MLB - The ALDS preview
Well the MLB Wild Card games are behind us and after two exciting battles, it’s time to get down to business. Next on the agenda is the Division Series. These series are best-of-five games, meaning first team to three wins moves on to the League Championship Series.
Starting on Thursday, the two American League Division Series begin.
The first series is between the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox. For the Astros, winners of 101 games in the regular season, the 2017 campaign was an emotional rollercoaster. After one of the hottest starts in recent memory, Houston suffered long term injuries to SS Carlos Correa and SP Lance McCullers Jr. As they rushed to fill those holes, Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast, forcing Houston players to worry about things far more important than baseball. But a tremendous September coupled with the huge deadline trade for ace pitcher Justin Verlander has the Astros poised for a deep run into October.
The Red Sox, winners of 93 games on the year, will have to begin their series on the road for two games in Houston. The Division Series could stretch over seven days and if they play the full five games. If this happens then the team’s best pitcher will have the opportunity to pitch twice in the series. And as Verlander transforms Houston’s rotation, the Red Sox will be able to match that strength by having the ability to throw their ace, Chris Sale, twice as well. Sale led the American League with 308 strikeouts and will certainly be a finalist for the AL Cy Young award.
For those into star power, these two matchups will deliver in spades. Players to watch for Houston include AL MVP frontrunner 2B Jose Altuve, SS Carlos Correa, and OF George Springer. Notable players for the Red Sox include RF Mookie Betts, LF Andrew Benintendi and elite closer Craig Kimbrel
Breaking down the matchup, Houston has a clear advantage on offense, as they outscored opponents by 196 runs on the season. The Astros can score runs in clusters and every time they take the field a blowout could be on the menu. That said, Boston has an underrated rotation beyond Sale and should keep Houston in check over the course of the series. If Boston can stay close through six innings, then the Red Sox will get to Houston’s weakness which is their rocky bullpen. I still give the firepower of the Houston lineup the advantage but if they stall, don’t be surprised if Boston wins a game or two late.
Prediction: Houston in four games
The other series pits the AL Wild Card winner, the New York Yankees against the top dog in the American League, winners of 102 games, the Cleveland Indians. If you were asking me for my pick to win the World Series, then I would point toward the Indians. This team is arguably the most well rounded of the eight teams remaining in the MLB playoffs. The Cleveland offense, led by SS Francisco Lindor, outscored opponents by a whopping 254 runs in 2017. This speaks to the potency of the bats in the Indians lineup but also shows you the absolute domination that Cleveland has in their pitching staff. Led by Game 2 starter Corey Kluber, the Indians have the hottest pitching staff coming into the playoffs with a September ERA of 2.13, over a full run better than the second place team during that time frame. If you needed more proof of Cleveland’s superiority, the Indians won 33 of their last 37 games, including a record 22 games in a row over late-August and September.
For the Yankees, the burden will fall to the offense as they search for a way to score runs off the stingy Indians pitching staff. New York has a bona-fide superstar in RF Aaron Judge, who hit an absolute missile out of the yard in the Wild Card game, but he’ll need help and with the first two games in Cleveland and not the confines of the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, look for New York to struggle.
Players to watch for Cleveland include SS Francisco Lindor, RP Andrew Miller, and 2B Jose Ramirez. Notable players for the Yankees include RF Aaron Judge, closer Aroldis Chapman and catcher Gary Sanchez.
If Cleveland wins game one, look for the odds of a sweep to go through the roof. With Kluber lined up in Game 2 and Carlos Carrasco in Game 3, New York will be at a severe disadvantage. I do think New York gets at least one game in the series, but not much else.
Prediction: Cleveland in four games.