The Red Sox face down the defending champion Houston Astros tonight (8:09 p.m., TBS) in Game 1 of what could be a classic American League Championship Series, a matchup of Chris Sale (12-4, 2.11 ERA) and Justin Verlander (16-9. 2.52 ERA) that could be pitching duel for the ages.
About Game 1: The Red Sox won more five games during the regular season but the Astros have a) been better recently, b) knocked the Sox out of the playoffs last year and, oh yeah, c) won it all. Verlander’s a living legend at this point, a Hall-of-Famer-in-waiting who, like Tom Brady, has everything he could ever ask for except, always, for more. He will make demands up on a Red Sox lineup that’s theoretically immune to any pitcher, no matter how good, but baseball is baseball, and a hot hurler can end a playoff series by himself. Verlander is that guy in October more often than he isn’t, and Boston has its hands full for his opening act.
Sale is also that guy, or is until about August, at which point he tries to hold it together through the end of the year. That’s a pessimistic way of looking at it, but I think it fits with what we’ve seen, and the Sox tried to throw a wrench in it anyway by looking him to be fully up to speed by now rather than waste his juice in a meaningful playoff run. That he’s not 100 percent, as his fastball velocity indicates, is an indicator that the best-laid plans can’t survive the torque of a beanpole throwing triple digits. He’s still Chris Sale, though, and if he can get himself to even 90 percent, the Astros are in trouble. Scratch that: everyone is.
The lineup is basically the best Boston has to offer, depending on your catcher opinion, but Sandy León is in to catch Sale, as usual. Steve Pearce is in against the righty instead of Mitch Moreland, who’s both hurt and ineffective (correlation equals causation, in this case). Brock Holt’s at second and Eduardo Núñez is at third, likely over Rafael Devers for defensive purposes, and I dig it, because when you have an advantage like Sale, you press it. Devers can always pinch-hit, as can Blake Swihart, if and when Sale comes out of the game.
On Houston’s side, the big news for latent followers of the team is that Carlos Correa is batting seventh (!), which is a terrifying proposition. Curiously, old Josh Reddick, who can’t hit lefties, is in against Sale. That’s mostly it. Also, Kevin Youkilis is throwing out the first pitch. Yooooooooooouk.
Forecast: It’ll be wet, but the rain ought to be mostly gone by first pitch, with an unfortunate low-50s temperature at game time. Bundle up.
Today’s listening: Jake, Matt and I recorded an ALCS preview edition of The Red Seat.
A good tweet:
ALCS Game 1 vs. Astros
|Lineup spot||Astros||Red Sox|
|Lineup spot||Astros||Red Sox|
|1||George Springer, CF||Mookie Betts, RF|
|2||José Altuve, 2B||Andrew Benintendi, LF|
|3||Alex Bregman, 3B||J.D. Martinez, DH|
|4||Yuli Gurriel, 1B||Xander Bogaerts, SS|
|5||Tyler White, DH||Steve Pearce, 1B|
|6||Marwin González, LF||Brock Holt, 2B|
|7||Carlos Correa, SS||Eduardo Núñez, 3B|
|8||Martín Maldonado, C||Jackie Bradley Jr., CF|
|9||Josh Reddick, RF||Sandy León, C|
|SP||Justin Verlander, RHP||Chris Sale, LHP|