Posted on October 4, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

Houston Astros Boston Red Sox

Image via BostonGlobe.com

With all due respect to the wild-card games, the real MLB postseason gets started Thursday afternoon when the Boston Red Sox meet the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the ALDS. After winning 101 games during the regular season, the Astros are the obvious favorites to win the series. But having finished atop one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, no one should count out the Red Sox in what appears to be an evenly matched series.

Recent Acquaintances

In an interesting twist, these two teams will meet in the postseason after finishing the regular season against one another. In fact, it was a win over Houston that allowed the Red Sox to officially clinch the AL East. Despite that win, the Astros took three out of four games and four out of seven games overall from Boston this season. That doesn’t necessarily foreshadow how the ALDS will go, but with the teams playing each other last week, both sides will be familiar with the other, perhaps more so than most teams that only play seven games per year.

Pitching Matchup

Not surprisingly, the Red Sox have chosen Chris Sale for Game 1. All season, Sale has been the ace the Red Sox were hoping he’d be when they traded for him, going 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA. The caveat is that this will be Sale’s postseason debut, so how he handles the spotlight remains to be seen. He also didn’t face the Astros this season, although few of Houston’s hitters have had much success against him throughout his career.

Meanwhile, the Astros will send Justin Verlander to the mound a little more than a month after acquiring him. Since coming to the Astros, Verlander has looked like his old self, going 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in five starts. Based on that success and his 16 previous playoff starts, there’s no debate that Verlander was the right choice for Game 1. In two starts against the Red Sox earlier this year with the Tigers, Verlander allowed just three earned runs across 12 innings, and those starts didn’t even come when he was pitching at his best.

X-Factor

One X-factor to look out for in Game 1 and the entire series is David Price. The lefty has battled injuries all season, but Price looked dominant late in the season after returning from the DL and moving to the bullpen. In five appearances as a reliever, Price tossed 8.2 scoreless innings, striking out 13 and only allowing three hits. With the ability to pitch multiple innings, Price could do for Boston’s bullpen what Andrew Miller did for the Indians last postseason. If the Red Sox can get a lead in Game 1, Price could play a key role in helping Boston close out an important road win early in the series.

Prediction

Aside from Verlander’s playoff experience and Sale’s lack of postseason experience, the starting pitchers in this game almost cancel each other out. In a battle of the bullpens, the Red Sox may actually have the advantage, especially with Price added to the mix. Look for the Red Sox to pull off a surprise win in Game 1 and make this series interesting from the start. Boston wins 4-2.

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