American League Championship Series Betting Preview: Red Sox vs. Astros
While the National League Championship Series features two good and interesting teams in the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers, this year's ALCS could go down as one of the all-time greatest postseason series in MLB history.
To put it simply, it is historic.
Really getting excited about this ALDS.
Postseason series matching 2 teams with 103+ wins:
1912 World Series - Red Sox (105) vs Giants (103)
1942 World Series - Cardinals (106) vs Yankees (104)
2018 ALCS - #RedSox (108) vs #Astros (103)#bestteamsinbaseball
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 11, 2018
The Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros are clearly the two best teams in baseball. Paddy Power has Houston as the slight favorites to win this series, the first American League team since the 2010 New York Yankees to make it back to the LCS the year after winning it all, while the Sox are back in the ALCS for the first time since winning the title in 2013.
Both teams have very good starting pitching, but Houston's is the best in baseball, according to the numbers.
They had the 2nd-most fWAR among starting staffs this season (22.5 fWAR) compared to Boston (15.7 fWAR), who had the 6th-most. The Astros were 1st in ERA (3.16), FIP (3.28), strikeout rate (28.2%) and strikeout-to-walk rate (20.6%). Boston wasn't bad in those categories by any means, ranking 8th in ERA (3.77) and FIP (3.80), 5th in strikeout rate (25.4%) and 4th in strikeout-to-walk rate (18.1%).
What's great about the ALCS is that it features something that used to be a staple of postseason series but has gone by the wayside a bit in recent years with the implementation of "bullpenning" -- two great starting pitching matchups.
Game 1 features perhaps the two best starters in the AL facing off -- Justin Verlander and Chris Sale. Verlander had a 6.8 fWAR season for Houston, with a 2.52 ERA and 2.78 FIP, and saw his strikeout and walk rate numbers drastically improve in 2018, with a K-rate that jumped from 25.8% last year to a career high 34.8%, while his walk rate fell from 8.5% to a tiny 4.4%. Sale had a 6.5 fWAR for Boston, with a 2.11 ERA and 1.98 FIP, with an eye-popping strikeout rate of 38.4% and a walk rate of 5.5%.
Game 2 will match up David Price against Gerrit Cole, one that based on past postseason experience should favor Cole. Price had a rough Game 2 of the ALDS, giving up three runs, including a pair of homers, in just 1.2 innings. In fact, in his 10 career postseason starts, Price has a 6.03 ERA and his teams are 0-10 in those games. Cole faced the Red Sox twice this season and Houston won both games -- he gave up 5 runs and struck out 15 Red Sox over 13 innings, giving up 10 hits.
Dallas Keuchel (3.6 fWAR, 3.74 ERA, 3.69 FIP) and Charlie Morton (3.1 fWAR, 3.13 ERA, 3.59 FIP) round out the Houston rotation. Rick Porcello (2.7 fWAR, 4.28 ERA, 4.01 FIP) and Nathan Eovaldi (2.2 fWAR, 3.81 ERA, 3.60 FIP) should handle Games 3 and 4 for Boston.
This is another area where the Astros appear to have the clear edge, owning the best bullpen in baseball. They are 1st in ERA (3.03), FIP (3.14), and strikeout-to-walk rate (22.3%), and are 2nd in overall strikeout rate (29.1%). Boston is 9th in ERA (3.74), 6th in FIP (3.85), 6th in strikeout rate (25.1%) and 8th in strikeout-to-walk rate (15.3%).
Houston had a lot of trouble with the closer's role this year, eventually jettisoning Ken Giles to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Roberto Osuna, who performed well after coming over to the Astros. In 22.2 innings he posted a 1.99 ERA and 12 saves, but as we've seen with Houston in years past, manager A.J. Hinch won't hesitate to use anyone and everyone to lock down the final few innings.
Boston, on the other hand, has an established closer in Craig Kimbrel, who had a solid season as the Red Sox's 9th inning guy. In 62.1 innings, the free agent-to-be had a 2.74 ERA and struck out 13.8 batters per nine innings. But after Kimbrel, there are issues. Joe Kelly (4.39 ERA), Matt Barnes (3.65 ERA) and Heath Hembree (4.20 ERA) have not exactly been lock-down options for Boston late in games.
While Houston features a formidable offense that caught fire in the playoffs last year and was dynamite against the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, they don't quite measure up to the ridiculous lineup that Boston has put together.
The Red Sox have the advantage in every offensive category. They scored the most runs of any team in baseball this year, and were 9th in home runs, 4th in ISO (.185), and tops in wOBA (.340). Meanwhile, the Astros were 6th in runs, 11th in home runs, 10th in ISO (.170), and 6th in wOBA (.326).
Neither team strikes out that much, with Boston's 19.5% strikeout rate ranking the 2nd-lowest in baseball, but the Astros were right behind with a 19.9% strikeout rate that was 3rd-lowest. So despite having a bunch of strikeout pitchers, both rotations may see these teams put more balls in play than usual.
The best player on the field will be Mookie Betts, who simply put up insane numbers that will certainly land him the AL MVP award this offseason. He was worth 10.4 fWAR thanks to a .346/.438/.640 slash line, and he became baseball's first 30-30 man since 2012, hitting 32 bombs with 30 steals, 120 runs scored and 80 RBIs. Simply insane.
He's joined by J.D. Martinez (5.9 fWAR, 43 homers, 111 runs, 130 RBIs), Xander Bogaerts (4.9 fWAR, 23 dingers, 103 RBIs), Andrew Benintendi (4.3 fWAR, 103 runs scored, .366 OBP), Rafael Devers (21 HRs) and Mitch Moreland (15 HRs), a crew that gives no aid or comfort to opposing hurlers.
But Houston's lineup is no slouch either, led by Alex Bregman, who very quietly turned in a 7.6 fWAR season, hitting .286/.394/.532 with 31 home runs, 105 runs and 103 RBIs. The rest of the names are the same familiar heroes from last year's title run, although many of them missed time due to injuries this year -- Jose Altuve (4.8 fWAR, .315 average, 13 home runs), George Springer (2.9 fWAR, 22 home runs in 140 games), Marwin Gonzalez (16 HRs), Josh Reddick (17 HRs) and Yulieski Gurriel (13 HRs).
The big question is what Houston will get from their all-world shortstop, Carlos Correa, who is battling a back injury and missed a significant chunk of the season because of it. He's hit just .180 in the second half of the season as a result, so while he may be in the lineup, he's not the same guy as he was last year.
To read all premium content, upgrade to a Premium account with numberFire
If you're not a Premium subscriber, it takes just a few seconds to sign up. You'll get access to all of our insider information, game projections, handicapping advice, DFS tools, advanced statistics, and more.