The American League Championship Series hasn't even started, and it is already historic. The Boston Red Sox vs. the Houston Astros matchup marks the first time in major league history that a team with as many as 108 victories in a season (Boston) will face a team with 103 victories in a postseason series. The 211 combined victories mark the second most in any postseason series, trailing only the 212 in the Yankees-Padres World Series in 1998, which turned out to be a rout. There will be no rout here. These teams are too good, and they have too much to play for. This is going seven.
Three reasons why the Astros will win
1. Starting pitching. The Astros have the best rotation in the game, led by Justin Verlander, a future Hall of Famer who is throwing exceptionally well and loves moments like these as much as anyone in baseball. Gerrit Cole, who wasn't with the Astros last year, had 12 strikeouts and no walks in his division series start against the Indians; Tom Seaver (1973) is the only pitcher in history to have more strikeouts (13) without a walk in a postseason game. Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, the latter of whom didn't even pitch in the division series, give the Astros the best foursome of starters in the postseason. And that doesn't include Lance McCullers Jr., who can pitch out of the bullpen. Boston's rotation is formidable with Chris Sale and given how well Nathan Eovaldi is throwing. But with the postseason failures of David Price (his team has lost all 10 of his postseason starts), it is not as good as the Astros' rotation.
2. Middle relief. The Astros led the AL in bullpen ERA this year. The most underrated part of their team is the bridge between their exceptional starters and their closer, Roberto Osuna, who had 12 saves and a 0.88 WHIP in 22 ⅔ innings after being acquired from Toronto. Middle reliever Collin McHugh has been brilliant all season: 72 ⅓ innings, 45 hits allowed, 94 strikeouts and a 1.99 ERA. Ryan Pressly, acquired from the Twins for the stretch run, walked three and struck out 32 in 23 ⅓ innings, throwing serious gas. This Houston pitching staff had 30 strikeouts and allowed 13 hits in the division series against the Indians. The Red Sox's bullpen still has some issues getting the ball to closer Craig Kimbrel.
3. Lineup. This is the best the Astros lineup has been all season. George Springer, after hitting two more homers against Cleveland, now has nine in the postseason, most ever by an Astros player and most ever out of the leadoff spot. Alex Bregman, the Astros' best player this year, reached base 10 times and hit two homers in the division series. But even more encouraging is that Marwin Gonzalez, who did not have a particularly good regular season, went 7-for-13 against the Indians. And Carlos Correa, who is playing through a back injury, hit an opposite-field home run. This is a tremendous offensive team if it is indeed hitting its stride.
One reason why I will be completely wrong
The Red Sox are a great team, one even greater than its 108 wins. It sounds corny, but there is a chemistry and togetherness within this team not seen in many places. More tangibly, they have the best offensive team, deep and relentless, in the game. They have two great hitters in Mookie Betts, who is going to win the AL MVP, and J.D. Martinez, who, unlike so many hitters today, is able to hit a ball hard, or put it in play, in virtually every big situation. They have a star pitcher, Sale, who threw 6 ⅓ scoreless innings against the Yankees (one of them in relief in Game 4) even without his best stuff. The Red Sox have home-field advantage, and they had the best home record in baseball this season. And they have a manager, Alex Cora, whose feel for the game, and feel for people, is exceptional. Every move he made in the division series against the Yankees worked.