wins (Red Sox 108, Astros 103) would meet in the postseason. Strap into your seats because this series will definitely go seven games.
In last year’s division series, the Red Sox were nearly swept by the Astros. For one, Houston’s starting pitching was more dominant. Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel pitched lights-out while their offense (like Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa) pummeled Boston’s pitching. The Red Sox offense undoubtedly struggled against Houston’s dominant pitching staff, ultimately being outscored 24-18 in that series.
This year is different. This year, the playing field is even.
Chris Sale, who will start Game 1, is coming off an encouraging ALDS performance. His velocity returned to 95 mph, — it had been declining since rejoining the team after injury — and he struck out nine while only allowing five hits against the New York Yankees. The Red Sox will expect a similar performance from Sale tonight. David Price, Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi will follow Sale’s Saturday night start in Games 2 through 4, respectively. Price will seek redemption here, as he gave up a few homers early to the Yankees and failed to escape the second inning. Red Sox manager Alex Cora knows his starters will be matched with Houston’s finest.
Meanwhile, the Astros will send two former Cy Young winners to the mound. The two, Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel, allowed two runs over five (or 5 1/3 for Keuchel) innings in the ALDS. Gerrit Cole pitched even better for the Astros in the division series against the Cleveland Indians, allowing one run and three hits in seven innings while striking out 12 men. Verlander starts Game 1 for the Astros and Keuchel will follow in Game 2. Both pitchers will attempt to continue their dominance over Boston. In Verlander’s seasoned playoff career, he’s 12-6 with 3.08 ERA.
Now to make things even more exciting, the ALCS matchup includes teams who know how to hit — and hit for power. The Red Sox led the regular season in OPS (.792) with the Astros not far behind (.754). This is not surprising when each team features players like Mookie Betts, JD Martinez, Bregman and George Springer.
Boston’s lineup showed that it could really dig deep — as evidenced by their bludgeoning of the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS. Betts and Martinez each scored two runs, Andrew Benintendi drove in three and Brock Holt hit for the cycle. Martinez also made sure to start the series with a bang — his three-run blast in Game 1 propelled the Sox to a win.
The Astros swept the Indians in the ALDS, giving the lineup plenty of time to rest before their next series. Houston outscored the Indians 21-6 — a clobbering similar to last year’s division series. Bregman hit two homers and struck out only once. Additionally, Springer hit three home runs to follow his five in the World Series last year.
Like I said, it’s going to be an exciting series.
While a majority appear to favor the Astros, it’s impossible to count out the Red Sox. They finished the season with a franchise-best record of 108 wins and they’re looking to carry the season’s success into the postseason.
The ALCS between two AL giants starts tonight at Fenway Park at 8:00 p.m. EST on TBS.