|One ALDS opens this afternoon with Houston hosting Boston|
I'm picking both of these "beasts of the east" to go down at the hands of what like slightly more talented opponents.
In one ALDS, the Houston Astros, champions of the AL West, will be facing the Boston Red Sox, champs of the AL East. In the other series, the Cleveland Indians, champions of the AL Central and the defending American League champs, will be taking on the wildcard New York Yankees.
Let's take the Houston-Boston matchup first. The Astros won 101 games during the regular season, running away with the AL West crown by 21 games.
It was the franchise' first division title since 2001, and puts them into the postseason for the second time in three years. In 2015, Houston was edged out in a five-game ALDS by the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals.
The Red Sox went 93-69, and held off the Yankees down the stretch to capture their second consecutive division title, their third in five seasons. The Bosox were swept out of the ALDS a year ago by Cleveland.
Left-handers Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz are scheduled to pitch the first two games in Houston for Red Sox skipper John Farrell. Veteran righty Doug Fister is slated to go on Saturday in Game Three back at Fenway Park in Boston.
For the Astros and manager A.J. Hinch, taking the mound will be trade deadline acquisition Justin Verlander in the opener. The veteran righty will be followed by lefty Dallas Keuchel in Game Two at home.
Hinch has not yet announced his starter for Game Three. That choice will likely come down to veteran Charlie Morton or young righty Lance McCullers.
The Red Sox feature one of the most exciting young lineups combos in baseball. That lineup, with ages in parentheses, includes shortstop Xander Bogaerts (25), third baseman Rafael Devers (21 later this month), left fielder Andrew Benintendi (23), center fielder Jackie Bradley (27), and right fielder Mookie Betts (25 in two days.)
Each of those players is likely to contend for AL All-Star berths and league awards for years to come. Their presence virtually assures that Boston will continue to contend into the next decade.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia and DH Hanley Ramirez bring veteran leadership and experience, as well as continued offensive production as they move towards their mid-30's.
Farrell won't hesitate to use normal starters David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Rick Porcello out of his bullpen, especially in the first couple of games. Joe Kelly, Addison Reed, and lights-out closer Craig Kimbrel, all righties, could allow Farrell to easily go to a "bullpenning" game strategy.
For Houston, the lineup also features a group of dynamic youngsters. Second baseman Jose Altuve (27), shortstop Carlos Correa (23), third baseman Alex Bregman (23), and center fielder George Springer (28) give the Astros their own core group for years to come.
One reason that I like Houston to win this series is their veterans. Catchers Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, DH Carlos Beltran, and outfielder Cameron Maybin are part of a versatile group that has been through the wars.
The Astros also have one of baseball's top "X-factor" players in Marwin Gonzalez. The 28-year old switch-hitter can literally play every position on the diamond. He played 19 games at third base, 22 at second, 31 at first, and 38 games at shortstop, as well as 47 games in left field.
On the mound, Hinch can turn to righties Brad Peacock, Joe Musgrove, Will Harris, Chris Devenski, Luke Gregerson, and closer Ken Giles. From the left side, former starter Francisco Liriano is his lone option. Also, he may opt to use McCullers out of the pen.
The Astros ran away and hid in their division. This was a team assembled with a deep October run in mind. I think they get at least into the middle of the month. The veteran lineup options make a difference for me in predicting Houston to win in four games.