American League Championship Series Preview
For the second consecutive year, the Houston Astros, 103-59, are in the American League Championship Series facing a team from the AL East. However, this time it’s the Boston Red Sox, who, after finishing with a Major League best record of 108-54, have home field advantage.
The Red Sox, after getting ousted in the divisional round of the playoffs for the second straight year in 2017, started the offseason by canning manager John Farrell, who had led the team to a World Series victory in 2013, his first season. They found their replacement on Houston’s bench, hiring Alex Cora after the Astros wrapped up their title.
Boston also made a big splash in signing slugger J.D. Martinez to a five-year, $110 million deal. Martinez, who split time in 2017 between the floundering Detroit Tigers and surging Arizona Diamondbacks, responded well to his new surroundings by bashing 45 home runs, driving in 130 runs, scoring a career-high 111 runs while slashing an eye-popping .330/.402/.629. Once cut by Houston before resurrecting his career in Detroit, Martinez now looks for the ultimate payback.
With a solid rotation led by southpaws Chris Sale and David Price, a bullpen that includes Matt Barnes and closer Craig Kimbrel, adding Martinez to a lineup that also includes MVP-favorite RF Mookie Betts and slugging SS Xander Boegarts, among others, helped the Red Sox stroll to winning the American League East by eight games over the New York Yankees, whom the Red Sox then eliminated in four games in the ALDS.
Now, the Red Sox are well-positioned to take down the defending champs and take on the winner of the Los Angeles Dodgers–Milwaukee Brewers National League Championship Series.
Early in the offseason, the Astros made it clear they were about more than one-and-done. This is a franchise that suffered through an embarrassing, question-raising rebuild that consisted of multiple 100-loss seasons before finally breaking through in 2017. General manager Jeff Lunhow and owner Jim Crane were not about to slow down after taking home the World Series trophy one time.
They made that known to the baseball world when they acquired SP Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates for four players.
Cole responded by going 15-5 with a 2.88 ERA. He was one of three Astros starters to toss more than 200 innings in 2018. The others were lefty Dallas Keuchel (12-11, 3.74) and Justin Verlander (16-9, 2.52).
This is not to say the Astros had a season without drama. Near the trade deadline, Lunhow made the controversial call to acquire closer Roberto Osuna from the Toronto Blue Jays. At that time, Osuna was alleged to have committed domestic violence.
Regardless of the message the trade sent to Houston fans as well as all of baseball fans, the trade didn’t hurt the Astros.
Playing with a solid rotation, a boosted bullpen, and a lineup consisting of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, George Springer, and Evan Gattis, Houston fended off the Oakland Athletics, who, despite winning 97 games, finished six games back of the Astros in the AL West. Houston followed up their division crown with quick work of the 91-win Cleveland Indians, sweeping them in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Prediction: Houston in Seven
Before the season began, I predicted that the Astros would become the first squad since the 1998-2000 Yankees to successfully defend their World Series Championship. I’m not changing that now, as the Astros looked particularly strong in dispatching the Indians.
Yes, the Red Sox looked equally as strong in trouncing the Bronx Bombers. Both teams put out an incredible eight batters in the lineup every night, too.
So I’m going to take the team with the better overall pitching. The bullpens look about even, but I’m giving the Astros the edge when it comes to starting pitching. The trio of Verlander-Keuchel-Cole is the tipping point.
Houston will return to the World Series in 2018.