After knocking off the Cleveland Indians and the New York Yankees respectively, the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros are set to take on the 108 win powerhouse Boston Red Sox. The rubber match of this year's American League Championship Series goes down this upcoming Saturday night, at beautiful Fenway Park.
On the bump to start game one for the Astros is none other than Justin Verlander. The 2005 AL Rookie of the Year, the 2011 AL CY Young award winner and AL MVP, and the CY Young runner up in both 2012 and 2016, Verlander is no stranger to the big games. After a few down years in Detroit, Verlander seemingly was dipped into the fountain of youth upon being traded to Houston on August 31st of 2017, and has returned to form as a bona-fide ace. This season, JV put up a 16-9 record, while posting a 2.52 ERA and a whopping 290 punch-outs in 214 innings pitched.
The Red Sox will be sending out their ace as well, as hard throwing lefty Chris Sale is expected to start game 1. This year, though he battled a handful of injuries, Sale posted a 12-4 record, with a stellar ERA of 2.11 and 237 K's in 158 innings for the AL East Champs. It will be interesting to see how Sale does early on, as in his last start his velocity was consistently down a few notches from what we are used to seeing from him, but the atmosphere at Fenway Saturday night will surely get the adrenaline going and hopefully put some extra gas in the tank for him.
On the hitter side of things, we will see lots of star power on display throughout the series. The Sox will be rolling out guys like Mookie Betts who hit an astonishing .346 this year, JD Martinez who had 43 bombs this year, followed by solid all around hitters like Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, and Brock Holt who recently became this first player in MLB history to hit for the cycle in a postseason game.
In the other dugout, the Astros have some phenoms themselves, with Jose Altuve who hit over .300 for the 5th straight season, Alex Bregman who hit 31 homeruns and surpassed 100 RBI's for the first time in his young career, and Carlos Correa, who posted a down year by his standards but is still a threat at the plate nonetheless. Add in George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Yuli Gurriel, Tyler White, and Evan Gattis, and the Astros have one of the scariest lineups in all of baseball.
Looking into the rest of the series, the Astros are going to throw guys like Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers Jr, Roberto Osuna, and Colin McHugh... scary guys to be looking out at in while standing in the batters box. The Red Sox will be relying on newly acquired weapon Nathan Evoladi, 2016 CY Young winner Rick Porcello, closer Craig Kimbrel, hard throwing Joe Kelly, and David Price if he can ever get over the postseason slump.
I love this matchup, it has the potential to be a slugfest with several homeruns for each team every game, or we could see an absolute pitcher's duel, where the first team to score wins. Personally, I'm expecting a bit of both, and a tight fought series, but I have to side with the Houston Astros here. I narrowly give them the edge in pitching, as being able to roll out however many elite starters they wish between Verlander, Cole, Keuchel, McCullers Jr, Morton, gives them an advantage in my eyes. I also like their depth at the plate more. They may not hit as many homeruns as the Sox, but their ability to get on base, and get a clutch hit late in games, as we've seen from them time and time again, makes me feel that they will continue to do so.
Alex Bregman. Guy is an animal in the playoffs. College World Series winner and World Series winner, he seems to shine when the lights are the brightest. I expect him to continue his hot start to this year's playoffs, and expect big things out of him not only with the bat in his hands, but defensively at the hot corner as well.