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Who do the Red Sox want to play in the ALCS?

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It’s very close!

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Tampa Bay Rays Vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park In ALDS Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Red Sox, by virtue of their second straight walk-off win on Monday, are guaranteed a spot in the ALCS, the first of four teams to punch their ticket to MLB’s semifinals. The only thing left to be determined is just who they’ll be playing in the series. That will come down to the ALDS between the White Sox and Astros, a series which Houston leads two games to one. That could end as soon as Tuesday afternoon as the two sides play Game Four at 2:07 PM ET after it was rained out on Monday. Boston will certainly be rooting for Chicago to win this game in order to force one extra game out of whoever they play, but beyond that, who should they be hoping to win the series? Let’s compare the two sides.

Note that for the sections below, we’ll be looking at both full-season stats and second-half stats, with the latter there to capture any possible major swings after the trade deadline.

Offense

White Sox Full Season wRC+: 109

White Sox Second Half wRC+: 116

Astros Full Season wRC+: 116

Astros Second Half wRC+: 116

Houston didn’t just best Chicago in full-season wRC+, they led all of baseball, with Toronto sitting in second with a mark of 112. Chicago sat third, tied with the Rays. Of course, in the second half things evened up a bit, though Chicago didn’t make major additions to the lineup at the deadline. Instead, the best explanation would probably be young players continuing to settle in as the season went along, to go with the always-present relative small sample noise.

The numbers certainly favor Houston, though on paper, based on names, the advantage doesn’t seem as clear. Both lineups have star-laden lineups that get a little easier towards the bottom, but only for the last two or three bats. Overall, though, I think it’s hard not to give Houston the edge here. Their top seven are all great hitters. Kyle Tucker hits seventh in this lineup, and he had the third best wRC+ in all of baseball over the second half. Both teams can beat you with their bats, but Houston seems more likely to impose their will on a team to me.

Division Series - White Sox v Astros - Game One Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Starting Pitching

White Sox Full Season ERA/FIP: 3.57/3.73

White Sox Second Half ERA/FIP: 4.02/3.95

Astros Full Season ERA/FIP: 3.60/4.07

Astros Second Half ERA/FIP: 3.88/4.33

This is another close one by the numbers, but the White Sox get a slight statistical edge. It’s true that they took a turn in the wrong direction, but Houston was more good than great during that same span, and while Chicago performed worse than their peripherals, Houston outperformed their FIP. It’s more complicated than just saying they got lucky, but for a quick look like this, that along with Chicago’s full-season prowess gives them a slight edge.

And when you look at just the names, the gap does get a bit larger. The White Sox have a killer combo atop their rotation with Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolotio, and can hand the ball to Dylan Cease and Carlos Rodón after that, both of whom are coming off big breakouts this year. Houston’s rotation is very good too, if maybe a bit more unproven, with Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, and Luis Garcia. Zack Greinke should factor in as well, though he’s not the pitcher he once was. The ceilings seem higher for Chicago’s arms here in my mind, so I’ll give them a slight edge.

Relief Pitching

White Sox Full Season ERA/FIP: 3.97/3.75

White Sox Second Half ERA/FIP: 3.90/3.35

Astros Full Season ERA/FIP: 4.06/4.21

Astros Second Half ERA/FIP: 3.91/3.91

This is probably the clearest distinction, as Chicago outperformed Houston across the board here. And it looks the same on paper. We all know the rollercoaster that is the Craig Kimbrel Experience, but he was the big deadline acquisition for the White Sox and combines with Liam Hendriks for the most intimidating one-two punch in the late innings in baseball. They also have Aaron Bummer, Michael Kopech, Garrett Crochet, and Ryan Tepera. It’s a deep and talented group. Houston’s one-two punch of Ryan Pressly and Kendall Graveman is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but the depth behind them is not as strong. This goes to Chicago.

Specific Red Sox matchups

Breaking down the roster and looking at the players and numbers, it’s basically a complete draw, with Chicago holding a pitching edge (slight in the rotation, a bit more in the bullpen) and Houston having the better offense. So what about in terms of specific matchups against the Red Sox?

Well, the Astros won five of seven matchups, with Chicago winning four of seven, so that’s a slight edge for Houston. It gets bigger when you consider that all of those wins were in the first half when Boston was rolling, while half of the White Sox’s wins came in the second half. I think Houston’s offense also holds another edge in this potential matchup with their offense being slightly more diverse. Chicago is very right handed, which is better for a Red Sox bullpen that has more trustworthy righties than lefties. Houston has three very good purely left-handed bats with Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, and Michael Brantley. That said, Chicago can do more to neutralize Boston’s lefties late in games with Crochet and Bummer, whereas Houston doesn’t really have the left-handed firepower in their bullpen.

Verdict

It feels like a copout, but I’m really not sure I see a huge difference in difficulty against either of these teams. Considering it’s the ALCS, it of course makes sense that any team in contention is very good. Houston and Chicago seem uncannily close, though. If forced to make a pick, though, I’d give the slight edge to rooting for the White Sox over the Astros.