Red Sox vs. Astros prediction, preview: MLB playoffs schedule, bracket, live stream, TV, and things to know


On Saturday, the best-of-seven 2018 American League Championship Series gets underway, and it figures to be something special. On the one side, you’ve got the reigning champion Houston Astros, and opposite them will be the 108-win Boston Red Sox. Now let’s jump into what you need to know about what could be a classic ALCS:

LCS games will air on Fox, FS1 and TBS, which can be streamed on fuboTV (Try for free). For a look at the complete schedule, click here  

ALCS schedule, bracket

Date Time Matchup TV

Sat., Oct. 13

8 p.m. ET

Houston at Boston

TBS

Sun., Oct. 14

7 p.m. ET

Houston at Boston

TBS

Tue., Oct. 16

TBA

Boston at Houston

TBS

Wed., Oct. 17

TBA

Boston at Houston

TBS

Thurs., Oct. 18*

TBA

Boston at Houston

TBS

Sat., Oct. 20*

TBA

Houston at Boston

TBS

Sun., Oct. 21*

TBA

Houston at Boston

TBS

*- if necessary  

mlb-playoff-bracket-2018.jpg


Mike Meredith/CBS Sports

It’s a true clash of titans

The Astros — as noted, owners of both belt and title — won 103 games during the regular season, which is more than they won during the championship season of 2017. On the other side, the Red Sox won 108 games, which is the highest tally since the 2001 Mariners won a record 116. Combined, the Astros and Red Sox outscored their opponents during the regular season by 492 runs. In the ALDS, they outscored their opponents by a combined 28 runs. You get the idea. 

There’s also this:

That ’98 World Series featured the 114-win Yankees against the 98-win Padres, so the Yankees were doing most of the heavy lifting when it comes to that overall win total. On the basis, you can argue that this is the more impressive matchup. It’s also, by implication, the highest combined win tally ever by LCS opponents. 

It’s a matchup of strengths 

During the regular season, the Astros didn’t just lead the league in run prevention, they dominated the category. Houston allowed 534 runs on the season, which comes to just 3.3 runs per game. In second place was the Dodgers, who of course play in the DH-less league, with 610 runs allowed. To repeat: The Astros completely dominated this category. That’s thanks to blended approach. This season, they led the majors in rotation ERA and rotation FIP, which what you’d expect given their stable of starting pitchers. The Astros, though, also led the majors in bullpen ERA and bullpen FIP. Add to all that the fact that the Astros also ranked fourth in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, which is the percentage of batted balls that a defense converts into outs. Simply put, the Astros excelled at every facet of run prevention. 

And that brings us to their opponents. The 2018 Red Sox in the regular season led the majors in runs scored scored, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, and they ranked an uncharacteristic third in MLB in stolen bases. Yes, Fenway Park is doing a little of the work in those numbers, but note that the Red Sox this season ranked fourth in MLB in runs scored on the road and fifth in OPS on the road. They can hit anywhere. 

The Astros (narrowly) took the season series

These two squadrons met seven times in the regular season, and Houston won four of the seven, outscoring Boston 34-31 along the way. The Astros were at home for four of those games. Basically, it’s a push. 

Also bear in mind that the Astros eliminated the Red Sox last year by beating 3-1 in the ALDS. Of course, central figures like J.D. Martinez, Gerrit Cole, Roberto Osuna, Nathan Eovaldi, Steve Pearce and Ian Kinsler weren’t involved in that one. 

Sale’s velocity is back up

One of the big questions for Boston heading into the postseason was whether ace Chris Sale would be able to recoup the velocity that he leaked during his final outings of the regular season. Given his past late-season issues and the fact that he dealt with shoulder inflammation this year, it’s no exaggeration to say that the Sox’s postseason fate could hinge on whether Sale was in vintage form. 

Speaking of which … 

brooksbaseball-chart-sale-2018-velo.jpg


BrooksBaseball.net

The last two dots are Sale’s start against the Yankees in ALDS Game 1 and his relief appearance in Game 4. In his last start of the regular season, he was down to 90 mph with his fastball, which is troubling. The Sox attributed it to a minor mechanical flaw rather than something health-related, and the playoff rebound seems to validate that. In Game 1 against New York, he was at 94.8 mph on average, and out of the bullpen in Game 4 he was 95.5 (not surprising that he’d see a spike in relief). Yes, that’s shy of his June-August peak, when he was sitting 97-98, but it’s worth noting that in past Peak Sale has been at 95. His 2018 mid-season velocity jump was an outlier. Sale’s perfectly capable of dominating with a 94-95 mph heater. 

Even so, the Astros figure to have a big edge in pitching

Assuming things go as planned, here’s how the pitching matchups should go:

There’s some guesswork in here, especially when it comes to Houston’s Game 4 starter (it could be Morton, could be McCullers, could be a “piggyback” situation, could be something even more unexpected). As well, we saw Alex Cora’s willingness to use starters in relief, and that could lead to some rotation shuffling, as it did in the ALDS against New York. 

As for the bullpens, Houston’s is much better and much more settled. Astros manager A.J. Hinch recently had leaned on Ryan Pressly, Lance McCullers Jr. and Roberto Osuna as his lead relievers, with Collin McHugh, Josh James and Tony Sipp also at his disposal. As well, during the regular season only Cleveland’s starting pitchers tended to go deeper in games than did Houston’s, so Hinch figures to have less navigating before him than most skippers. 

Cora, meantime, has Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier as his favored setup men at the moment. Joe Kelly of course has the big fastball, but he struggles with consistency. Craig Kimbrel remains a lockdown closer, but it’s worth noting that he struggled badly in the ALDS. Also, if Cora needs length at any point, he won’t have Steven Wright, who was removed from the ALDS roster and is thus ineligible for the ALCS. Again, Cora may need to get creative in order to get a lead from his starter to Kimbrel. 

In all, pitching on all fronts should favor Houston. 

Yes, Price is capable of pitching well in the playoffs

The veteran lefty is presently lugging around a career postseason ERA of 5.28, and he’s been even worse than that in his playoff starts. Price’s recent October struggles are such that the fans at Yankee Stadium gave him a hero’s welcome during the ALDS

That said, Price has on balance been quite good as a playoff reliever. Now let’s have a closer look at his postseason starts:

Game Game Score IP H R SO BB

2014 ALDS Game 3

68

8

5

2

6

2

2015 ALCS Game 6

59

6 2/3

5

3

8

1

2010 ALDS Game 5

50

6

8

3

6

0

2011 ALDS Game 3

50

6 2/3

7

3

3

1

2015 ALDS Game 1

50

7

5

5

5

2

2015 ALCS Game 2

50

6 2/3

6

5

8

0

2010 ALDS Game 1

46

6 2/3

9

5

8

0

2018 ALDS Game 2

35

1 2/3

3

3

0

2

2013 ALDS Game 2

34

7

9

7

5

2

2016 ALDS Game 2

29

3 1/3

6

5

3

2

The starts you see above are sorted by Game Score, which is a quick-and-dirty Bill James metric that measures a pitcher’s dominance or lack thereof in a given start (50 is average and anything 90 or higher is an absolute gem). Per Game Score, Price has been average or better in six of his 10 playoff starts. Four times he’s registered a quality start and that topmost start approaches gem status. On the other side, we have two “disaster starts,” in which a pitcher’s runs allowed exceed his innings pitched for a given start. 

There’s no disputing the fact that Price on balance has been disappointing in the playoffs, but he’s not been uniformly disappointing. He’s proved capable of keeping his teams in games and even excelling. One simply does not reach the major leagues if one is incapable of handling pressure situations. When Price has disappointed in the playoffs, it’s been a mix of quality opposition, the short-run randomness so common to baseball, and perhaps mounting fatigue and health concerns. He is, though, perfectly able to thrive in October. 

The Astros like lefties

So if the Boston rotation lines up as expected, the Astros will face a left-hander four times in the first six games of the ALCS (assuming, of course, it goes that far). On that note, some relevant numbers:

  • The Houston offense this season had an OPS of .733 against right-handed pitchers, which ranked ninth in the AL.
  • The Houston offense this season had an OPS of .803 against left-handed pitchers, which led the AL.

That’s a stark difference, and those numbers present a direct challenge to Sale and Price and even Eduardo Rodriguez, should he get a surprise ALCS start.

The Red Sox like righties

By a similar token, the Red Sox, should this one go long enough, figure to face a right-handed starter five times in the first six games of the ALCS. Apropos of that:   

  • The Boston offense this season had an OPS of .719 against left-handed pitchers, which ranked eighth in the AL. 
  • The Boston offense this season had an OPS of .817 against right-handed pitchers, which led the AL. 

So in that sense the potent Boston lineup is set up nicely in this series. Of course, there’s the matter of four of those right-handed starts going to the likes of Verlander and Cole. 

Home-field advantage?

By virtue of their having the better record in the regular season, the Red Sox earned the right to host a potential Game 7, which would give them home-field advantage for the ALCS. Numbers, forthwith:

  • The Red Sox this season went an MLB-best 57-24 at home. 
  • The Astros this season went an MLB-best 57-24 in road games. 

There are hazards in reading too much into single-season home-road splits, even at the team level, but that’s a pretty compelling parallel just the same. 

SportsLine has spoken

The SportsLine Projection Model (@SportsLine on Twitter) has simulated this particular matchup thousands of times, and here’s what came out of the wash:

  • Red Sox win ALCS 56.5 percent of the time. 
  • Astros win ALCS 43.5 percent of the time. 

Surprised? Yes, the Astros are the champs and have a roster that seems tailored to postseason success, but the Red Sox, to repeat, are the 108-win colossus. The SportsLine simulations see the latter consideration holding sway more often than not. 

So who wins every playoff game? And which teams are a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to get MLB Playoff picks from the proven model that simulates every game 10,000 times, and find out.  

Predictions 

So what does the CBS Sports MLB collective say about this series? As you’re about to see, we mostly lean Astros in defiance of what SportsLine tells us.

Red Sox-Astros Staff Predictions

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