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Morning Mound Visit: ALDS Previews

Will we have an all Sox ALCS? Half Sox? No Sox?

Wild Card Round - New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Chicago White Sox vs. Houston Astros

The White Sox were originally going to be my pick for winning the World Series before Eloy Jiménez got hurt in Spring Training. The South Siders were able to weather the loss of their slugging left fielder partially because no other AL Central team finished over .500 but mostly because they played great without him. Jose Abreu, Tim Anderson, Yasmani Grandal, and Yoan Moncada all had great years at the plate. Luis Robert played like an MVP when he wasn’t on the injured list himself. Not to mention, Jiménez returned halfway through the season rather than missing the entire year.

On the pitching side, the White Sox were better than advertised, and they were supposed to be rather good. Michael Kopech added a boost to the bullpen, and Carlos Rodón took a huge step forward though Rodón is questionable for the ALDS roster. Even without Rodón, the White Sox still have two other top-25 starters in Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito. Liam Hendriks was worth every penny, and Craig Kimbrel joined him at the deadline.

Chicago didn’t finish strong, but they had the division wrapped up by July. Understandably, they took their foot off the gas. Still, this is a team with a top-three offense and arguably the best pitching staff in the majors.

The Astros are every bit as good, however. In Houston’s first season playing in front of fans since the Banging Scheme came to light, the Astros didn’t crumble under the pressure. Instead, they appeared to thrive on it. In his walk year, Carlos Correa put together his best campaign yet. The impending free agent compiled 5.8 fWAR. Jose Altuve bounced back after a lost 2020. Kyle Tucker’s breakout counter-acted the loss of George Springer. Nearly every hitter they put out not named Martin Maldonado had an above-average year at the plate.

Houston’s pitching isn’t as dominant as it used to be, but they’re still a talented bunch. Lance McCullers Jr. set career highs in fWAR, ERA+, and innings pitched. Rookie Luis García nearly kept pace with McCullers. García has a workload limit which might diminish his usage in the postseason, but he’ll make an impact even if he’s pitching out of the bullpen.

Here’s how the two teams' rankings compare.

White Sox and Astros Rankings

Stat White Sox Astros
Stat White Sox Astros
wRC+ 3 1
DRS 26 2
Position Player fWAR 6 1
FIP 4 12
Pitcher fWAR 1 9

Prediction

White Sox win in 5.

Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays

The Red Sox thwarted the other two 90-win teams in the AL East beating out the Blue Jays and sinking the Yankees, and now, they have to face the only 100-win team in baseball’s best all-around division that somehow includes the Orioles.

For the second year in a row, Tampa Bay finished with the best record in the American League, proving their dominance in 2020 was no fluke. This year’s Rays might be even better despite some offseason moves that, at the time, seemed questionable. They traded away Blake Snell, but the former Rays ace struggled. They brought back Mike Zunino, and he hit 33 home runs. They let Hunter Renfroe go, and though he predictably bounced back, that decision hasn’t come back to bite them. Yet.

Renfroe’s Red Sox aren’t that far behind the Rays offensively even though Brandon Lowe and friends mustered a 109 wRC+ as a team. Up and down the Rays lineup are solid contributors. Randy Arozarena’s mastery over time itself has kept him a rookie thus avoiding a sophomore slump. 80-grade prospect Wander Franco has lived up to the hype.

On the pitching side, the Rays may be missing Tyler Glasnow, but the staff has held up remarkably. Tampa Bay intends to start rookies Shane McClanahan and Shane Baz in Games 1 and 2. An Oops! All Shanes approach likely wasn’t the plan at Opening Day, but this isn’t desperation. McClanahan has a 3.31 FIP in 123 13 innings, and Baz struck out 18 in 13 13 innings.

Of course, Tampa Bay relies less on starting pitching than any other team. Nearly half of their innings thrown came out of the bullpen and for good reason. The Rays bullpen led the majors in FIP and fWAR thanks to Andrew Kittredge and Collin McHugh.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox will lean on their starting pitching to get them through. Eduardo Rodríguez will start Game 1 over Chris Sale. Sale started Sunday’s game against the Nationals and would have been starting on four days’ rest. Rodríguez pitched to a 3.32 FIP over 157 23 innings though his ERA was 1.42 runs higher than that. Nathan Eovaldi will likely get the ball in Game 3 on Sunday, and he threw the ball beautifully in the Wild Card game against the Yankees.

If there’s an offense up to the task of taking on the Rays pitching staff, it’s Boston’s. The Rays only gave up 651 runs, but 104 of those runs came courtesy of the Red Sox. In 19 games, the Red Sox hit for a .767 OPS against Rays pitching. All other opponents managed only a .667 OPS against Tampa Bay.

Here’s how they match up in league rankings.

Red Sox and Rays Rankings

Stat Red Sox Rays
Stat Red Sox Rays
wRC+ 6 4
DRS 19 4
Position Player fWAR 8 4
FIP 7 5
Pitcher fWAR 6 7

Prediction

Red Sox win in 4.