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    Previewing And Predicting The 2021 American League Championship Series

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    Three years after the Boston Red Sox defeated the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series in 2018, the teams are now set to battle once again for the American League Pennant in 2021. Although three years may not seem like it was that long ago, both teams look much different now than they did in 2018. The only starting outfielder from either team’s 2018 game 1 lineup that still remains in the same organization is Marwin Gonzalez (and he’s not even on the Astros 2021 ALCS roster). Mookie Betts (Dodgers), Jackie Bradley Jr. (Brewers), and Andrew Benintendi (Royals) made up Boston’s outfield while George Springer (Blue Jays) and Josh Reddick (Free Agent) joined Gonzalez in the Astro outfield. Additionally, not one member of the Astros elite 2018 starting rotation of Justin Verlander (Tommy John surgery), Gerrit Cole (Yankees), Charlie Morton (Braves), Dallas Keuchel (White Sox), or Lance McCullurs Jr. (forearm injury) is on their 2021 ALCS roster.

    Of those names, Lance McCullers Jr. is the most noteworthy for this upcoming series. McCullers had a fantastic 2021 season in which he pitched 162.1 innings to a 3.16 ERA, which was the second-best among all AL qualified starting pitchers behind only Robbie Ray (2.84). Against the White Sox in the ALDS, McCullers Jr. pitched 10.2 innings across two starts (both gamers were won by the Astros) only allowing one earned run, nine hits, and three walks. Although he was pitching really well in his second start in game 4, McCullers Jr. was pulled from the game after four innings pitched due to “forearm tightness.” While it is being reported that he should be fine in the long run and has a chance to be available for the World Series should the Astros make it that far, the Astros deemed McCullers Jr. wasn’t healthy enough for the ALCS, so he was left off their active roster. This is obviously a huge blow for the Astros, as they lose their ace for their biggest series of the year.

    If you follow me on Instagram @mlbzone_, you probably know that I picked against the Red Sox in both the Wild Card and Division Series. They’ve certainly made me look foolish and have played like one of the best teams in baseball over those two series. As for the Astros, I was spot on in predicting them to beat the White Sox in four games.

    This season, the Red Sox lineup had the sixth-best (107) wRC+ among all teams while the Astros had the best (116). Both lineups are absolutely loaded, so it’s been no surprise seeing the Red Sox score 7 runs per game and the Astros score 7.75 runs per game this Postseason. Although the runs per game each team has scored may seem high or even unsustainable, I wouldn’t be surprised if neither offense slows down this series. While both offenses are great, the Astros’ lineup holds an advantage.

    Although both are not great by any means, the Red Sox and Astros have capable pitching staffs. Although I’m not 100% sure how Alex Cora or Dusty Baker will manage their pitching staffs, I’m confident that Boston will use Chris Sale, Nathan Eovaldi, and Eduardo Rodriguez as starters while Houston will use Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy as starters. The unknowns, which will be knowns soon, are how the Red Sox will use Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta, who the Astros will use to replace McCullers Jr, in their rotation, and if either team will go with any bullpen games. With McCullers Jr. out for Houston, I give the Red Sox an edge on the starting pitching front.

    In their bullpens, each team has a relief ace, but some question marks elsewhere. As put on full display in game 4 of the ALDS against the Rays, there has been nobody better than Garrett Whitlock in the Red Sox bullpen. In addition to Whitlock, the Red Sox bullpen heavily relies on Hansel Robles, Adam Ottavino, Josh Taylor, and maybe for this series Tanner Houck and/or Nick Pivetta. While Whitlock had a great 2021 season, Ryan Pressly had an even better one. Pressly 2.4 fWAR was the third-best among all qualified relievers this year behind only Liam Hendriks and Josh Hader. When Pressly isn’t given the ball out of the bullpen, the Astros will typically call upon Kendall Graveman, Ryne Stanek, and maybe for this series Zack Greinke and/or Jake Odorizzi. In terms of comparing their bullpens, I don’t think either team has much of an advantage so I’ll call it a push.

    My prediction:

    Astros in 6. These are two of the best offenses in the league going up against pitching staffs that rank around the tenth best in the Majors respectively. With that being said, I think this is going to be an amazing series if you love seeing runs score. In the end, I think this series will come down to whoever can slug their way to wins, and I see the Astros being the better team at the plate. Additionally, the Astros went 5-2 against the Red Sox outscoring them 42-25 head-to-head this season. While a lot has changed since these two teams last faced off in June, the Astros still have a better lineup, and I don’t think the Red Sox pitching staff gives them much of an advantage.

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    I am a 12th grader from New York City who enjoys writing about Major League Baseball. @mlbzone_ on Instagram

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    Justin Girshon
    I am a 12th grader from New York City who enjoys writing about Major League Baseball. @mlbzone_ on Instagram

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