The American League Championship Series kicks off tonight in Boston as the Red Sox host the defending World Series Champion Houston Astros in game one of the best of seven series. Many people, myself included, see this as the true World Series, as these have been the two best teams in baseball all season long. I don’t mean to imply that whichever team wins this series will just walk to the World Championship, but I do think these are the best teams this year.
The Red Sox finished with baseball’s best record this season with 108 wins and won the highly competitive American League East Division by eight games. The Astros are looking to defend their World Series Title from last season and won the AL West Division with their 103 wins on the year. Both of these teams feature elite offenses and strong pitching with star power all over the field.
Starting for the Red Sox is their ace, Chris Sale (12-4 2.11 ERA) and for the Astros, it is Justin Verlander (16-9 2.52 ERA). The Red Sox are small -116 home favorites. The game total over-under is set at seven and a half runs. First pitch is scheduled for 5:09 PM PST from Fenway Park in Boston.
What a blockbuster pitching matchup we have in this one! Two of the absolute best in the game matching up in what should be an exciting affair. As I mentioned above, this series is chalked full of star players with guys like Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman leading the way for the Astros and the Red Sox having J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts, and Xander Bogarts as their headlining names. But to me, the difference in this series is pitching.
We find out who gets the early edge in the pitching department tonight when both teams start their best arm in game one. For the Red Sox that is Chris Sale. Sale looked to be well on his way to winning another Cy Young Award this season before getting injured and missing a month late in the season. The Red Sox brought him back in September and babied him back into the rotation as he only pitched twelve innings across his last four starts to end the season.
It was clear Boston wanted to work him slow and save him for the playoffs. And that seemed to be the case in his first postseason start as well as he pitched just five and a third innings against the New York Yankees in game one of that series. But when the Red Sox brought him in out of the bullpen in game four to slam the door shut in that series, it was clear that Boston is done playing it safe and is going all in from here on out.
If Sale is effective, and that is a bigger if than it usually is right now, I expect that he will throw over 100 pitches for the first time since July. But when you look at how Sale pitched since coming back from his long layoff, it is hard to tell if he will be able to just snap back to his elite self now that the kiddie gloves have been taken off. Since returning to the team in September, Sale has seen his ERA rise to over three and a half runs. Compare that to his ERA of just 1.97 on the season before getting hurt, and you can see my reason for being concerned.
The Astros start last year’s postseason hero Justin Verlander, trying to steal home field advantage in the series. The 13-year veteran has been reborn in his recent stint with the Astros and will get his fair share of Cy Young Award votes at the end of the season. Verlander led all of baseball with 290 strikeouts and has been very much the ace of this staff down the stretch for Houston.
Verlander went 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA in five September starts and also picked up a win in his lone playoff start against the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS. Last year in the postseason, Verlander picked up four wins and was a big reason why the Astros were able to take home the championship.
What a great game with two really good teams and two starting pitchers on the mound that are both at the top of their games. This one should be exciting! But I do see some value by backing the Astros in this game. They are the defending champs, and with Verlander on the mound, they just don’t lose very often. To see Justin Verlander as an underdog is quite shocking, to say the least.
And when you look at how Chris Sale has performed since coming back from injury, one has to wonder if he is completely healthy. Verlander might go out there and throw seven-plus innings and has no problem throwing 120 pitches. I would be shocked to see Sale last longer than six innings. So, in a game where there just isn’t much to separate the two teams, I will back as what I see as the better side of the starting pitching matchup and pick up some dog money along the way. Give me the Houston Astros as road underdogs in game one tonight from Boston at +106!