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MLB Playoff Picture 2021: Early Storylines with ALCS, NLCS Set

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistOctober 15, 2021

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Max Scherzer, center facing, celebrates with teammates after the Dodgers defeated the San Francisco Giants in Game 5 of a baseball National League Division Series Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Eric Risberg/Associated Press

The American League Championship Series was set Tuesday when the Houston Astros finished off the Chicago White Sox 10-1 to set up a meeting with the Boston Red Sox. It's the fifth straight ALCS appearance for Houston.

Meanwhile, the National League Championship Series came down to a tense, winner-take-all Game 5 between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. The game finished 2-1 to the Dodgers and ended when the first base umpire ruled Wilmer Flores' attempted check as a swing.

That call will be talked about nonstop in baseball media for the next few days, but no one could argue Los Angeles doesn't belong in the NLCS. The Dodgers are in the championship series for the fifth time in six years.

With the ALCS and NLCS matchups set, let's take a closer look at the schedules and storylines. Championship series action is set to begin Friday when the Astros host the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALCS.

                   

American League Playoff Picture

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ALCS Schedule 

Game 1 (Minute Maid Park): Friday, Oct. 15, 8:07 p.m. ET (Fox)

Game 2 (Minute Maid Park): Saturday, Oct. 16, 4:20 p.m. (FS1 or Fox)

Game 3 (Fenway Park): Monday, Oct. 18, 8:07 p.m. (FS1)

Game 4 (Fenway Park): Tuesday, Oct. 19, time TBA (FS1)

Game 5* (Fenway Park): Wednesday, Oct. 20, time TBA (FS1)

Game 6* (Minute Maid Park): Friday, Oct. 22, time TBA (FS1)

Game 7* (Minute Maid Park): Saturday, Oct. 23, time TBA (Fox or FS1)

*If necessary.

           

ALCS Odds

Astros -155 (bet $155 to win $100)

Red Sox +125 (bet $100 to win $125)

Odds via DraftKings.

     

The Boston Red Sox became the first team to punch their ticket a championship series when they defeated the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays in four Monday. The Houston Astros joined them when they took down the young and talented Chicago White Sox, also in four games.

In this rematch of the 2018 ALCS, Houston's hitting prowess, with a league-leading 863 runs, matches up against Boston's sound fundamentals.

Both teams come into the matchup with plenty of October reps under their belts. In the Red Sox lineup, only two of the nine players—Alex Verdugo and Christian Arroyo—are in their first postseason. For Houston, most of its starters return from the squad that appeared in last year's ALCS.

Home-field advantage will also be a major storyline in this series. The Astros went 51-30 at Minute Maid Park this season, while the Red Sox went 49-32 at Fenway Park.

As for players to watch, keep an eye out for Red Sox utility player Kiké Hernandez to continue his postseason heroics after his walk-off sacrifice fly to clinch the division series. For the Astros, this may be the last ride for 37-year-old ace Zack Greinke, who could be putting the finishing touches on his bid for Hall of Fame enshrinement.

When discussing a series between these clubs, it is impossible to not acknowledge the sign-stealing controversy that touched them both. For the Astros, being implicated in using technology to steal signs during the 2017 and 2018 seasons resulted in the most severe sanctions MLB has ever imposed against a team.

For the Red Sox, manager Alex Cora and the team agreed to mutually part ways during the 2020 season after MLB's investigation found him to be involved in the scandal during his time as Houston's bench coach.

It's enough to make this matchup unpopular in most corners of the baseball-watching world, and it will interesting to see what the viewership numbers look like.

WCVB-TV Boston @WCVB

BREAKING #RedSox Manager Alex Cora just announced that Chris Sale will be the team's starting pitcher for Game 1 of the #ALCS against the Houston #Astros. https://t.co/Llsxp427bo

For the Red Sox, Chris Sale gets the start in Game 1. Meanwhile, according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman, the Astros are likely to be without ace Lance McCullers Jr. for the series.

              

National League Playoff Picture

NLCS Schedule 

Game 1 (Truist Park): Saturday, Oct. 16, 8:07 p.m. (TBS)

Game 2 (Truist Park): Sunday, Oct. 17, time TBA (TBS)

Game 3 (Dodger Stadium): Tuesday, Oct. 19, time TBA (TBS)

Game 4 (Dodger Stadium): Wednesday, Oct. 20, time TBA (TBS) 

Game 5* (Dodger Stadium): Thursday, Oct. 21, time TBA (TBS)

Game 6* (Truist Park): Saturday, Oct. 23, time TBA (TBS)

Game 7* (Truist Park): Sunday, Oct. 24, time TBA (TBS)

*If necessary.

         

NLCS Odds

Dodgers -220

Braves +185

Odds via DraftKings.

     

The best-of-five format in the division series cheated us out of two potential games between NL West rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.

Shockingly, this year marked the first time these two clubs—in their modern iterations—faced one another in the postseason.

The Atlanta Braves took their best-of-five series against the Milwaukee Brewers in four games to clinch an NLCS berth for the second year in a row.

The Braves' postseason hero could prove to be left-handed batter Freddie Freeman, whose go-ahead solo home run off Josh Hader in the bottom of the eighth secured the 5-4 win that sealed his team's progression. It was the first home run Hader gave up since July 28.

It was also the first home run for the first baseman this postseason; Braves fans are hoping it won't be his last.

One interesting storyline in this matchup is the fact that even though Los Angeles won 106 games in the regular season, tied for the most in franchise history, the Dodgers will not enjoy home-field advantage in the championship series. Some might consider that the Giants' last laugh, as San Francisco's 107 wins necessarily made Los Angeles a wild card.

It could prove to be an important factor in this series, as the Dodgers were phenomenal at home this season, going 58-23. The Braves, on the other hand, were more unpredictable, going 42-38 at Truist Park.

The player to watch in this series is, of course, generational talent Mookie Betts, who became the first Dodgers player to record four hits in a win-or-go-home game.

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

.@mookiebetts became the first Dodgers player with 4 hits in a winner-take-all playoff game 😤 @BRWalkoff https://t.co/9iCPlIgOgD

The first game of the World Series is set for October 26 and will be broadcast on Fox. The series can end as early as October 30 (Game 4) or go as long as November 3 (Game 7).

                   

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