Boston Red Sox's Christian Vazquez
Boston Red Sox's Christian Vazquez, right, tags out Houston Astros' Alex Bregman, left, at home plate during the first inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Red Sox vs Astros Game 1 ALCS

Kyle Barrette

The ALCS begins with one team that outside of New England, no one thought would really be in this series. The Rays broke the cardinal rule when facing the Sox in the playoffs… don’t piss off the boys from Boston. I mean, we have seen this story before in the “cowboy up” Sox of the early 2000’s. The “Why not us?” The mantra that led to the greatest baseball series comeback ever. This season, ordering the champagne before the start of game three because you were that confident you were going to end things at Fenway, of all places. As if this Red Sox team needed more motivation, no one predicted the Sox would even make the playoffs, a +300 long shot to even make the postseason, and now this. You can bet the chip on their shoulder is even bigger. Astros fans, buckle up. Things might get bumpy.



Astros
Houston was one of the top home teams in baseball this season, going 53-30, and that is where they will look to take an early lead in this series. Houston made quick work of the Sox in their regular season’s series, beating Boston 5-2. Houston sends Valdez to the hill where the Astros are 8-4 behind Valdez’s home starts. If we take a deeper look into his last few home starts, though, there is some pause for concern. Valdez has not pitched all that well and has been bailed out by the Astros’ bats in his last three starts. His last three home starts dating all the way back to the beginning of September have seen him allow a total of 13 runs and a minimum of four runs in each game. In two of those three starts, he allowed multi-homer games, and even more concerning was that he allowed four runs to the White Sox on the road, a team with highly documented road struggles. He has faced these Red Sox hitters a fair number of times, 64 at bats, and has held them to a combined .219 avg. The results were almost the same, a dominating performance by Valdez where he held the Sox to one run in each game and piled up a combined total of 18 K’s. Valdez appears to have two personalities: one as a dominant lefty who pounds the strike zone, forcing hitters to swing, and the other as a guy who lets up a few hits, gets raddled, and lets the home runs and walks pile up.

Red Sox
Rejoice Red Sox fans, it’s the playoffs and Chris Sale is on the mound. Now don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing, but this hasn’t been dominating Chris Sale just yet. This has been serviceable Chris Sale. Now the Sox are 8-2 in the games Sale has started, but like Valdez, the offense has helped those numbers along a bit. For instance, he has pitched well against lower-level teams, only giving up a few runs, but the concern comes in with looking at the games against playoff teams like the Rays. For instance, he allowed 12 runs in three starts, whereas he allowed 12 runs in all seven of his other starts against teams that were sub-500. While they are not as bad as when he was pitching hurt in 2019, the home run numbers are still present for Sale as well, which is concerning when facing a lineup as deep as Houston’s. This could very well be Chris Sale now. Everyone comes off Tommy John surgery differently, but his strikeout stuff is still not back. We saw average strikeout numbers over his 10 starts, not the double-digit punch outs we were used to seeing before the injury. Houston ranks right in the middle of the pack facing a lefty at home over the last month of the season hitting .254. A strong first game would go a long way.

Red Sox vs Astros: The Pick
I’m taking Boston here at +125. These teams are both playoff savvy and with Boston’s momentum and attitude coming into this game combined with Valdez late season struggles at home, it’s a good plus money spot for the Sox to jump out to an early lead in this series.



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