The American League pennant appears to an open race, as the remaining four teams have the pieces to make a deep run in the 2017 MLB playoffs.
With the wild-card round over, it is finally time for those clubs to clash, which should make for some exciting baseball. Between elite pitching and prominent young stars, Thursday's matchups are destined to be the start of greatness.
With that in mind, here is how to watch that action unfold. Continue along for a brief preview of each Game 1 matchup.
Red Sox at Astros
When: Thursday, Oct. 5 at 4 p.m. ET
Television: MLB Network
Live Stream: MLB.tv
Yankees at Indians
When: Thursday, Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Television: Fox Sports 1
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Boston at Houston Preview
Two of the biggest pitching names in baseball are set to duel Thursday with each being at different stages in their careers.
Chris Sale is in the Cy Young discussion after another outstanding season in which he easily led MLB with 308 strikeouts to go with a 17-8 record and 2.90 ERA. After his trade to Boston last offseason, the 28-year-old lefty is primed to be an elite ace for the next several seasons.
On the other hand, Justin Verlander, 34, is in the latter part of his career, but he found form with Houston. He's been dominant for the Astros since coming over in August, via MLB.com's Brian McTaggart:
Brian McTaggart @brianmctaggart
Verlander's first five starts with the Astros (5-0, 1.06 ERA): 34 innings pitched 17 hits 4 runs 4 earned runs 5 walks 43 strikeouts2017-9-27 20:57:51
Experience and his current hot streak seem to be the motivation behind this move. Verlander has been a solid postseason pitcher, posting a 3.39 ERA in 16 starts, but he has not thrown a playoff pitch since 2014. That also came in a start where he conceded three runs in five innings.
He has posted great career numbers against several key Red Sox. Mookie Betts is 0-for-13 lifetime against Verlander, while Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Dustin Pedroia are all hitting below .150. Eduardo Nunez and Mitch Moreland are batting .333 and .345, respectively, against the former Detroit Tigers ace.
On the other hand, the Astros' loaded lineup feasts on left-handed pitching, particularly when it comes from heaters like Sale. MLB.com's Daren Willman elaborated on this trend:
Daren Willman @darenw
The @astros batted .305 (57 for 187, .380 wOBA, 9 HR, 14 2B) vs LHP throwing 94 MPH+ Chris Sale threw 2nd most pitches 94 MPH+ for LHP2017-10-4 16:06:18
Conversely to Verlander, Sale limped to the end of the regular season. He is not in great form going into his first career playoff start, per MLB.com's Richard Justice:
Richard Justice @richardjustice
Chris Sale first 21 starts: 2.37 ERA, .192 BA, .88 WHIP. Last 11 starts: 4.09 ERA, .241 BA, 1.18 WHIP.2017-9-30 21:02:08
This, along with Verlander's huge experience advantage, have to give Houston a slight edge in Game 1. Both teams possesses stout hitting throughout the lineup, but the Astros have fared well against the Red Sox. The home team is 4-3 in the season series, taking three out of four contests to close out the regular season.
Yankees at Indians Preview
New York's silence was broken late Wednesday, as Sonny Gray was tabbed to start in Game 1, per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com.
Since joining the Yankees in late July, Gray has been solid, but not great. He is 4-7 with a 3.72 ERA in 11 starts. Yet, he is the best option New York has at this point since Luis Severino started the AL Wild Card Game and Masahiro Tanaka was wildly inconsistent in the regular season.
The good news is Gray does not need to pitch a complete-game gem for the Yankees to be successful. They possess a monster bullpen that is fresh off of shutting down the Minnesota Twins for one run over 8.2 innings.
The bad news? Cleveland's bullpen is arguably just as good, as MLB.com's Jordan Bastian explained:
Jordan Bastian @MLBastian
Otero, Goody and McAllister combined for 2.75 ERA, 176 K, 50 walks in 176.2 IP, and they didn't make the ALDS roster. What a pitching staff.2017-10-3 19:41:06
The unit is also fresh. Meanwhile, the Yankees are likely to be without Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson for Game 1 since each tossed at least two innings on Tuesday night. This leaves Dellin Betances, Adam Warren and possibly lefty Jordan Montgomery as the most viable options available before Aroldis Chapman.
Cleveland also has the benefit of giving Corey Kluber an extra day of rest, as Trevor Bauer will start Game 1. It also does not hurt that Bauer was excellent in this matchup in the regular season, unlike his counterpart, via Sporting News' Max Wildstein:
Max Wildstein @MaxWildstein
Sonny Gray against #Indians in ‘17: 1-2, 4.86 ERA in 16.2 IP Trevor Bauer against #Yankees in ‘17: 2-0, 1.38 ERA in 13 IP2017-10-5 02:12:12
New York's marathon bullpen outing in its last game puts it at a disadvantage on the road. In a game where the lineups are mostly even, this edge in starting and relief pitching should put the Indians ahead 1-0 in the ALDS by the time Thursday is over.
Statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.