ALCS: Astros, Red Sox to battle
A closer look at the playoff series matchup
After the Red Sox secured an American League Championship Series berth with a nail-biting win over the Yankees in Game 4 of the Division Series, they returned to Boston to prepare for a best-of-seven set with an Astros club that swept the Indians.
The Red Sox finished the regular season with an MLB-best 108-54 record but face a tough draw against a Houston club that went 103-59, the league’s secondbest mark, after winning the World Series in 2017.
Houston defeated Boston in four games in the ALDS last season. Here’s a look at this year’s series.
The matchup looks to be a fairer fight than 2017 after the Sox blitzed through the regular season and beat up on the 100-win Yankees in the divisional series.
For Boston, the series represents its first time reaching the LCS since a championship run in 2013. Amazingly, the only holdovers from the 2013 postsea- son roster likely to appear in the ALCS are shortstop Xander Bogaerts and reliever Brandon Workman.
The Sox were able to finish off the Yankees in four games in their ALDS, sparing ace Chris Sale the need for a Game 5 start that would’ve held him out of the first game in this series. He’ll square off with Justin Verlander on Saturday in a matchup of two of the league’s most bankable aces, and two pitchers who looked like the likely top finishers for the AL Cy Young Award at midseason — before Sale spent most of August on the disabled list and Rays lefty Blake Snell pitched his way into the conversation.
The Astros are looking to defend their 2017 title with a similar cast of characters, plus the notable addition of Game 2 starter Gerrit Cole. This year’s Astros showed no signs whatsoever of any World Series hangover, winning 20 of their first 30 games and going 21-6 in September to outlast the Athletics and Mariners in a surprisingly competitive division.
Keep an eye on ...
Astros shortstop Carlos Correa. The young star shined as brightly as ever in the 2017 postseason but struggled with back issues during the regular season and spent all of August on the disabled list in a disappointing campaign that saw him finish with career worsts in practically all offensive categories. He hit .180 with a .517 OPS in 37 regular-season games after returning from the DL and notched only one hit — his Game 3 home run — in 10 at-bats in the ALDS. Correa said this week that he still feels intense pain in the area, especially when he swings and misses.
In the end
It’s hard to bet against a team that won 108 games in one of the league’s most competitive divisions in the regular season, but the Red Sox enter the ALCS with too much uncertainty in their pitching staff for comfort. The Red Sox have baseball’s best offense, but the Astros’ strong starting rotation should mitigate the damage done by the likes of Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. Houston has no apparent weaknesses whatsoever and enough depth on its roster to mitigate any that might arise. Prediction: Astros in 6.