The Red Sox and the Astros kick off their ALDS on Thursday, and this is the day we’ve been waiting for over the last week or so. More accurately, we’ve been waiting for this since last October when the Red Sox were sent out of the ALDS. The same core is back, minus David Ortiz and plus Chris Sale, and they have the talent to reverse last season’s result even as they play a team in Houston that is supremely talented in their own right.
With the ALDS being a five-game series, every game is that much more important than a seven-game series. This is particularly true for a Red Sox team that has a smaller margin of error than that of the Astros, whose powerful lineup can help mask some of their flaws on most days. The Red Sox have their strongest asset — Chris Sale — on the mound on Thursday and it is crucial for them to win his starts. The Astros obviously have Justin Verlander, who is an outstanding pitcher who is full capable of matching Sale on any given day, but he doesn’t feel quite as important to them. For one thing, as I just mentioned, their offense is head and shoulders above that of the Red Sox. Furthermore, for as great as Drew Pomeranz has been for the Red Sox this year, Houston’s number two in Dallas Keuchel is a higher-end arm. They can turn around and throw a former Cy Young winner who is throwing just as well as he was when he won the award. That is a huge advantage.
It’s not just in the special circumstances of the Red Sox where Game One is so important, either. It’s the simple nature of the five-game series where winning the first one is so damn important. It makes a ton of sense that teams who win Game One go on to win the series. For one thing, the better team is more likely to win any given game, and the better team is more likely to win the series. So, obviously there is a decent chance of the better team winning both Game One and the series simply because they are the better team. There’s also the fact that the loser of Game One is then forced to win three of their next four games to take the series. That’s a really big ask in a playoff matchup that is presumably extremely competitive.
Whatever reason you may want to point to, the winners of Game One have gone to the League Championship Series much more often than the losers. Over the last ten years — so forty series between the two leagues — winners of Game One have advanced to the next round in 32 of those 40 series. In fact, in seven of the ten years all four of the Game One winners have advanced to the League Championship Series.
This isn’t to say anyone should give up on the Red Sox if they can’t take this game on Thursday afternoon. They still have a great pitcher in Drew Pomeranz coming back in Game Two, they have a bullpen who has been dominant essentially all year, and they have an offense that is fully capable of going on a run even if they haven’t done so much this year. Still, winning Game One would make things a whole lot easier. It would take home field advantage away from Houston, take a game away from their ace and put all of the pressure on the Astros. History shows taking the first game of a five-game set is the easiest way to take a series, so let’s just do it that way. Please?