Baseball, Sports

Fair or Foul: Division Series recap and AL Championship Series preview

With the Astros and Red Sox set to face off in the 2021 AL Championship Series, and the Braves waiting to know which California-based team they will face, now is the perfect time to reflect on each Division Series battle and how the 2021 ALCS might go down.

Astros vs. White Sox: Experience won the day

Alexia Nizhny/DFP STAFF

Firstly, I predicted this series exactly right. These two teams entered this matchup having similar regular-season records and run differentials. On paper, this matchup could have been deemed a tossup. However, as I said last week, the big difference between the teams was the amount of playoff experience these two teams had.

This lack of October baseball on their resumes made this very young White Sox team’s challenge even harder. Despite the talents of Tim Anderson, José Abreu, Luis Robert, Yasmani Grandal and their young pitching staff, many of them collapsed at the worst time. Every important bullpen arm — Michael Kopech, Aaron Bummer, Liam Hendriks, Craig Kimbrel — had at least one terrible game. The talent is all there, but Chicago is not on Houston’s level yet.

Rays vs. Red Sox: The hot team beat the better team, and the Sox got a ‘Kiké’ out of it

From one I got exactly right to one I got totally wrong —  I wrote that Boston’s offense would be the only way for them to overcome the Rays. However, the downfall of the Rays came down to overmanaging and disappointing pitching.

Game 1 looked like what the matchup could have been: A dominant start by the Ray’s young lefty Shane McClanahan and offensive production up and down the lineup. That all changed in Game 2. Led by a five-hit, four-extra-base-hit effort from Kiké Hernández, the Sox surged to life after Chris Sale surrendered five runs in the first inning. After that 14-6 victory, Boston’s pitching led the way for the final two games.

Thanks to dominant bullpen performances by Tanner Houck, Nick Pivetta and the rest of the unit, the series never returned to Tampa Bay.

Braves vs. Brewers: Brewers’ pitching could not compensate for lifeless offense

While I correctly predicted the winner of this series, it was really Freddie Freeman and the Braves’ pitching staff that won this series. While the Brewers’ vaunted trio of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta did not pitch poorly, Milwaukee needed to hit just enough to get by. Other than two clutch home runs by Rowdy Tellez, the Brewers’ offense had nothing going until it was too late.

Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson looked unhittable for the Braves, while their bullpen led by Will Smith also seldom folded. With just nine total runs scored over the first three games of this series, pitching was going to win the day, and Atlanta’s was better. Between that and the clutch hitting of Freeman, Joc Pederson and Travis d’Arnaud, Atlanta grinded out these three wins and a trip to another NLCS.

Giants vs. Dodgers: Not over yet, but already worth every penny

These two heavyweights remain locked in a battle to move on and face the Braves in the NLCS. Each team’s two wins thus far exemplify what makes these teams so unbeatable at times.

The Giants’ two wins were defined by great pitching, great defense and good-enough hitting.  Logan Webb in Game 1, and Alex Wood and the bullpen in Game 3, carried the team as they silenced LA’s talent-loaded lineup. However, in Games 2 and 4, Trea Turner and Mookie Betts led the Dodgers to two slugfest victories — including one off of Cy Young hopeful Kevin Gausman. 

Given that each pair of games has greatly shown these teams’ strengths and weaknesses, there is no way to predict how tonight’s series finale will unfold. Webb is going for the Giants, but so is Corey Knebel for Los Angeles. These two pitchers have dominated this October, and their teams dominate when they pitch. This epic series comes down to a tossup of a fifth game.

ALCS Prediction: Astros will edge out the Sox in six or seven games

The Astros continue to prove that the talent they have — plus the experience they have with this being their fifth straight ALCS —  is enough for a deep playoff run. Their core of Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr. have all been there since 2017 and keep leading the way. Along the way, they have added Kyle Tucker, Michael Brantley, Yordan Álvarez and a young but deep pitching staff. With how they dominated the White Sox, the odds should be heavily stacked in their favor. 

However, the 2021 Red Sox are not going away easily.

Thanks to a bullpen that keeps getting the job done, a lineup that is slugging at the level it needs to and the leadership of the league’s best manager in Alex Cora, the Red Sox took down the top team in the AL and will look to take down the Astros just like they did in 2018. Nathan Eovaldi will lead the starting rotation, while everyone else on the team needs to do what they have been doing in order to make this a good fight.

I still believe the Astros will win the series, but the Red Sox have shown that they have more fight in them than their second half showed. This ALCS should be entertaining and yet another epic battle to add to the story of the 2021 MLB playoffs.

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