The matchup between the high-flying Boston Red Sox and the defending World Series champion should be epic, and the Game 1 showdown between Chris Sale and Justin Verlander will set the tone for the American League Championship Series.
The Red Sox won 108 games this year, and with their ace on the mound, it seems likely they will be at their best. However, the Houston Astros won 103 games in winning the American League West, and they compiled a 54-27 road record, which was the best in the Major Leagues.
All Times ET.
Game 1: Saturday, October 13 at Boston (8:09 p.m., TBS)
Game 2: Sunday, October 14 at Boston (7:09 p.m., TBS)
Game 3: Tuesday, October 16 at Houston (5:09 p.m., TBS)
Game 4: Wednesday, October 17 at Houston (8:39 p.m., TBS)
Game 5: Thursday, October 18 at Houston (8:09 p.m., TBS)*
Game 6: Saturday, October 20 at Boston (5:09 p.m., TBS)*
Game 7: Sunday, October 21 at Boston (7:39 p.m., TBS)*
Odds (via OddsShark)
Houston (-145; bet $145 to win $100)
Boston (+115; bet $100 to win $115)
The Astros beat the Red Sox 3-1 in last year's American League Division Series matchup, and the rematch appears compelling. A year ago, Alex Cora was the bench coach for manager A.J. Hinch and the Astros, and this year, he is managing the Red Sox.
The team he is leading appears to be more aggressive and versatile than last year's version, and that's one of the reasons the Red Sox may have a much better chance of winning the series in 2018.
Cora has said he learned quite a bit about postseason managing from Hinch.
"Be prepared to make adjustments throughout—that's the most important thing," Cora said, per Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. "One thing I learned last year, to win a World Series is going to take 25, 27 guys to do it, regardless of their roles.
"In a perfect world, the starter goes six. You have the seventh inning guy, eighth inning, and ninth inning and you move on. To get 27 outs at this stage right now is very difficult. And sometimes you have to go to Plan B or Plan C."
The Red Sox are led by a pair of MVP candidates in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. Betts batted a league-leading .346, hit 32 home runs, 30 stolen bases and 129 runs scored. Martinez led the American League with 130 runs batted in, bashed 43 home runs and hit a robust .330.
Those two get plenty of support in the lineup from Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi.
The Astros have a formidable lineup featuring Alex Bregman, George Springer and Jose Altuve. Bregman had the best year with a .286/.394/.532 slash line, while belting 31 homers and driving in 103 runs.
Springer is proving to be one of the postseason's best home-run hitters, while Altuve is getting stronger following an injury-plagued 2018 season.
Sale was on top of his game in the ALDS against the New York Yankees, as he got the win in Game 1 and then pitched a perfect eighth inning in the clinching Game 4 of the series. Sale showed no signs of the shoulder issues that slowed him in the second half of the season, and he had an earned-run average of 2.84 along with nine strikeouts in 6.1 innings against New York.
Cora has decided to start David Price in Game 2 of the series even though the lefty lasted just 1.2 innings in his only appearance against the Yankees. He gave up three earned runs, two home runs, walked two and struck out none.
Price has struggled during his postseason career as a starter, but Cora is giving him a chance to get back to his regular-season form when he was 16-7 with 177 strikeouts in 176.1 innings.
Verlander has the experience and power to match Sale pitch-for-pitch in the opener. He was 16-9 with a 2.52 ERA during the regular season and struck out 290 batters in 214.0 innings. Verlander earned an ALDS win over the Cleveland Indians as he gave up two hits and two runs in 5.1 innings.
Gerrit Cole will pitch for the Astros in Game 2, and he was 15-5 with a 2.88 ERA this season.
This should be the tightest of series between the two best teams in the American League, and likely all of baseball.
The Red Sox are a sharper and more competitive team than they were a year ago, and give Cora credit for turning his team into a destructive unit. After getting beaten by the Astros last year, they are anxious to get some revenge and also get a chance to represent the American League in the World Series.
The two teams are equal or at least close in most areas, but the Astros appear to have the stronger bullpen. If any area is likely to break down for the Red Sox, it's the team's relief pitchers.
Despite that, we like the Red Sox to win because of their home-field advantage, and the leadership values of Betts and Martinez. Cora has also shown he is not afraid to use his starters out of the bullpen in the postseason.
The Red Sox move on to the World Series after beating the Astros in seven games.